James O'Keefe, the 28-year-old filmmaker known for a series of undercover video stings targeting federally-funded organizations, called the use of secret cameras that captured Mitt Romney's comments at a private fundraiser "an effective tactic that has a place in a democracy." But he accused the news media of using a double standard when covering the new video and when writing about the films he produced.
"I think that there's definitely been a double standard amongst professional journalists here because they've been pretty much raking Project Veritas over the coals for about three years," O'Keefe told Yahoo News during a phone interview from his office in New York. Project Veritas is the organization he founded to produce his videos. "There are no questions about whether it [the video of Romney] was dubbed or doctored, whether there are criminal, potentially state crimes committed in the course of taking that camera around, whether somebody left the camera there and walked away."
A series of video clips taken surreptitiously during a May fundraiser showed Romney telling donors in Florida that he will "never convince" people who are not eligible to pay income taxes to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives." These Americans, who Romney characterized as Obama supporters, "are dependent upon government...believe that they are victims...believe the government has a responsibility to care for them," Romney said. The videos, taken by an anonymous source and popularized by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine on Tuesday, received so much media coverage that Romney called an emergency press conference on Tuesday night to discuss his remarks.
One of the nation's most notorious young political filmmakers, O'Keefe first made a name for himself in 2009 when he filmed employees of the advocacy group ACORN offering advice to what they were told was a couple seeking to establish a brothel using underage girls. In response, Congress voted to cut off federal funding for ACORN. In January 2010, O'Keefe was arrested when he posed as a telephone repairman at the New Orleans offices of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. The congresswoman had told constituents that her phone lines were not functioning, and O'Keefe intended to prove that the phones were working properly. He was caught during production and received a misdemeanor for entering a federal building under false pretenses.
O'Keefe's exploits made him a hero among conservatives, but they invited a wave of scrutiny from the left. An article posted on the liberal Salon.com, for instance, tried to paint him as a racist. Several media outlets incorrectly printed stories that he was a convicted felon, and others dismissed his videos because they were "selectively edited." While O'Keefe's videos were edited, he made it a common practice to provide raw video online. Mother Jones released the full video of Romney on Wednesday, taking "a page out of the Breitbart playbook," after "releasing the tapes one at a time," O'Keefe said.
"I have been required to release everything. All my source material," O'Keefe told Yahoo News. "And I've even been accused by these same journalists of committing crimes in the course of conducting my investigations. Journalists have to learn to be consistent."
O'Keefe went on to say that he has no problem with someone secretly setting up a camera during a private event for a candidate for office.
"It's an effective tactic that has a place in a democracy to expose the truth, to expose circumstances truth behind closed doors and what people honestly believe or are saying to their friends, their surrogates," he said. "I don't have any problem with reporters using these tactics. Using hidden cameras, using pretenses. I'm fine with it. My problem is in the media's double standards."
Below is a partial transcript of O'Keefe's remarks:
On media coverage of the Romney tapes:
"I think that there's definitely been a double standard amongst professional journalists here because they've been pretty much raking Project Veritas over the coals for about three years. They have no curiosity about this specific filmmaker, who he is, how he obtained this tape, whether there were false pretenses that were used, whether there were situations during the course of filming where there was an expectation of privacy. There appears as though there was not an expectation of privacy because there are a number of people there, but there have been virtually no curiosity, no questions about missing context. Even though the full raw tape has just been put out just now, no question about what the question was that Romney was being asked. There are no questions about whether it was dubbed or doctored, whether there are criminal, potentially state crimes committed in the course of taking that camera around, whether somebody left the camera there and walked away.
"In the full raw video, the video starts apparently in the middle of the speech or some point. I have been required to release everything. All my source material. And I've even been accused by these same journalists of committing crimes in the course of conducting my investigations. Journalists have to learn to be consistent. If they want to create these rules, they have to abide by them.
"I think one of the most disingenuous criticisms of our work is that there is some non-damning statement made in a full raw video, then my video is out of context and clearly that is not a fair journalistic stand-by. You saw that with our NPR investigation. We released two hours of tape and if there's one little tiny glitch in minute marker 76, people are saying, 'well the whole thing must be a fake, doctored tape.' And I think journalists just have to learn to be consistent."
On the use of undercover videos during private events:
"It's an effective tactic. It's an effective tactic that has a place in a democracy to expose the truth, to expose circumstances truth behind closed doors and what people honestly believe or are saying to their friends, their surrogates. It's certainly an effective tactic and I don't have a problem with the tactic.
"I frankly have an extraordinary problem--I think the story is the media, Chris. The story is all about the media. Because I have an organization which does this precise thing and I've been slandered and libeled and defamed and falsely accused and arrested for the last two years of my life trying to do what all the journalists are now celebrating. So I think if we had a more fair climate to do this type of work I think we'd be able to accomplish a lot more.
"I don't think their definition of context--because you hear a lot about context. Howard Kurtz says, 'well, this context is pretty clear.' Well first of all, how does Howard Kurtz know that the context is pretty clear if he hasn't seen the full raw tape? I think that context seems to be an ideological construct amongst journalists for political reasons. I stand by every editorial decision that I've ever made but it seems like people have a problem with context based on their political views. It's not out of context if the subject says something an hour later that is non-damning, he's simply changing the subject or talking about something else. But I think the double standard exists for ideological reasons, for political reasons and I'll defend the tactics of this filmmaker and the tactics of anyone who legally exposes the truth.
"We don't know whether he used false pretenses. Remember, Julian Assange is a hero, Daniel Ellseberg is a hero but James O'Keefe is the worst person in the world for using a false pretense when entering a building. No journalist has any question about how this video tape was obtained. Were they dressed up like telephone repairmen? Did they leave the tape in the conference room and then leave? Which would be a state crime, to leave the tape filming? Do we know that. Has any journalist wrote about--they certainly wrote about me and untrue allegations that I committed crimes.
"There are just really serious questions. I don't have any problem with reporters using these tactics. Using hidden cameras, using pretenses. I'm fine with it. My problem is in the media's double standards."
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