A Washington Legal Scandal for the MAGA Media Era

james o'keefe
James O’Keefe of Project Veritas. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
September 19, 2022

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, so it’s only fitting that Washington is once again salivating over a case that explores the boundaries between political subterfuge and investigative journalism. I’m talking, of course, about Democracy Partners v. Project Veritas, the latest in a series of lawsuits targeting Project Veritas and its crusading founder, James O’Keefe, over their infiltration of left-leaning organizations. At the trial, which began Thursday and is now headed for a dramatic finish, a jury will decide if Project Veritas engaged in legitimate journalism, like what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein pursued once upon a time, or rather nefarious political spying, similar to those Richard Nixon-connected burglars who once broke into D.N.C. headquarters. It’s Watergate, the remix.

Project Veritas was founded by O’Keefe in 2010 to capitalize on his blockbuster undercover video recordings targeting ACORN, a liberal grassroots organization, that were selectively edited to discredit their work helping low-income communities. The videos, which O’Keefe promoted by dressing up as a pimp, transformed the then 25-year-old activist into a star of the Fox News cinematic universe. ACORN filed for bankruptcy soon afterwards. 

In many ways, these provocative sting videos were a harbinger of Veritas stunts to come: everything from having a “drug smuggler” apply for Medicaid benefits to surreptitiously dialing into CNN’s morning editorial meeting. As for the current trial, it’s connected to one of Project Veritas’s most notorious exploits, part of O’Keefe’s 2016 “Rigging the Election” series, which he later boasted was as important to electing Donald Trump as anything done by Wikileaks or the Russians.