The founder of a conservative activist group recently caught trying to feed The Washington Post a false story about sexual assault spoke on campus Wednesday, but only briefly addressed the failed sting operation.
James O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas who calls himself a “guerrilla journalist,” mostly rehashed his group’s previous operations Wednesday night, like the videos that led to the dissolution of community-based organization ACORN in 2010, while shying away from questions about The Washington Post.
On Monday, The Washington Post revealed that a woman, who appears to be an employee for Project Veritas, tried to feed Post reporters a fabricated story about Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
O’Keefe wouldn’t confirm in the speech or in interview whether the woman was an employee, saying he doesn’t “reveal [his] sources.”
But an email sent Monday to supporters by Project Veritas led with the title “Our Cover is Blown!” and seemed to admit that the woman, Jaime Phillips, was a Project Veritas employee — calling her an “investigative journalist embedded within [The Washington Post].”
In front of an audience of about 100 in the Hughes-Trigg Theater, O’Keefe defended his work, including the failed Washington Post sting.
“Sometimes our operations fail,” he said.
O’Keefe and Project Veritas have been criticized for their undercover, hidden-camera videos, in which they aim at conservative targets such as Planned Parenthood and media organizations.
Critics (as well as government investigators) have said that O’Keefe relies on selective editing to misconstrue what his targets are saying.
But O’Keefe said his “editing” is not unlike the “editing” of reporters who construct a news story, saying everything is edited to most accurately portray the truth.
His tactics are necessary “to ferret out what people really believe,” O’Keefe said.
When pressed on whether he believes in the tenacity and accuracy of The Washington Post, which broke the initial Roy Moore allegations, O’Keefe said he “can’t say” he views them as more or less credible after his failed operation.
“The Washington Post seems to want a Nobel Prize for vetting a source correctly,” he said.
On whether he believes the accusers of Moore, O’Keefe said, “I don’t have an opinion, honestly.”
On Moore himself, he said, “I don’t have a comment on that politician because we haven’t investigated that politician.”
Wednesday, during O’Keefe’s speech (in which he arrived half an hour after scheduled to go on) The Washington Post also reported that the woman, Jaime Phillips, had been attempting to infiltrate the newspaper for months by appearing at networking events and going-away parties.
“I can’t reveal my sources or their methods,” O’Keefe said in an interview after his speech when asked about the latest story.
O’Keefe was invited to speak by the SMU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative group, though O’Keefe said he was reluctant to identify as a conservative.
Notable in comparison to other on-campus events was the police presence, and officers searched bags before audience members entered the theater. One Daily Campus reporter was asked if she had any explosives.
While the event had been planned for months, it was in peril after the Washington Post story broke, O’Keefe said.
The organization’s founder knows he has his critics, but said, “I think in many ways being hated is a sign of respect.”
“The only way they’re going to stop me is to kill me,” he said in the interview. “Because there’s so much work to be done, and we’re going to keep going.”