- - Wednesday, January 17, 2018


By James O’Keefe

All Points Books, $26.99, 314 pages

“Some say that the real difference between the dominant American media and the old Soviet Pravda is that the Russian people knew they were being lied to.” — James O’Keefe, “American Pravda”

From the beginning, Americans have been taught that a free press is essential to the well-being of our democracy. And that has proved true, time and time again. But that truth seems uniquely threatened today, as the organs of our major media increasingly subscribe to an ideological, political and cultural group-think, more Orwellian than Stalinist, but equally insidious.

“Is Mr. Trump Nuts?” asks a headline on the lead editorial in a recent issue of the venerable New York Times. A few days later, on the op-ed page, a column by a psychiatrist is headlined “Maybe He’s Just a Jerk.” And on the same day, the headline on the effort of one of its predictable house columnists reads, “Trump is a Racist. Period.”

Opinion writers are paid to write opinions, of course. But when those same opinions permeate and shape most news stories, as is the case with The New York Times, the reporters who write the stories and the editors who serve them up seem to have discarded the whole idea of objectivity.

In part, this is understandable. Reporters know which way the winds are blowing, and will sometimes report what they report in a way they know is expected of them, especially in a shrinking job market. But when the impression, pounded in repeatedly, is that the presidency is currently occupied by a man, just elected, who isn’t qualified to hold the job, there’s not only a political effect but an apparent breach of trust, with a consequent loss of faith and a profound and growing mistrust of the media.

It’s this supra-political attitude, the media’s apparent belief that they seem to know best how the country should be run and who should be running it, combined with discernable contempt for the average American, that James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, discusses part in “American Pravda.” (The title is taken from a Project Veritas operation involving CNN and The New York Times, among others.)

The mission of Project Veritas, he writes, is “to investigate and expose institutional waste, fraud, abuse, and other misconduct in order to create a more ethical and transparent society.”

It was one of those investigations that brought Mr. O’Keefe to national attention, when Project Veritas shot videos and recorded conversations involving the corrupt Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) that led to its defunding. Project Veritas evidence has also been instrumental in changing state voting laws, opening criminal investigations into voter fraud, Medicaid abuse, illegal PACs.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Project Veritas video evidence “caused the termination of two high-level Democratic operatives and was credited with shifting the momentum in the campaign. The videos were seen at least 22 million times in October 2016. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton discussed the videos in the final presidential debate.” And in the area of media ethics, Project Veritas “caused CNN major embarrassment by showing its staff ridiculing CNN’s own Russia coverage.”

It was during the campaign that Mr. O’Keefe, who eschews political labels, determined that “Trump and I had something fundamental in common, not so much a shared ideology as a shared adversary . The adversary we shared was a powerful one, what might well be called the deep state media complex. Although the media could exist without the deep state, the deep state could not exist without the media.”

By exposing waste, fraud and corruption in the administrative state, Mr. O’Keefe writes, “we inevitably disrupt the media’s relationship with government and organizations that work with government. Like Trump, Project Veritas is a disruptor.”

“American Pravda” chronicles that disruption, with emphasis on the 2016 elections and the efforts of the monolithic national media to influence its outcome. Mr. O’Keefe, a thoughtful man with well-expressed convictions, also has the touch of a showman, as when to discredit official statements about border security he crossed the border in disguise.

The demonstration resonated with Sen. John McCain, who issued this statement: “An American reporter named James O’Keefe dressed as Osama bin Laden and walked across the border of the Rio Grande River undetected. Does something like that concern you?”

If Mr. O’Keefe and his operatives played on the other side, their efforts would be widely publicized and applauded. But be that as it may, Mr. O’Keefe has given us a thoughtful, fast moving, strongly written and highly entertaining book.

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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