Oh? #FreedomOfThePress ? Have you spent time in federal jail? faced 4 criminal grand jury Subpoenas? Won defamation lawsuits? No? Then STFU.— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) February 25, 2017
“At Project Veritas who we are is kind of one-third traditional investigative reporting, one-third intelligence agency-spies – and one-third Borat,” College Republicans winter speaker James O’Keefe said Wednesday night to a mixed crowd of both Northwestern students and Evanston residents.
O’Keefe founded Project Veritas – an online website dedicated to investigating and exposing corruption through secretly recorded audio and video segments.
“It’s great to be at Northwestern, a school that has a great journalism program,” he said. “I was thinking about that today, and how none of the people that work at Veritas went to journalism school. In fact, some of us have been kicked out of college, and some of us have never in fact graduated from college. What you're going to hear tonight is sort of a journey about how we got here, what is happening in the media and what we can do about it.”
O’Keefe then went on to discuss how he found his humble beginnings in this field at Rutgers University, where he became fed up with what he viewed as “political correctness run amuck.”
“I thought that people on the campus were Orwellian, they wouldn't let me speak my mind, they were censoring info and now it's just gotten much worse,” he said.
He created his first hidden camera video at age 20, to prove a point about how political correctness had gone too far. To do this, he met with the dean of students with the complaint that the cereal Lucky Charms was racist and offensive to his ethnicity as an Irish-American. Unsure if the administrators would take him seriously, O’Keefe kept a straight face and secretly videotaped the entire interaction, which actually ended in Rutgers banning Lucky Charms from the dining halls.
According to O’Keefe, since then Project Veritas has done 200 investigations by using this type of hidden camera and audio recording methods to try and expose corruption in both public and private institutions.
One of the most controversial Veritas investigations (2008) was centered around Planned Parenthood, and began with an audio component where O’Keefe secretly recorded a conversation with a Planned Parenthood representative while posing as a donor with racist motives. According to O’Keefe, Planned Parenthood fired their Vice President once these recordings were leaked to the general public, which enticed him to take more action against the organization in the form of going undercover alongside a UCLA student named Lila Rose.
“When investigating a sacred cow like Planned Parenthood, we try to focus on issues and things that everyone can agree on,” he said. “So instead of arguing on the morality of abortion, we expose things that no one can argue about such as racism in Planned Parenthood clinics.”
O’Keefe offered the audience words of advice throughout his presentation as well, as according to him, throughout his career the most important thing he’s learned is to never back down and always persevere in order to be able to tell the truth.
“So step one: expose fraud, step two: get covered by the mainstream media and step three: get a reaction from the institution,” O’Keefe advised. “We don't complain about the media, we actually get our stories covered by the media and that's a very important concept when it comes to citizen journalism.”
The presentation concluded with a Q-and-A session, where both fans and skeptics of O’Keefe’s methods got the opportunity to speak their minds.
In response to one audience member’s question regarding fake news and how to discern between what is real and what’s not, O’Keefe criticized the mainstream media by stating that they are merely corporate mouthpieces.
“To cite a personal example, my Wikipedia page is a total lie as it’s edited by groups that view me as a threat – so when someone Googles me they immediately learn that I’m a liar, I’ve been arrested and everything I do is fake… and that’s not true,” he said. “You have to be very engaged as a citizen, you have to follow a lot of people and you must be able to read between the lines in order to filter the information you’re being given.”
College Republicans Treasurer David Donnelly said that O’Keefe’s interesting take on journalism is one of the reasons NUCR brought him to campus.
“We thought he’d be really interesting to bring to campus mostly because of Medill. He’s kind of a journalism icon; he’s an emerging type of journalism and we thought he’d be really interesting for students,” Donnelly said.