The Slatest

What Is James O’Keefe’s Latest “Sting” Video and Why Is He Going to Be at the Debate?

James O’Keefe in his “Rigging the Election” video.


Bloomberg’s Joshua Green tweeted Wednesday that right-wing sting-video auteur James O’Keefe will be one of Donald Trump’s guests at Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Las Vegas. O’Keefe released videos this week that have gotten one Democratic operative fired and led another to say he is “stepping back” from Clinton campaign work. Here’s a quick guide to what’s going on.

Why are we here?

Donald Trump’s current campaign “strategy” seems to be to try and embarrass the Democratic Party in any way possible regardless of whether it helps him in his race against Hillary Clinton. O’Keefe has a record of embarrassing the Democratic Party and/or liberals.

What does that record consist of?

O’Keefe’s most effective stunt consisted of releasing a video in which he visited offices of the Dem-friendly community activism group ACORN in 2009 and appeared to identify himself as a pimp trying to hide his profits from the IRS. A “prostitute” accompanied him. As Slate wrote in 2011, “most of the volunteers they talked to, especially at offices in Philadelphia and Baltimore, helped them out, although some appeared to think they were helping someone in a rotten situation, not enabling a potential crime.” None of the ACORN workers were ever charged with crimes for their actions, but Congress defunded ACORN and the group went bankrupt.

NPR’s CEO resigned in 2011 after an O’Keefe video showed two executives apparently making disparaging remarks about Republicans in a staged meeting with pretend Muslim donors. Both videos, for what it’s worth, were heavily (and in some instances misleadingly) edited to make their subjects’ behavior appear as embarrassing as possible. And O’Keefe paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by one ACORN employee who was shown in the pimping video.

Anything else?

O’Keefe has pulled a number of other stunts that have been less successful, including one that ended up with him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of “entering real property belonging to the United States” (a Louisiana senator’s office) “under false pretenses” (a scheme that involved other individuals impersonating telephone repairmen). CNN also caught him trying to “seduce” one of its correspondents on a boat that was, for some reason, decorated with sex-themed props.

What’s the new thing?

O’Keefe has put out two videos this week that largely target two operatives working for contractors that receive Democratic National Committee funding. Their behavior doesn’t quite justify the “this thing goes all the way to the top” vibe of the video, which is scored with spooky Unsolved Mysteries–style music and includes a conspiracy theory wall on which various Polaroid pictures are connected to the White House. But one of the video’s subjects, Scott Foval, appears to discuss potential voter fraud schemes and appears to admit he’s paid “mentally ill” individuals to disrupt rallies; another, Bob Creamer, also appears to respond positively to the suggestion of potential voter fraud. Foval has been fired, and Creamer has said he won’t be doing any more work for the Clinton campaign. (Creamer was also convicted of tax and bank fraud in 2005.)

Here’s the first video:

Here’s the second:

The Democratic National Committee has denied that any of the schemes apparently discussed in the videos actually took place. We’ll see whether further reporting comes out about context that might exonerate the individuals depicted.

What’s O’Keefe going to do at the debate?

Probably talk to some reporters afterward to promote his work. Which will lead to articles like this one.

Looks like Slate got stung, huh? O’Keefe 1, Slate 0!

We’re done here.