Me­dia dis­rupter O’Keefe again on de­fen­sive de­spite fi­nan­cial en­cour­age­ment from Trump

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Ken­neth P. Vogel NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON – Days af­ter Don­ald Trump launched his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in June 2015, James O’Keefe, the con­ser­va­tive dis­rupter fa­mous for try­ing to use se­cret record­ings to em­bar­rass lib­er­als and jour­nal­ists, vis­ited Trump Tower and gave Trump a preview of his lat­est hid­den cam­era video in­tended to un­der­mine Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The footage, widely dis­missed af­ter it was re­leased some weeks later, showed of­fi­cials from Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign ap­pear­ing to ac­cept a pay­ment for cam­paign swag from a Cana­dian woman at a Clin­ton cam­paign rally – in vi­o­la­tion, O’Keefe con­tended, of elec­tion laws bar­ring cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from for­eign­ers.

Trump had been pro­mot­ing O’Keefe’s work for years and a few weeks ear­lier had do­nated $10,000 from his foun­da­tion to O’Keefe’s group.

At the meet­ing in his of­fice, Trump praised the new video and pledged more money. As the cam­paign pro­gressed, he pointed to other videos as ev­i­dence of his false ac­cu­sa­tions that Clin­ton paid peo­ple to cause vi­o­lence at Trump cam­paign ral­lies, and since his in­au­gu­ra­tion, he and his team have con­tin­ued to high­light O’Keefe’s work as ev­i­dence of the pres­i­dent’s re­peated claims that the news me­dia is ped­dling “fake news.”

So these should be good times for O’Keefe. He has an ally in the Oval Of­fice who shares his views.

The non­profit group he started in 2010, Project Ver­i­tas, and an af­fil­i­ated po­lit­i­cal arm called Project Ver­i­tas Ac­tion Fund, have raised nearly $16 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to tax fil­ings, and last year the group paid him $317,000.

Af­ter years of crit­i­cism from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum – in­clud­ing from a con­ser­va­tive es­tab­lish­ment that has viewed him with sus­pi­cion – O’Keefe would seem well-po­si­tioned to be more broadly em­braced by the right, and feared by the left.

Yet O’Keefe can­not seem to get out of his own way. And af­ter an at­tempted st­ing aimed at the Washington Post back­fired in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion last month, he has found him­self in a fa­mil­iar po­si­tion – de­fend­ing his mis­lead­ing tac­tics, un­even re­sults and even his non­profit’s tax-ex­empt sta­tus, against crit­i­cism from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

Brent Bozell, an in­flu­en­tial con­ser­va­tive who runs a non­profit group that also seeks to ex­pose lib­eral me­dia bias, called out O’Keefe on Twit­ter for “grand­stand­ing and hurt­ing the con­ser­va­tive move­ment.”

In fact, the elite con­ser­va­tive donor class has al­ways mostly kept its dis­tance – at least pub­licly – from Project Ver­i­tas. The pri­mary fund­ing ve­hi­cles steered by the bil­lion­aire con­ser­va­tive broth­ers Charles G. and David H. Koch, for in­stance, have re­fused en­treaties from O’Keefe’s al­lies to sup­port his groups, said peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the re­quests.

Megadonors in­ter­ested in watch­dog­ging the me­dia have in­stead grav­i­tated to more cau­tious groups like Bozell’s Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter. It has raised $87 mil­lion over the last-half dozen years – five times more than Project Ver­i­tas dur­ing that span, ac­cord­ing to tax fil­ings. The Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter reg­u­larly col­lects six- and seven-fig­ure checks from some the right’s lead­ing donors, in­clud­ing the fam­i­lies of the New York hedge fund trader Robert Mercer and the Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.

New York Times file photo

James O’Keefe, the con­ser­va­tive st­ing artist and founder of Project Ver­i­tas, has been de­fend­ing his mis­lead­ing tac­tics and tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

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