Project Veritas is used to causing chaos. The right-wing website is famed for using surreptitious recordings and selective edits. Many of its stunts are absurd; some are also effective. One led to the resignation of NPR’s CEO. Its latest trick involves a pair of legal matters that test the boundaries of American free speech protection.
In November, FBI agents raided the apartment of right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe, who founded Project Veritas, as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of the president’s daughter’s diary. They seized two cellphones, after they had searched the homes of two more Veritas affiliates.
The press is typically protected from these types of raids, and many mainstream news outlets, as well as First Amendment advocates, defended the site. But nothing is ever straightforward with Project Veritas. While fighting its own press freedom case, the group, which had previously sued the New York Times for defamation, sought an order blocking the Times from publishing leaked legal documents about Veritas. “Both the federal investigation and the defamation lawsuit test the limits of what counts as journalism and the privilege that status confers,” Caleb Pershan writes. “But the seeming contradiction between Veritas’s positions in them has left media analysts wondering if O’Keefe can really have it both ways—and what it would mean for the future of those journalistic privileges if he did.”
As Pershan has reported on these cases, and sought to deepen our understanding of how the Veritas gang is thinking about them, he has not been spared from the group’s hijinks. O’Keefe’s lawyer Paul Calli spotted Pershan in the courtroom and would wind up sending him a sort of poem:
“Ya’all [sic] don’t hold a candle to James O’Keefe.
“Respectfully, you looked confused today, with all the First Amendment talk.
“Try to keep up, Caleb. I view this as a teachable moment, for you.”
The court has since ruled in favor of Veritas in its case against the Times. And as stunned observers continue to debate the merits of each case, Veritas has been fundraising—so far, to the tune of more than half a million dollars. “O’Keefe even reenacted the FBI raid onstage last month,” Pershan writes, “as a chest-pumping dance number at a conservative conference in Arizona.”
––Savannah Jacobson, story editor
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