Friday, October 28, 2016

Unrigging Rigging The Election IV

On Wednesday, right-wing con-artist and self-styled "journalist" James O'Keefe released the fourth video in his "Rigging the Election" series, purporting to allege wrongdoing in the ongoing presidential race by the Hillary Clinton campaign. The first three videos, examined here, here and here, wee a swampy mess, any legitimate issues they raised being hopelessly consumed by O'Keefe's trademark brand of obfuscation, misdirection and falsehood.

O'Keefe's latest offering begins with a sort of greatest hits package, recycling material from the previous installments. Through the course of all of these releases, O'Keefe has been updating his narrative to keep it in-the-now. It's worth noting, in light of this, that he continues to repeat many of the falsehoods from those prior projects, rather than correcting them.

--The series' opening title sequence continues to include Aaron Black's assertion that he's "deputy rapid response director for the DNC for all things Trump on the ground," a claim that was exposed as false by Time on 18 Oct., right after the release of the first video.

--"In April," says O'Keefe, "we started uncovering the aggressive birddogging that was secretly done by the Clinton campaign. It's an underhanded nationwide operation to foment violence at Trump rallies." In reality, bird-dogging, which O'Keefe presented in his first video as some sort of innovative code, is merely the longstanding practice by activists of publicly asking candidates questions, usually ones that are politically tough for them to answer, and trying to get them on the record as either responding or dodging the issue. It has nothing whatsoever to do with fomenting violence. As this blog documented at the time, a simple Google search would have explained the tactic and provided endless examples of groups employing it. David Weigel in the Washington Post also pointed out its true nature. O'Keefe didn't really even need a search engine or the Post--Scott Foval of Americans United For Change correctly described the practice in footage used in O'Keefe's first video, but O'Keefe simply ignored that footage in order to construct his own false claims. Here, O'Keefe clings to that earlier falsehood by showing a clip of Foval referring to bird-dogging as "conflict engagement." As for the "done by the Clinton campaign," Foval isn't employed by the Clinton campaign.

--O'Keefe takes a step back from his claim in his third video that the Clinton campaign was violating federal campaign coordination laws repeats with regard to the Donald Ducks campaign (covered here), but without noting he's doing so. There, he'd flatly said the campaign was "breaking federal campaign coordination laws" and that "the campaign law violations" are "undeniable." Here, those previous assertions have disappeared, replaced by weasel-wording: "We were also growing gathering evidence that the Clinton campaign was violating the federal election campaign coordination laws." And he shows a brief clip of Bob Creamer of Democracy Partners attributing the duck idea to Clinton. But that previous video explained the origin of that comment--someone had told Clinton about the idea and she'd loved it. It wasn't her idea, the Clinton campaign never fielded the duck and those who did manage it weren't employed by that campaign.

--"Scott Foval gave us a primer on how to commit massive voter fraud," says O'Keefe, then shows a clip of Foval talking about "bussing people in." This comes from O'Keefe's second video, but as covered here, there's no indication in the footage of what Foval is even describing with that comment. If it was actually connected to the voter fraud scheme O'Keefe had alleged, O'Keefe would have certainly shown the full context illustrating this.

With that, O'Keefe is on to the subject of his new video, which proves to be the easiest one to address, as it doesn't actually make any new allegations. It's merely about an O'Keefe operative posing as a donor who, in order to keep his foot in the door so O'Keefe's undercover antics could continue, gives a $20,000 donation to Americans United For Change.

That's it. That's all. It's as if O'Keefe ran out of steam. After making the donation, O'Keefe says, "Creamer, Foval, Jenna Price from the DNC, Brad Woodhouse from AUFC, Cesar Vargas and others had opened the door to their smoke-filled rooms of illegal and dirty campaign dealings," without ever outlining any "illegal and dirty campaign dealings."

As O'Keefe tells the story, he set up a dummy corporation and associated bank account in Belize, for decades a haven for shady money and transfers of same. "This is typically the actions of drug dealers and tax-dodging white-collar criminals," O'Keefe explains. "We used it as a cover." The subhead O'Keefe slapped on the video says "$20k Wire Transfer From Belize Returned," a reference to the fact that AUFC head Brad Woodhouse, upon learning of O'Keefe's operation, returned the donation. "Woodhouse told a journalist that AUFC was going to return the $20,000--he was concerned it might have been an illegal foreign donation. We were happy to get the wire transfer showing the $20,000 was returned but we wondered why it wasn't a problem for the previous month that Woodhouse had the money.

This entire narrative, it turns out, is an utter fraud. A Thursday article from Time picks it apart:
"As a non-profit under section 501(c)4 of the tax code, Americans United is not barred from taking foreign cash, much to the dismay of good government advocates. It might not look good, but it’s not illegal.

"The money transfer... appears to have come in much differently than O’Keefe describes, one reason it did not set off any red flags with Americans United... [O'Keefe] says he used a shell corporation from Belize to move the cash to Americans United, which shares a consultant with the DNC. An emergency internal audit at Americans United, which for the last week has been the target of O’Keefe’s videos, pulled the receipt for the transfer. The money was received from The Bank of New York Mellon, incorporated at the same address as TIME Magazine’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. Americans United allowed TIME to review these documents.

"What’s more, the Sept. 9 transfer receipt shows that the customer who ordered the money moved is registered in Stamford, Conn. The exact address is used by Veritas executive director Russell J. Verney as his residence on his Connecticut voting registration forms. Verney also lists that address on forms filed with the state of Virginia incorporating Project Veritas. And that shell corporation? It lists its address these days as Verney’s Connecticut home—a far cry from the colony formerly known as British Honduras.

"(O’Keefe, however, did route the cash through Heritage Bank in Belize to justify his claims. But the cash was sent from an American address, via an American bank, to an American political group. Even though it’s not illegal, O’Keefe is definitely trying to get his headlines here by claiming this is foreign cash. The documents he released to back up his claim appear to black out the Stamford, Conn., address.)"[*]
Woodhouse didn't say he was returning the donation because of any concern over it being foreign. His comment, reproduced in that same Time piece: "We returned the money because the last thing we want to be associated with is a character like O'Keefe who has been convicted and successfully sued for his illegal tactics and fraudulent activities."



[*] I discovered an example of O'Keefe outright altering a screencap in order to further his narrative. At one point in the video, O'Keefe is building up Creamer's status as a Democratic insider. "Bob Creamer was listed as AUFC's general consultant until our stories about their shady activities were released," he O'Keefe and offers this screencap:

"Now," O'Keefe continues, "his name is nowhere to be found." But as O'Keefe's screencap of that same page shows, the entire "Our Staff" sidebar is missing from the current version of that page, not just Creamer's name. In O'Keefe's "before" screencap, Creamer is prominently listed just below AUFC executive director Caroline Ciccone. Thanks to the good ol' Wayback Machine, we can visit previous cached versions of that same page. In the version of it from 11 Oct., only days before O'Keefe began releasing his videos, Creamer is still there alright but he's at the very bottom of the "our staff" list:

That's also how this appears in every iteration of the page cached by the Wayback Machine going all the way back to 9 July, 2015, when Creamer first appeared in the list. O'Keefe simply did a cut-and-paste, elevating Creamer from the bottom of the pile and slapping his name over that of Communications Director Jeremy Funk.

Creamer's role as an AUFC consultant is plainly stated on his profile at Democracy Partners: "He is General Consultant to Americans United for Change where he helped coordinate the campaigns to pass President Obama’s landmark jobs and economic recovery legislation."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Unrigging Rigging the Election III

On Monday, right-wing con-artist James O'Keefe released the third video in his "Rigging the Election" series, purporting to allege corrupt campaign practices by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. In the first two vids, examined here and here, O'Keefe and his operatives adopted a pose of "investigative journalists" yet conducted no real investigation into the charges they were making, charges based on a mess of O'Keefe-proferred misinformation, misdirection and obfuscation aimed at low-information viewers who pay little attention. His latest opus fares little better.

"In this story," says O'Keefe, "we'll show an illegal dark-money conspiracy between the Hillary Clinton campaign, the DNC [Democratic National committee] and the non-for-profit corporation Americans United For Change." The video follows an amusing bit of street theater conducted first by the DNC then by AUFC wherein activists dressed as Donald Duck dogged Trump campaign appearances as a reminder that Trump has repeatedly ducked calls to release his tax returns.

"It turns out the duck was Hillary's idea," claims O'Keefe[1] but his own footage shows this not to be the case. In fact, in the hidden camera footage, Bob Creamer--a target of all of O'Keefe's videos in this series--clearly explains the actual origin of the idea and he does so more than once. In one segment--the important one--Creamer relates at length,

"Originally, this guy Skalar, who... did the Chicken George in 1992, came to Lux and I with the idea of Donald Ducks. And I ran it up the flagpole in New York and put it down... and then it came up and they just said, uh, we'd rather do, what do you call it, Uncle Sam--'I want you to release your tax returns.' And Uncle Sam suits are easy to find for adults. Uh, but then I get a call, actually on the plane about to go to London last week, Christina Reynolds called and says 'I've got good news and bad news. The good news is the candidate would like to have a mascot following around... Trump but the bad news is she wants it to be Donald Duck.'[2] And that's because Skalar is an old Clinton hand, he had gone to some buddy of his who is one of her body people and she had explained, explained the idea to Hillary. And Hillary just loved it... So my answer to Christina was, if the future President of the United States wants ducks on the ground, we will put ducks on the ground."[3]

To unpack all of this, "Lux" is a co-founder of Creamer's own firm, Democracy Partners. O'Keefe makes no effort to explain this. Christina Reynolds is the Deputy Communications Director for Hillary For America--the Clinton campaign. "Chicken George"--also entirely unexplained by O'Keefe--was a campaign similar to Donald Ducks that was run against George Bush Sr. during his 1992 reelection effort--at a time when Bush was ducking debates with his presidential opponents, a guy  in a chicken suit dogged his public appearances. "Chicken George" was invented by John O'Meara and Derrick Parker in Michigan and grew from there. Presumably, "Skalar" was someone involved in that campaign or perhaps Creamer just got a name wrong. O'Keefe, trying to sell that false notion that "the duck was Hillary's idea," makes absolutely no effort to identify this person,[4] the actual source of the idea.

O'Keefe's central premise throughout this video is that Clinton dreamed up the duck idea and was secretly directing the duck campaign all along and he uses that footage of Creamer, just quoted, to sell this. In a different clip earlier in the vid, Creamer repeats his comment about the future president wanting "ducks on the ground," strengthening the impression O'Keefe is trying to convey. As Creamer tells the story, his conversation with Reynolds is the origin of that line. In another pair of later clips from a different context, Creamer talks about Clinton wanting the ducks. Cumulatively, this becomes the basis of the subhead O'Keefe slaps on the video, "Creamer Confirms Hillary Clinton Was PERSONALLY Involved," but, of course, the only thing any of it actually shows is that Clinton (apparently) once said she liked the idea--an idea that, contrary to O'Keefe, wasn't her own.

It isn't possible to deduce, from this video, how long it took for the events in Creamer's rundown of the origin and progression of the Donald Ducks idea to play out but other items in the video suggest it had been around for a while. O'Keefe's propensity for obfuscation leaves viewers with no timeline for any of his footage but some minor detective work answers some questions. Creamer was in that meeting with Brad Woodhouse--the head of Americans United For Change--and others.[5] O'Keefe never says when this meeting was held. Fortunately, it's possible to deduce it occurred in mid-August.[6] In another clip from the same meeting, Woodhouse says,

"We did Donald Ducks in May... we put out a whole blast and a release around the idea that he [Trump] was ducking... The key here is to have the visual and to have the costume and have the sign. We got so much shit for that blast. Reporters thought it was silly."

In still another clip elsewhere in the video (and not from this meeting), Scott Foval of the AUFC--the star of O'Keefe's previous videos in this run--says "the whole duck thing... the actual idea was hatched way back in May." So while O'Keefe has Clinton behind all of this, Creamer, in that meeting, says he got that call from Reynolds "last week," marking early- to mid-August as the point at which Clinton first entered the picture, at least three months after the idea had been floated, a form of it had even been launched and the decision to have Trump dogged by a mascot had already been made.

The Donald Ducks campaign from August was initially managed by the DNC but in September, the DNC abandoned it and the AUFC picked it up. This was reported in the press at the time, among other places, in a story in the Wall Street Journal referenced by O'Keefe:
"A DNC spokesman wouldn't say why it cut ties [to the duck campaign]. But the decision could help the political party's governing body avoid potential legal complications.

"Law Blog previously reported that Donald Ducks could pose trademark and copyright issues by running afoul of Disney's intellectual property rights."
 In O'Keefe's hidden camera footage, Creamer explained that the transfer of the duck "had to do only with some problem between Donna Brazile and ABC, which is owned by Disney, because they were worried about a trademark issue." Donna Brazile, who, from 24 July forward, was the interim chair of the DNC, is also an ABC News Contributor.

O'Keefe tries to slip in a call-back to his allegation in his first video that Democratic operatives were trying to incite violence at Trump events. "Creamer and Foval even expected there to be violence following the duck," he narrates, "and it sounded like they wanted it to happen." O'Keefe then plays a clip of Creamer and one of Foval, neither of whom express anything remotely approximating a desire for this to happen.

The big scandal here, according to O'Keefe, is that all of this constitutes illegal coordination between the campaign and entities that are, legally speaking, supposed to be independent of it. At that point, a real journalist would find some experts in campaign finance law and put them on camera to lead viewers through the legal aspects of this matter. Instead, O'Keefe just asserts that entirely unnamed and unseen "federal campaign law experts" have told him "the ducks on the ground are likely 'public communications' for purposes of the law. It's political activity opposing Trump, paid for by Americans United For Change funds but controlled by Clinton/her campaign." Though O'Keefe apparently couldn't find a single such expert willing to put his face and his name behind that assertion, the Business Insider had no trouble finding a pair of them willing to offer an analysis:
"Two election law experts told Business Insider that the rules against this type of coordination generally only apply to paid media advertisements — for example, TV, newspaper, or internet ads.

"'The word coordination in the English language means something very different than what it means to the Federal Election Commission,' said Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine who specializes in campaign finance regulation and election law.

"Hasen, who said he did not see the video and could not speak specifically to it, other than what was described to him, added that the laws are 'generally for media advertising, which this doesn't sound like [the video] necessarily is.'

"Brendan Fischer, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, agreed that FEC rules typically apply to media advertising. The example he gave was of a campaign asking a Super PAC to run an ad in a certain media market. That, he said, would be in violation of the FEC regulations.

"'Groups can talk to one another,' he said. 'That's not covered by the coordination rules.'"
On Monday, Fox News' Special Report offered a report that badly distorted the issue but host Bret Baier did talk to Elliot Berke, an expert in campaign finance law,

"The first thing we need to look at is whether or not there's a public communication and it's not clear to me from the video they put out that there actually is a public communication. That really means a paid political advertisement, so something in the newspaper, broadcast, satellite, something like that. Here, it looks like there just were protesters dressed up as Donald Ducks that had appeared. I doubt the FEC would see that as a public communication."

However, when Baier asked about the ducks being Hillary Clinton's personal idea, Berke replied:

"Well, that's a different question, because any time a candidate, committee or political party is working with an outside group, you get into possible in-kind contributions and here, the allegation is that the candidate herself may have directed an outside group to engage in this behavior, and if so, that could be an in-kind contribution. In-kind contributions can be permissible but they need to be reported, but because we're dealing with an outside, third-party group here, that group may also take corporate contributions, and if that's the case, then it clearly would be illegal."

The rules regarding these matters are outlined on the Federal Election Commission's website. This writer has no expertise in these issues, so the question of legality isn't going to be settled here, but it isn't settled by O'Keefe either, who is also without any expertise--on the matter of the legality of the duck, strictly a quack--but confidently proclaims "the campaign law violations" are "undeniable."[7]

O'Keefe says, "representatives of Hillary's campaign run daily conference calls, we witnessed, with Creamer, AUFC managers and their operatives. They were talking about where to send the duck and the duck's message." O'Keefe offers no footage of any of this, though he certainly has it if, as he says, his operatives were present. The timeframe in which any such conversations happened is important too, because the DNC originally ran the duck campaign--if they're talking about it during that period, it's a non-story and what they say about it after that period is crucial. O'Keefe shows a clip of Scott Foval:

"So the operation is to insert and get the duck message in there if we can, or the extremist message, depending on... we have to clear this with DNC... We have to clear which message we're going to be targeting at each event."

Again, no timeframe, but in another clip elsewhere in the video, one that appears to come from the same conversation, Foval talks about the AUFC taking over the duck campaign. Obviously, the substance of those conference calls with the DNC takes on even more importance. Though both the specific content of any such exchanges and their timing are central to O'Keefe's claims, he leaves all of that information on the cutting-room floor.

The DNC cut ties with the duck in September, "but behind the scenes," O'Keefe extravagantly asserts, "the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign was still running the show, breaking federal campaign coordination laws." To buttress this, he shows a clip of Jenna Price, an assistant press secretary for the DNC. An O'Keefe operative asks her, "why aren't you taking credit [for the duck]?" She replies,

"Just 'cause there were issues. There were, like, it's a long story, ask Bob about it... [I]t wasn't party politics, but we just have to be careful about these things and the way we talk about them and who knows about certain things."

O'Keefe infers this is because the duck operation was illegal but in footage shown elsewhere in the video (because why be clear when you can obfuscate, right?), O'Keefe's operative did ask Bob Creamer about this and, as noted earlier, Creamer explained it was over Disney's grumblings over their intellectual property relating to the use of the Donald Duck character in light of Donna Brazile's employment by ABC (Disney). Obviously, a thorny matter and one the DNC didn't want to discuss in public because of the legal ramifications if Disney decided to make an issue of it (the DNC didn't offer any explanation in that Wall Street Journal article either). Despite there being an obvious reason for Price to be tight-lipped, O'Keefe just runs right past it, turning her into more grist for his conspiracy.

O'Keefe is, here, very much repeating the same tactic he employed in the "voter fraud scheme" he alleged in his second video. He builds his entire case on innuendo and obfuscation when, if the accusations he's peddling are true, he would have footage to directly prove it, yet that footage somehow never makes it into his video. O'Keefe's big target here is the Clinton campaign--his intro calls this "part 3 of our undercover investigation into the dark backroom dealings of the Hillary Clinton campaign"[8]--but the only significant connection he's able to make to it is Creamer describing a single phone-call from Clinton's Deputy Communications Director, who, in Creamer's telling, relates that Clinton loved the duck idea and then some other comments deriving from that phone conversation. Where's the footage of those conference calls wherein the duck is discussed and that O'Keefe claims his operatives witnessed? Barring that, where's an account of them? Where are the legal experts O'Keefe claims to have consulted and if they exist, why do their conclusions contradict those of the named experts the press has consulted?

Hanging over all of this is another really obvious question: why would any of these parties, operating at the highest levels of American politics, go so far as to intentionally violate federal election laws in order to carry out this amusing but utterly silly and inconsequential campaign involving a duck that few ever saw anyway? That it seems so unlikely doesn't mean they wouldn't do it but it really is an extraordinary claim and there's precious little here to substantiate it. O'Keefe's operatives spent at least five months on this operation. If this is the worst they've found, it says something about those whom they've targeted alright, but it's something very different from what O'Keefe claims.



[1] The Project Veritas website suggests Clinton is "the originator of the Donald Ducks scheme."

[2] As Creamer explains elsewhere in the vid, this was "bad news" because unlike the plentiful Uncle Sam costumes, it's very difficult to find Donald Duck costumes for adults.

[3] Creamer offers a truncated version of this same story to one of O'Keefe's operatives in a clip that appears earlier in the video.

[4] O'Keefe the "journalist" does nothing with that information--information that falsifies one of his central claims--except talk right past it, offering a version of events that directly contradicts it while apparently hoping no one will notice.

[5] O'Keefe correctly identifies Woodhouse as the head of Americans United For Change but the identity of the others, where they are and when this meeting is happening are all details O'Keefe declines to share.

[6] There are other clips from this same meeting scattered around the video. O'Keefe, with his usual lack of specificity, doesn't say these clips are from the same meeting but in the footage, it's taking place in the same room, shot from the same camera angle, Woodhouse is wearing the same shirt and so is the woman beside him--the same woman in each clip. In one, Creamer makes reference to Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence appearing at the Iowa State Fair "this week"; Pence appeared at that event on Saturday, 20 August.

[7] It would be interesting to hear counselor O'Keefe's legal opinion on whether there are any legal questions involved in his taking thousands of dollars from the Trump Foundation then, in the final stretch of this presidential campaign, creating a series of hit-pieces using one of Trump's own favorite themes--"the election is rigged"--to attack Trump's opponent.

[8] It must be hard to keep a straight face when describing the duck campaign as in any way "dark," but at least O'Keefe still has his ominous music to try to sell it. Looking at his effort as a filmmaker, the phrase "tone-deafness" immediately leaps to mind.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Unrigging Rigging the Election II

With Halloween approaching, right-wing con-artist James O'Keefe has again dressed up as a journalist and handed out for tricks and treats the first three videos in a new series, "Rigging the Election," alleging misdeeds by Democratic operatives in the ongoing presidential campaign. As covered here Saturday, the first video in this series proved a witch's brew of misrepresentation, obfuscation and dubious assertions that attempted to cook up the impression in low-information viewers of a scandal from materials that didn't support the conclusion. With the second, O'Keefe's trick--or, depending on the audience, treat--is the Blob, a mushy, formless accusation of voter fraud he hopes will devour Democrats.

The problems with that first video are only amplified in the next, in which, O'Keefe asserts, "Democratic operatives tell us how to successfully commit voter fraud on a massive scale." Once again, Scott Foval is the star of the show. As noted in my previous article,

"Foval seems to like to run his mouth. He brags about how he's a guy who, unlike some of his more timid comrades, gets things done and doesn't worry too much about niceties like legality. Speaks in often grandiose terms. Tells some stories that sound a bit far-fetched. Foval is the central focus of both of O'Keefe's videos and the sole source for what O'Keefe's spins into the sensational allegation around which the first is built and everything he says comes through a cloud of hot air offered in what appears to be a series of saloons! While drinking."

So it's back to the bar! O'Keefe explains:

"Our investigators wanted to know what it would take to get the highest favorable turnout. Democratic politico Scott Foval was our target and he was more than willing to lead us through the process of how to rig an election."

The characterization of Foval in the context of "Democratic operatives" and, directly, as a "Democratic politico" is weasel-wording; Foval is, himself, a Democrat (presumably) and his activities support Democratic causes but he works for Americans United For Change, not for the Democratic party, and that distinction is significant in the context of these videos. In what follows, O'Keefe's tale is that Foval concocts a voter fraud scheme and O'Keefe's operatives shop it around to Robert Creamer of Democracy Partners (another return character from the first vid) and Cesar Vargas of the DREAM Action Coalition. Though O'Keefe describes this vid as "part 2 of our undercover investigation of the dark, backroom dealings of the Hillary Clinton campaign," none of these individuals are employed by the Clinton campaign.

In a bit of editing cynical enough to be funny, O'Keefe joins Foval already in progress, in the middle of a story about how people "manipulate the vote." Foval says "we did it to them when we were in charge too. We did the exact same thing." Who is "we"? Who is "them"? Presumably, the "them" are Republicans but O'Keefe chopped off the first part of the story wherein Foval apparently explained what those Republicans had done to manipulate the vote. Entirely unintentional, I'm sure.

There's another cut and Foval is talking about Republicans complaining that "they're bussing people in" and then crows about how "we've been bussing people in to deal with you fucking assholes for fifty years and we're not going to stop now." Bussing who? Bussing them where? For what purpose? "To deal with you fucking assholes" is as clear as mud. Foval is talking about how "they used to bus people out to Iowa." One of the tactics used by Americans United For Change, Foval's employer, involves bussing demonstrators from state to state. Last year, for example, AUFC arranged to take a busload of Wisconsinites to the Iowa State Fair to protest an appearance there by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, then a GOP presidential hopeful. Is this what Foval is describing? The complete lack of any sort of context or clarification here invites readers to draw their own conclusions based on what follows.

And what follows is O'Keefe trying to plug a massive hole. "The plan that was discussed," he says, "is how to bring people from one state into another state to vote illegally." Note the weasel-wording--"the plan that was discussed"--that leaves on the cutting-room floor who suggested this plan, which is certainly O'Keefe's operative. If Foval had done so, it's inconceivable that O'Keefe would leave out that footage. Foval never even articulates the gist of the plan O'Keefe claims is being discussed and the details of this alleged plan remain amorphous--liquid right to the end of the video and not, one suspects, unintentionally. Contrary to O'Keefe's set-up--that Foval is "more than willing to lead us through the process"--it's clear in some of the footage that it's O'Keefe's operative who is doing the leading. It's the operative, for example, who suggests how to establish addresses for, O'Keefe claims, "their phony voters." Foval even congratulates him at one point. "That's brilliant. I love it." O'Keefe leaves out the footage of the origin of this scheme then, after having left viewers with the impression it started with Foval, flatly refers, later in the video, to "the voter fraud scheme that Foval created."

So what's this really about? Various aspects of some sort of scheme or schemes are being kicked around through the heavy edits[1] but it's all theoretical discussion, with the alleged larger plan never outlined. At one point, Foval says

"what you do is you implement the plan on a much bigger scale.You implement a massive change in state legislatures and in congress. So you aim higher for your goals and you implement it across every Republican-held state."

...which sounds nothing at all like what O'Keefe claims they're discussing but it does sound extraordinarily grandiose and unfeasible, which lends the entire conversation an air of a couple of guys sitting around a tavern, knockin' 'em back and engaging in a bullshit session. Say, you've been involved in the politics business--how could we put together a voter fraud scheme and get away with it? This would explain why they're comfortable openly discussing a scheme that, if O'Keefe's characterization is correct, would be incredibly illegal right in the midst of a bar full of people. This would also explain why, contrary to every conceivable journalistic rule of thumb, O'Keefe chose to entirely omit the set-up for this entire conversation. Most importantly, this--the most likely explanation for what's occurring--would render the entire thing a non-story.

To continue his tale, O'Keefe drops in a clip in which Foval says "Bob Creamer comes up with a lot of these ideas," and goes on to explain how he and Creamer think alike. It implies Creamer is a shady guy who comes up with "ideas" like this voter fraud scheme but nothing in the clip connects these comments to that particular scheme. To reinforce the impression he's created, O'Keefe immediately rehashes Creamer's legal troubles from over a decade ago.[2]

Another O'Keefe operative is then shown making a pitch to Creamer. The operative, who was apparently posing as a donor, says "Steve"--whoever that may be is never stated--"was talking to Scott"--presumably Scott Foval, though that too is never stated--and passed along an idea "they envisioned" and that he likes. "What do you need to be able to vote?" He says you need an ID card and a pay stub showing a local address then suggests hiring people at his business. "I could use them as day laborers or whatever and use them and find my way around the... voter registration laws for Hispanics... We could register huge numbers of people that way." The careless listener is supposed to read "Hispanic" as "illegal immigrant" but the operative never says that and, in fact, never suggests anything illegal at all--he's talking about registering Hispanics to vote. Further, Creamer knows Foval and probably knows "Steve," meaning he knows they wouldn't send someone to him with a voter fraud scheme. Creamer says "this is very important, this stuff" and offers to put the fellow in contact with "people who are most involved in Hispanic voter registration... [T]here are a couple of different organizations, that's are, that's their big trick."

Now, having left the viewer with the false impression that Creamer just agreed to assist in a voter fraud scheme, O'Keefe offers a clip of Foval saying "Bob Creamer is diabolical and I love him for it. I have learned so much from that man in the last twenty years, I can't even tell you."

O'Keefe then says what he'd earlier just implied: "We had our 'donor' set up a second meeting with Bob Creamer to see how he could help put this voter fraud plan into motion." A little later, he refers to it as "the voter fraud scheme that Foval created," but in none of the footage of Foval talking about this alleged scheme is Foval shown "creating" even a single element of the idea that had been shown being put to Creamer. And what was put to Creamer on camera wasn't a voter fraud scheme--it was about legally registering Hispanic voters. In the second meeting with Creamer, the O'Keefe operative suggests he could "issue corporate IDs" for these theoretical voters and O'Keefe immediately cuts away, never showing the rest of his own op's comment. The viewer is meant to assume such "corporate IDs" are a scheme to allow people to skirt voter registration laws but they wouldn't actually allow for that. Foval, in the early portion of the video, mentions, as states ripe for whatever is being discussed, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The fake "donor" who goes to see Creamer also mentions Michigan and includes Illinois. A quick trip over to Rock The Vote reveals that all of those states except Illinois require a government-issued ID. If that's the big scheme, it's a non-starter and Creamer and Foval would probably know this.

Creamer says as much when he spoke to Sam Stein of the Huffington Post on Friday about this matter, offering, more broadly, his side of what happened:
"One of the undercover Project Veritas videographers got to Creamer by posing as a donor. Creamer was introduced to the videographer by Foval, who was also under the impression that the 'donor' was concerned about the immigrant community and eager to subsidize methods for mobilizing them politically.

"'I met with him and he sold me completely,' Creamer recalled. 'He was a very genuine guy who had a whole story about his family history. He was great.'

"Creamer said that he first pitched the 'donor' on doing a bus trip to help get out the vote. He says the Project Veritas 'donor' then suggested the scheme involving hiring undocumented workers, issuing them corporate IDs and pay stubs and getting them registered in battleground states.

"'Frankly, I didn't understand what he was proposing, because corporate IDs wouldn’t do the job,' Creamer said. 'It has to be a government ID.'

"But instead of dismissing the man outright and ending the conversation, Creamer said, he tried to steer him toward other ideas. The 'donor' struck him as someone who was passionate but not well-versed in electoral law...'This guy seemed well-motivated,' Creamer said. 'And I thought, he is just naive about what's available, what is possible and what is legal.'"
In an email to the Huffington Post that same day, Foval told a similar story:
"Despite our attempts to redirect the conversation and actions towards positive, results-oriented, legal and ethical political organizing, O’Keefe’s crew of imposters continued to walk down a path of deception and manipulation. Our team took the high road, deciding to not indulge the imposters in their dubious scheme, rather attempting to put our energies and intentions towards positive activities that garner electorally relevant results. All who view these recordings should remember that they were speculative conversations where we attempted to correct a misguided idea put forth by O’Keefe and his cronies, and we did not take the bait."
In the video, Creamer, upon getting more details from the fake donor (and whatever those details may be, we're not shown them), begins to get the idea that what's being put to him would be perceived as a "big voter fraud scheme" and declines to assist. As O'Keefe puts it, he "hesitated" to participate. O'Keefe cuts to a clip of Foval talking about a conversation he had with Creamer:

"Bob came back to me and asked me, 'What is he talking about?' I told him what we were talking about. And he said 'Well, I'm not gonna' touch that with a ten-foot pole now.' I go 'Nor should you.'"

O'Keefe's operative chimes in: "Good advice."

"Nor should you," Foval continues. "He goes, 'Good, I'm glad we're on the same page there.'

The viewer is meant to assume this happened after that second meeting between Creamer and the fake donor but as usual, O'Keefe refuses to provide a timeline or any context. And what are they even talking about? An alleged voter fraud scheme that is impossible to execute and that no one in any of the footage has even articulated? There is a reason O'Keefe in his editing is perpetually treating the details of this alleged scheme like vapor.

Foval says there are other people "who can make things happen," people Creamer doesn't "need to know about" but then suggests Creamer actually will know about them anyway. O'Keefe:

"Foval told us about a guy in New York who works with Creamer a lot  We wondered if he was the guy who could pull off the voter fraud scheme."

Cut to a clip of Foval telling the operative about Cesar Vargas, one of the founders of the DREAM Action Coalition, which works for immigration reform, and is himself an undocumented immigrant. "Bob is really good friends with him [Vargas] and talked to him this afternoon." The impression is that after Creamer turned down the scheme, he and Foval arranged for O'Keefe's operative to meet Vargas, who may assist them in it but it's just a bunch of editing. The Foval footage is from a different day than the "ten-foot pole" conversation--it's a different locale and he's wearing a different shirt and a tie, which he didn't have in the earlier clip--and Foval never mentions anything about any scheme and O'Keefe's set-up--"we wondered if"--doesn't actually tie his op's intro to Vargas to one either. Vargas has authored an article in the Nation offering his side of what happened. As he tells it, the people with whom he met were sold to him as representatives of a donor "who supposedly wanted to give money to the immigrant-rights movement," which is consistent with Creamer's explanation.

The alleged scheme, as outlined to Vargas, morphs again. O'Keefe's operative describes it as "essentially getting people on a bus or whatever, taking them around the country. They can legally vote. At the same time, they're also getting work permits under a different name and again voting on behalf of people who cannot vote." No one in the video before that moment had discussed any such double-voting scheme. Foval, in his comments about transporting people (to whatever), had in fact specifically said not to use a bus.

The inclusion of Vargas seems practically random. He doesn't work for the DNC; he's just a lawyer and activist in New York. He's on the receiving end of O'Keefe's worst hatchet-job with the editing suite here. The operative puts the apparently newly-reimagined scheme to him, he barely gets in a few words (about the 2018 midterm elections) and then O'Keefe throws in an edit. What follows are a series of clips of comments by Vargas that are presented as his responses to the scheme but that don't actually seem to be connected to it at all. Vargas explains how "this is not gonna' happen this election." What's not going to happen? He says if Donald Trump is elected, "it even makes more sense." What makes more sense? "The issue will be more credible and much more opportunity for us to jump in to this." What issue? Viewers are left with the impression it's the scheme but it doesn't make any sense to describe it that way. Cut/cut/cut. At one point, Vargas says "count me in." Count him in on what? All of this is missing and if it was actually in reference to the scheme, it wouldn't be. To compensate, O'Keefe offers a particularly outrageous sleight-of-hand: His running, on-screen script records his operative as saying, "I assume you don't go tell these conversations to anybody? Because this is technically, you know, vote fraud," and Vargas replies "No, absolutely. Absolutely." But in the video, the operative doesn't actually say "vote fraud"--she just trails off with "you know..." In the last clip of Vargas, he's saying "As an activist, do we want to do this? Do we want to take the chance? Let's talk about it." Do what? Talk about what? Take what chance? If Vargas was actually saying any of these things about a voter fraud scheme, it wouldn't be left to rest entirely on inference.

As Vargas explains:
"To set the record straight: I am not an operative for the Democratic Party. I did not agree that I would drive a busload of people to commit voter fraud, nor did I agree that I would help anyone commit voter fraud. I met with the group only once, for less than an hour... I was explaining what the outcome of the presidential election will mean for the future of voter-ID laws, which have prevented thousands of Americans from voting; the role of civil disobedience in politics; and the role of activists in planning those protests... During our short conversation, I explained a few times the effective work that my organization, the DREAM Action Coalition, has done and that has been covered by the media... Throughout the conversation, the two conservative operatives said that their fake donor wanted to go beyond this kind of activism and help people vote twice, as a way to enfranchise those who can’t vote. Several times, I informed them that voting twice is illegal, but I told them we could go another route to give people who don’t have a vote a voice in the election.

"In light of Tea Party efforts around the country to make it harder for minorities to vote, I told them, their donor could immediately support a campaign that would elevate the voices of American citizens who want to commit their vote on behalf of their undocumented loved ones. Another option was to support initiatives like the NYC ID program, which allows anyone, regardless of immigration status, to obtain a much-needed identification card and thus gain more access to civil society. Despite these options, the operatives were pushy in their donor’s desire to help people to vote twice all over the country.

"I assured them my confidence and allowed them to talk about their schemes as a way to humor a potential supporter. Needless to say, never would I have participated in any voter-fraud scheme. The unedited video tells the complete story."[3]
Creamer echoes that last. "Creamer said O'Keefe's tapes make a misleading case," writes the HuffPost's Stein, "and that if the full footage were made public, those deceptions would be evident." Creamer calls for the footage to be made public, something O'Keefe has, to date, adamantly refused to do.

Without O'Keefe's dubious narrative and editorial games, it isn't at all clear the three segments of this video--Foval, Creamer, Vargas--are even related to one another. All three of the principals involved have indicated they had a potential donor who was a bit misguided but had a common interest in various issues and they were trying to be helpful and steer him in a more positive direction, which, unlike O'Keefe's explanation, does seem to match the footage insofar as Creamer and Vargas are concerned. Foval is talking about some sort of scheme in the first segment but the conversation has all the earmarks of a barroom bullshit session and contrary to O'Keefe, nothing that is actually discussed in it on camera--procuring cars, apparently setting up dummy addresses, operating in states with weak laws, carrying out some sort of legislative revolution--makes its way into any of the other segments and O'Keefe's operatives are the ones shopping around in those other segments, not Foval. O'Keefe's assertion that this is the same scheme being discussed throughout is false. No single scheme is ever articulated; the details offered in each segment contradict the details offered in the other segments. Most importantly, no one ever clearly agrees to have anything to do with any of these schemes (except, briefly, the one that wasn't presented as voter fraud) and despite O'Keefe's assertion that this is an investigation of "the Hillary Clinton campaign," no one who appears is employed by that campaign and there's never any effort to connect any of this to it or even to the DNC, except by inference.

In 1958, a young Steve McQueen managed to vanquish the Blob. Like a lot of movie monsters, it managed to return but the second time around, the film was a flop. That's O'Keefe's Blob. As Halloween approaches, O'Keefe promises even more such critters. Be wary!



[1] Bespeaking the missing footage, the music on the jukebox in the background is different in every clip.

[2] As in the first video, O'Keefe says Creamer "pled guilty on tax violations and bank fraud," then in the breath says "he was convicted..."

[3] Vargas, the lawyer, notes that O'Keefe's tactics are "possible grounds for defamation" but perhaps canny of the reaction any suit by himself, an undocumented immigrant, would draw, he indicates he won't be filing one.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Unrigging Rigging The Election I

Right-wing con-artist James O'Keefe has struck again, releasing a pair of videos that allege wrongdoing by Democrats and the Clinton campaign. At Wednesday's presidential debate, the allegations were raised, in a significantly distorted form, by Republican candidate Donald Trump and are getting much play in right-wing media, with the usual accompanying persecution narrative about the mainstream press ignoring the "story." Despite this standard-issue hue and cry, it isn't really clear there's much of a story here.

O'Keefe has made a career out of peddling to credulous rightists one politically motivated fraud after another. Media Matters, last week, offered a sort of greatest hits package of his past antics. O'Keefe calls his org "Project Veritas," which reminds the wary that it's always a wise move to keep a good stock of irony jokes close at hand when dealing with anything having to do with O'Keefe. The standard M.O. of O'Keefe and his operatives is to adopt various disguises and try to get people associated with liberal or Democratic causes to say and do politically damaging things on hidden cameras. O'Keefe then heavily edits the footage and presents it in a sort of mockery of an "investigative report," released with headline-grabbing allegations. It usually takes no more than a few days for these efforts to blow up in his face but no matter how often it does, he keeps right on churning them out and his followers keep right on eating them up--Wile E. Coyote going over the cliff over and over again.

The O'Keefe project currently causing such a stir is entitled "Rigging The Election," echoing Donald Trump's constant refrain whenever facing a potential loss. O'Keefe bills it as an "investigation into the dark, backroom dealings of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign" and he released two videos in the series this week. Both suffer from some of the same really obvious problems. Among other things, they're edited in such a way as to obscure the context of most of what's said in them, they offer no clear timeline for when these conversations are taking place relative to either one another or to events in the campaign (rather important, for reasons I'll cover in a moment), they're staged, edited and narrated in such a way as to leave viewers with a certain impression of events that isn't supported by the footage itself and that impression--that misimpression--is their story. Nothing else is offered to support it. O'Keefe adopts superficial trappings of investigative journalism but if he or any of his gremlins ever investigated the veracity of any of the statements in these videos, they're silent on the results--or the existence--of any such inquiry.

The problematic nature of that last becomes immediately apparent in the footage of Scott Foval of the Foval Group, who works as a subcontractor for political consulting firm Democracy Partners and also for pro-Democratic group Americans United For Change.[1] Foval seems to like to run his mouth. He brags about how he's a guy who, unlike some of his more timid comrades, gets things done and doesn't worry too much about niceties like legality. Speaks in often grandiose terms. Tells some stories that sound a bit far-fetched. Foval is the central focus of both of O'Keefe's videos and the sole source for what O'Keefe's spins into the sensational allegation around which the first is built and everything he says comes through a cloud of hot air offered in what appears to be a series of saloons! While drinking.

No, really.

The fact that political partisans organize demonstrations against their opponents is about as much a revelation as the color of the sky but O'Keefe's first video, released Monday, struggles mightily to present this as some dark conspiracy that O'Keefe and his operatives are unraveling. That word--"dark"--is, in fact, used repeatedly. O'Keefe sets it up thusly:

"There is a narrative[2] that supporters at Trump rallies are violent and dangerous, looking to beat up protesters who don't agree with them but our undercover investigation of the Hillary Clinton Democratic party machine reveals a very different story."

Except it doesn't. The rest of the video is devoted to unspooling O'Keefe's alternate narrative, the idea that operatives from various groups the vid associates with the Clinton campaign are actually the ones orchestrating this violence but in the undercover footage, the only one who talks about instigating violence is Foval and while he says he wants the anti-Trump demonstrators he organizes to be attacked by Trump supporters so as to make the news, he's also very clear that it's Trump supporters alone who bring the violence. He calls them "naturally psychotic" at one point, "crazies" at another, and the only tactics he describes for getting them to lash out are things like wearing a Planned Parenthood t-shirt or saying things with which they disagree."If you're there and you're protesting and you do these actions," says Foval, "you will be attacked at Trump rallies... we know... [Trump's] supporters will lose their shit." Contrary to O'Keefe's implication, this can only work because many of Trump's supporters are "violent and dangerous" and, regularly urged on by the candidate himself, will "beat up protesters who don't agree with them," and that's exactly what has happened over and over again, regardless of whether those protesters were organized by Foval or not.

That fact has the effect of rendering this alleged practice--the central allegation of the video--rather spectacularly uncontroversial, which is, of course, why O'Keefe pours on the weasel-wording. His conspiracy narrative is often constructed around an elaborate fairy-tale aimed at low-information viewers. He asserts that the anti-Trump demonstrations are presented as "spontaneous"[3] then positions himself as the hero who comes along to draw back the curtain and expose them as, in fact, highly organized by a black and secret conspiracy of Democratic operatives. When, for example, O'Keefe is talking about an anti-Trump demonstration that, in March, shut down a Trump appearance in Chicago, he says "based on our reporting, the event was not spontaneous" and then tries to "prove" it. But all of these protests are openly organized. It is, of course, impossible to get hundreds or even thousands of people to show up for any sort of political event without organization. In this internet age, a three-second Google search will yield a wealth of details. In Chicago, congressman Luis Gutierrez and other elected officials openly called on their constituents to join them in protesting Trump, a Facebook page dedicated to protesting the Trump event was launched and a multitude of different groups--Black Lives Matter to MoveOn to Mijente, Assata's Daughter, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and on and on--were involved in this organizing. These are the sources of anti-Trump protests, not some cabal of secret Democratic-party-connected organizers, and Trump doesn't draw demonstrators because of anything that secret cabal does, he draws them because people in a liberal democratic society find his protofascist message extremely offensive.[4] Any sizable demonstration--by groups of any political orientation--has to be organized and that patently obvious fact sends a big portion of O'Keefe's fantasy narrative up in smoke.

O'Keefe introduces Aaron Black of Democracy Partners and Americans United For Change as a fellow who "directs the 'spontaneous' protests at Trump and Pence events." Black, in the hidden-camera footage, says "nobody's really supposed to know about me." Gotcha! Except Black's activities are a matter of public record. Turning to his profile on the Democracy Partners website, one reads, among other things, "Black is instrumental at organizing rapid response events targeting GOP Presidential candidates throughout the country for Americans United for Change during the 2016 elections." In the vid, Black claims to be "deputy rapid response director for the DNC for all things Trump on the ground" and this is how O'Keefe ties him to the DNC. Did O'Keefe investigate this claim, like, say, a journalist? The video is silent on the question, which would be damning enough, but Time's Philip Elliot then looked into this and confirms, via an examination of the FEC records with which O'Keefe and co. couldn't be bothered, that Black hasn't worked for the DNC during this two-year election cycle. As a DNC official told Elliot, Black "was just bullshitting."[5]

O'Keefe uses his footage to draw connections that aren't born out by it and to make all sorts of inferences he makes no effort to prove. His aim is to tie everything he's presenting to the Democratic party and/or the Clinton campaign, which really means tying Foval to those entities, though Foval doesn't appear to have worked for either. Foval was a subcontractor for Democracy Partners and Democracy Partners worked for the Democratic National Committee. That firm never worked for the Clinton campaign but it had contact with that campaign through the DNC. Bob Creamer of Democracy Partners is a longtime Democratic insider and another who gets the hidden camera treatment.[6] Creamer is shown describing his work for the DNC, which involved organizing anti-Trump demonstrations. O'Keefe buttresses his straw-man assertion that the Chicago protest was "not spontaneous" with a brief clip of Creamer, who says "we have a call to the campaign every day to go over the focuses that need to be undertaken." See? The Clinton campaign is in on it! Except the Chicago demonstrations happened in March and Democracy Partners didn't start working with the DNC until June. O'Keefe tries to tie what Foval is saying to what happened in Chicago but according to the same Time article referenced above, Foval didn't become a subcontractor for Democracy Partners until some time in April. And that, dear reader, is why James O'Keefe doesn't offer a timeline for any of this material.

More importantly, at no point does Creamer ever say a word about inciting violence at Trump rallies. He says nothing about even knowing of such things. O'Keefe tries to tie him to this by showing a brief clip of Foval describing how he and Creamer obsess over getting press attention for the events they hold but Foval isn't, at that point, talking about inciting violence. Aaron Black organizes protests and says he was involved in organizing the Chicago events but he, likewise, never says anything about inciting violence. O'Keefe's hidden cameras seek out Zulema Rodriguez, another activist who says she took part in the Chicago demonstrations and who says she talks to the DNC and the Clinton campaign every day, presumably as part of some sort of conference call for activists[7], but--stop me if you've heard this one before--she doesn't say anything about inciting violence.[8]

Is it remotely plausible that O'Keefe's operatives would fail to try to get these people to talk about this, the central allegation in their "report"? Where's that footage? Where's the explanation? And while Foval speaks admiringly of Creamer and Creamer is, in turn, how O'Keefe connects Foval to the DNC, Creamer never mentions Foval, not once. If O'Keefe's operatives ever asked Creamer about Foval, there's nothing in their video to indicate it. The infrastructure Foval describes is substantial--training for activists in major population centers all over the U.S.--but O'Keefe's operatives never give any indication of having investigated any of this. There's certainly training of activists by an infinity of orgs--like the organization of demonstrations, it's conducted above-ground--but, again, O'Keefe's hidden cameras are never able to find a single activist who claims to have been trained to incite any violence. Foval refers to activist training as "agitator training," which allows O'Keefe, with some fleet-footed editing, to infer it's training in incitement but obviously, that could be a reference to any sort of activist training and in another clip from that same conversation, presented later in the vid, Foval is describing training people to bird-dog candidates.

O'Keefe goes off on a tangent about bird-dogging, presenting it as some sort of secret code Foval is using. "It's a word we had not heard until we got into this investigation," he claims, then points out the fact that it appears in the hacked Democratic emails recently released by Wikileaks, again tying Foval to the Democrats. "Violence at Trump Rallies Traced to Clinton Campaign and the DNC Through Process Called Birddogging," screams a header on the Project Veritas website. Further down, the site says Foval, in this footage, is "introducing the term bird dogging to the political lexicon." But in reality, bird-dogging is a well-known phrase that refers to a longstanding tactic by activists of asking candidates questions, usually ones that are politically tough for them to answer, and trying to get them on the record as either responding or dodging the issue (and has nothing whatsoever to do with "violence"). In the vid, Foval talks about putting people in the right place to do this. Outside of O'Keefe's shadowy conspiracy narrative, its meaning and usage is can be ascertained via a simple Google search, which returns sites like this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this, and those are just the ones on the first page of results.

Despite O'Keefe's record and the obvious, galaxy-sized holes in his scenario, various rightist commentators have followed O'Keefe's lead. Some of them have plunged even further down the rabbit-hole as the internet is suddenly abloom with false claims that it's the anti-Trump demonstrators who are violent. That was the approach used by Donald Trump at Wednesday's presidential debate. Trump, in his usual rambling manner, asserted that the O'Keefe video shows Democrats "telling people to go out and start fist-fights and start violence," which is entirely false.[9]

Is this business of training people to incite violent incidents something that really happens or is it just a lot of barroom bullshit? When one removes O'Keefe's interlocking false narratives, it hardly matters. As Foval describes his activities--and, again, he's the sole source for any of this--Trump's supporters have always had it in their power to utterly foil his Evil Scheme--if, indeed, any such not-really-terribly-evil-scheme even exists--merely by not acting like a bunch of animals whose immediate reaction to the presence of someone who disagrees is to physically attack that person. If such activity, whatever the source, exposes Trump's supporters as a pack of violent protofascist asswipes, it isn't some black and damnable thing--it's what is known as a public service.

O'Keefe's operatives--they're described in the on-screen text as "journalist"s--ask leading questions (which becomes even more of a problem in the second vid in the series), never say how they presented themselves to their marks, never, as noted earlier, offer any timeline and they never confront their targets, not even to ask for a comment on their "report." Everywhere in their video, there are questions both small-and-minor and big-and-obvious that are left not only entirely unanswered but entirely unasked--they don't investigate anything and in his presentation, O'Keefe persistently chooses to conceal and mislead rather to illuminate and enlighten. As usual. There's little implausible in the scenario he presents but absent his false framing, there's little that's terribly controversial about it either.

The one exception, the one nugget of a legitimate story in all of this, is possible collusion between the Clinton campaign and various entities that are, by law, supposed to be independent of it. "Our attorneys say there is strong evidence of criminality," relates O'Keefe, but as with everything else in the vid, O'Keefe doesn't bother to get those attorneys on camera to explain the law in this matter or how there may have been a breach of it.[10] The rules against collusion between political candidates and outside entities do exist and are regularly flaunted. That this happens isn't really news--everybody does it and everybody knows everybody does it--but there is, here, possible evidence on which to build a case, if anyone in officialdom was ever interested in doing so, which they aren't. Foval describes communications between the various groups and the campaign as "kind of like an ongoing Pony Express. It's not as efficient as it could be but that's because the law doesn't allow it to be," which does suggest the legalities are at least being observed. In another moment, he talks about plausible deniability. Unlike the rest of the rubbish in this vid, this is something worthy of further investigation. Last year, the Trump Foundation ponied up at least $10,000 to Project Veritas, which, in turn, produced and released these videos on one of Donald Trump's most persistent themes--the rigging of elections--right on the verge of the third and most critical presidential debate and Trump then used them to attack Hillary Clinton in that debate. Maybe that, too, is worth further investigation. Or at least another of those irony jokes.

O'Keefe ends his first video with a plea: "As we continue to release more videos, you must hold the mainstream media to account to further investigate what we've uncovered," and he'd certainly like nothing more than to have this all over the news in the final stages of the presidential campaign--which is his whole point--but he's already publicly stated he refuses to release any of his raw footage and given his record, the fact that previous releases of raw footage have repeatedly exposed his misrepresentations and the unbelievable mess he's made of this, the press should decline to indulge him.



 [1] O'Keefe gratuitously notes that Foval previously worked for People For the American Way, "an organization funded by George Soros." Soros has become a lightning rod for anti-Semitic dog-whistling by rightists (PFAW is also funded by the Lear Family Foundation, the Miriam G. and Ira D. Wallach Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, various unions and other sources).

 [2] Right away, the careless sloppiness starts. A narrative by whom? Examples? O'Keefe never says and never offers any.

 [3] Presented by who?

 [4] O'Keefe includes a stray comment by Foval in which he says it would be unhelpful if a story appeared on CNN saying certain people were paid for "X." O'Keefe edits this to make it appear as if he's suggesting his violence fomenters are paid but it's unclear what he's discussing. This and a comment wherein Foval talks about paying homeless guys to do crazy things places over the entire narrative the notion that these demonstrators are paid without ever doing anything to substantiate it. What homeless guys? Paid to do what? And so on. Never answered, never asked.

 [5] Further, any assumption that Black didn't clarify his actual job for O'Keefe's operative--like any assumption about any of this--is dependent on the honesty and reliability of O'Keefe and his editing software.

 [6] O'Keefe lovingly notes that in 2005, Creamer "pled guilty to tax violations and bank fraud" then, in his next breath--maybe because he thought both sounded good--he says Creamer "was convicted."

 [7] Because that would make it sound a lot less sinister, O'Keefe doesn't elaborate.

 [8] Rodriguez's inclusion here seems virtually random. Nothing in the video ties her to any of the other players. Politifact reports that she did some paid for for the Clinton campaign in February in the lead-up to the Democratic primary. Time reports "she has since been working for liberal and its affiliate in Ohio."

 [9] Trump made some other false statements about the vids. Politifact disposed of them yesterday.

[10] By throwing out that statement without specifying what he's describing, O'Keefe (intentionally) creates the impression that it's the activities constituting the central claim of the video--demonstrators being organized to foment violence--that are illegal but they aren't and making them illegal was literally require repealing the 1st Amendment.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Vice Presidential Debate As A Comic

Tuesday, Vice Presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence squared off in their one debate of this campaign season. It was a dreary affair but I just happened to be playing around with some new software when it rolled around and turned the whole affair into a mini-comic--basically, just to learn the software. Though it doesn't really go with the main focus of this blog, I thought I'd throw up the results here anyway--I don't have anything else to do with it.

If it needs to be said, quotations here are very rarely exact.