Why’s my dad mad? He's muttering “it was them, it was them all along” over and over again.
Is he on YouTube?
Yeah, he keeps tabbing back and forth between YouTube and Breitbart.
He’s probably mad about the Project Veritas Action videos.
What’s that? Sounds like some kinda Illuminati thing.
Not really — although some might quibble. Project Veritas Action (PVA) is a conservative investigative journalism outfit run by right-wing political activist James O’Keefe. They say they’ve done a yearlong investigation that exposes a left-wing conspiracy to rig the presidential election — a conspiracy that encompasses voter fraud, inciting violence at Trump rallies, and skirting campaign finance laws.
Whoa. That sounds ... what is it that Twitter journalists say when they’re trying to be coolly aloof? “Big, if true.” Except, actually ... big. If true. So, is it?
Well, what they’ve got is a series of hidden camera videos showing conversations between their undercover agents and Democratic operatives. The two agents most heavily featured in the videos are Robert Creamer and Scott Foval.
Should I know who they are?
Nah, these guys are well known inside party politics, but beyond that their profiles are fairly low. Knowing who they are would probably be a sign that you need to get some hobbies. Anyway, Creamer is a well-connected politico who has worn a bunch of different hats in Democratic politics over the past four decades or so. His wife is a congresswoman, he helped out with Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, and he runs a political consulting company called Democracy Partners. The other guy, Foval, worked for a group called Americans United for Change, which also works with Democracy Partners.
Okay, so what do they say in the videos?
Well, not all of the videos have come out yet, but there are three main things that are interesting so far, and all of them come from Foval. (Creamer is too cagey and careful to really say anything too wild or incriminating.)
1. Foval claims that there are back-channels of communication that connect the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee with supposedly independent political action committees (PACs), and that those back-channels are used for coordinating spending. Campaign finance rules prohibit this, and Foval says that they use the back channels, which he likens to the Pony Express, to skirt those rules.
2. Foval further says that his group was responsible for intentionally fomenting some of the violent incidents that have occurred at Trump rallies. He claims that his group recruited activists to send to the events, teaching them tactics that would be provocative enough to bait Trump supporters into violence. Not only does Foval say he knows that violence could come from these tactics, but he seems to want to encourage it.
3. Foval and one of the undercover agents brainstorm a couple of hypothetical methods of voter fraud, including busing voters from out of state and using fake work permits to get illegal immigrants registered to vote. PVA undercovers shop this idea to a couple of liberal organizations and don’t seem to get explicitly turned down.
Wow. Is it as bad as it sounds?
Well, O’Keefe (reminder: the guy who runs PVA) has a penchant for exaggeration, and he presents some stuff as if it’s suspicious and shadowy when it really isn’t. Like, Foval refers several times to teaching volunteer activists how to “bird-dog.” O’Keefe in his narration claims to have never heard of this term before and implies that it’s some kind of nefarious tactic invented by the DNC to foment violence at rallies. Actually, it’s a standard activist tactic, and it’s basically about figuring out how to frame tough questions in a way that forces candidates to give real answers instead of vague dodges. I mean, Quakers teach bird-dogging. We’re not exactly talking political dark arts here.
Aside from some exaggerated narration, is there any other reason to believe that the videos aren’t accurate?
Well ... that part is tricky. The videos are edited, and sometimes O’Keefe fills in the gaps with his own summaries of conversations. So because we don’t have the originals, the viewer has to take his word for it. It’s difficult to figure out if he’s accurately framing what you're seeing.
Why’s that a problem? I mean, pretty much any news program or documentary “edits” footage to create something that’s coherent and watchable. Sounds kind of like a dodge to claim you can’t believe something because it’s been edited.
Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying. But part of the issue here is O’Keefe’s particular editing style, as well as the way that people on the video sometimes make references to parts of the conversation that don’t appear in the video or get cut off by edits when they’re about to explain something.
For instance, there’s a part where Foval says, “We’ve been busing people in to deal with you fucking assholes for 50 years, and we’re not going to stop now.” PVA edits this line so that it immediately precedes a different part of the same conversation in which Foval is brainstorming how to go about constructing a hypothetical voter-fraud scheme that would be hard to detect. PVA clearly intends for us to think that Foval is bragging that Democrats have been perpetrating voter-fraud schemes like the one he later describes, but we’re not actually given the information to make that connection — Foval could be talking about busing in outsiders for rallies or protests, for instance.
There’s also the fact that O’Keefe has been caught intentionally and deceptively editing his exposés more than once, so there’s plenty of reason not to trust him or his organization. And while he used to release the raw footage from investigations after releasing the edited videos, he doesn’t do that anymore.
So you’re saying we have to take his word for it, but his word is garbage.
Pretty much. On the other hand ...
Oh no, are you going to get nuanced?
Kinda? I mean, Foval was laid off by Americans United for Change following the release of the first couple of videos, and Creamer said that he was going to take a step back from the campaign. This isn’t necessarily an admission of guilt; it could be that Foval and Creamer think fighting back against the accusations would only keep a distracting story in the news cycle for longer.
Of course, it could also be that they don’t think the context of the full video would exculpate them. There are some conclusions that can be drawn regardless of the way O’Keefe has presented the footage. Foval is pretty glib when he talks about his hypothetical voter-fraud scheme, and a little too pleased with the idea that his tactics could produce violence at Trump rallies.
Why have these tapes caught on on the right, do you think?
Well, it kind of confirms all their suspicions, right? They already thought that the violence at Trump rallies was somehow staged, and here’s this guy who claims that it was all his idea. They believe that Democrats are stealing elections with voter fraud, but they haven’t been able to find much real evidence. Well, here’s this guy with this systematic vote-rigging scheme. Since it fits with stuff that they already believe, they aren’t going to look too closely at O’Keefe’s history.
Well, is the scandal over? Does this have the potential to swing the election?
PVA said that they’re going to be steadily releasing videos up until the election, so I expect we haven’t heard the last of this story. But if the videos that are yet to come are anything like what we’ve already seen, I doubt they’re going to change much about November 8. Maybe in a normal presidential election year, they would. But this ain’t a normal year — as you know.
Man, do I know.
We’re almost there. Take heart.