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Pseudo-journalist O’Keefe visits Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Angling for a speaker spot at Middlebury College, right wing provocateur James O’Keefe ended up at the Courtyard by Marriott this past Thursday evening.
His appearance in town came the same week that O’Keefe and Project Veritas, the organization he founded, were under fire for trying to plant what they admit is fake news in a prominent national newspaper.
The crowd of over 50 attendees was mostly journalists — pens, cameras, digital recorders in hand, on the spot not so much to listen to O’Keefe himself but to see if protesters, counter-protestors or some other unscheduled eruption might make news.
Nothing happened.
And rather than the lofty and legitimacy-providing stage of Middlebury College’s Wilson Hall, the event was squeezed into a small beige and tan hotel conference room, with brown geometric nonstain carpeting on the floor.
In a talk purporting to be on the topic of “Middlebury’s Free Speech Problem,” O’Keefe instead gave a 90-minute slideshow heralding his undercover efforts to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, waste, fraud and misconduct” with the not-for-profit Project Veritas organization.
His attitude throughout was self-aggrandizing and self-pitying. In his presentation, O’Keefe repeatedly depicted himself and Project Veritas, known for its undercover videos, as a lone crusader for truth.
Typical was his statement about his need for security while visiting Vermont: “It’s sort of my cross to bear.”
There appeared to be no threats of physical harm or intimidation at the Marriott.
O’Keefe said repeatedly that while his motives have been criticized, what people really object to is that he challenges the powers that be.
“It’s like triage on a battlefield because there’s so much crap and so much fraud and so much hypocrisy, self-dealing,” said O’Keefe of his self-described “journalistic” activities.
He addressed longstanding claims that his video editing has led to misleading presentations of others’ beliefs or actions. In his defense, O’Keefe merely asserted that all journalists edit. He did not discuss what ethical or journalistic standards one might use to edit fairly.
He did play several entertaining clips of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” responding to O’Keefe’s signature outing of an employee of the housing advocacy group ACORN. In that notorious video, O’Keefe posed as a pimp wanting to house 13 underage prostitutes, trafficked from Central America.
O’Keefe’s repeated assertion that “if there’s waste, fraud, abuse, dishonesty, unethical behavior, hypocritical behavior, it deserves to be exposed” stands in a peculiar tension and juxtaposition to the part his organization played in events brought to light this past week.
The organization’s methodologies and intent came into the full glare of the national spotlight last Monday when multiple news outlets revealed O’Keefe and Project Veritas’s latest attempt at an undercover “gotcha.” Jaime Phillips, a Veritas operative, attempted to scam The Washington Post by approaching reporters at that newspaper with a fake story about how Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore had sex with her when she was 15.
   JAMES O’KEEFE ADDRESSES a gathering at the Courtyard by Marriott in Middlebury Thursday night. O’Keefe was brought to Middlebury by the Leadership Institute, headquartered near Washington, D.C. O’Keefe gained new notoriety last week for trying to pass off a false story to The Washington Post. 
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Since the Post in early November first broke the story of Moore dating teenagers when he was in his 30s, several women have come forward alleging sexual misconduct and sexual assault that occurred when each was in her teens and Moore an assistant DA in his early 30s.
In her attempted deception, Phillips told Post reporters that Moore impregnated her and that she then had an abortion.
Post reporters sifted through Phillips’ claims using their usual journalistic standards and found inconsistencies in her story. The Post said its reporters also found “evidence that the woman concocted the sensational claim to try to dupe reporters and coax them into discussing the political impact her story could have on Mr. Moore.”
According to a Nov. 27 Post story on Phillips’ ties to O’Keefe’s organization: “A reporter with the Post confronted the woman about the holes in her story (on Nov. 22) and then Post journalists saw her on (the morning of Nov. 27) entering the offices of Project Veritas. The organization, led by the activist James O’Keefe, has recently targeted journalists, trying to goad them into revealing biases or unethical schemes to discredit the news media.”
When asked about the incident in a Q&A session at the end of his presentation in Middlebury on Thursday, O’Keefe did not directly address the Phillips incident. Instead he said merely, “All of our work is aimed at using — we use all types of deception. I said I wanted to start a child prostitution business … We use all types of bizarre and elaborate ruses to go in but every time the point is to get that footage exposing what they believe. It’s all about what they say. It’s not about my motivations in using a technique. That’s a non sequitur.”
Others question if wondering about O’Keefe’s motivations is a non sequitur.
According to a story by Will DiGravio in the Middlebury Campus, the college’s student newspaper, organizers with the nonprofit Leadership Institute contacted several Middlebury students about bringing O’Keefe on campus. The Leadership Institute, founded in 1979, focuses on helping conservatives learn “how to succeed in politics, government and the media.” Students took the proposed event to college administration but were told the event could not be accommodated until January 2018. Event requests on campus must now be received at least three weeks in advance and the students had missed that deadline. According to DiGravio, the students then decided they did not want to sponsor O’Keefe.
Nevertheless, the Leadership Institute sent O’Keefe to Middlebury.
On Tuesday, O’Keefe spammed the college’s email system with a flyer announcing that “James O’Keefe, renowned conservative activist, will be addressing Middlebury’s Free Speech Problem this Thursday Night … at the Courtyard Marriott.”
The flyer said the event was being hosted by the “Preservation Society, a group of Middlebury College students committed to bringing freedom of speech back to Middlebury College.”
What is Preservation Society?
“We are unaware of any student group called The Preservation Society,” said Middlebury College Vice President for Communications Bill Burger in a campus-wide email responding to O’Keefe’s spam. “No one claiming to represent such an organization has approached the college with a request for recognition as a student organization.”
Burger also stated unequivocally: “Middlebury College has nothing to do with this event. Mr. O’Keefe has chosen to travel to town to pursue his own political and personal agenda.”
O’Keefe was introduced at his Marriott meeting room by Middlebury College sophomore Samuel Zimmer. Zimmer said he couldn’t “speak for the Preservation Society” but that “a friend of mine, Bronson, who’s now a public member of the Preservation Society, approached me and asked if I could introduce Mr. O’Keefe.”
Zimmer did not give his friend’s last name. Zimmer said that he himself was not part of the Preservation Society, but he is on the college Student Government Association’s  Student Organization Oversight Committee, which hears applications from potential student organizations, as well as applications from existing organizations to maintain their status.
Zimmer said that Preservation Society members were “too afraid to let their membership be known publicly to the school community.”
He blamed the Preservation Society’s lack of transparency on the school itself and decried the lack of free speech on college campuses and across America.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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