Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

November 28, 2017; Fast Company

While the recent acts of Project Veritas with the Washington Post just solidifies our belief that its leader, James O’Keefe, is an intellectual fraud and a dishonest political operative, is that a reason to question the organization’s nonprofit status? The matter, as brought up by Cale Guthrie Weissman writing for Fast Company, is an interesting one but one that ultimately will and should go nowhere.

O’Keefe styles himself as a seeker of truth, but his “sting” videos rely on heavy editing to make public cases against groups he sees as left wing or counter to a conservative agenda. In this most recent case, where he evidently dispatched a woman to try to sell a false rape story to the Washington Post, presumably in an attempt to prove that the paper dealt in that currency as a matter of course, he inadvertently proved the opposite. The Post dealt with the claim with all appropriate skepticism, soon recognizing that the real story was in the attempt itself and eventually tracking the woman back to the Project Veritas offices. Faced with the facts, O’Keefe tried to spin them 180 degrees, insisting that Veritas “got” their story and that the Post was acting aggressively in confronting O’Keefe with his project’s behavior. It’s all part of a familiar narrative.

Weissman appears to argue that as Project Veritas claims it is a journalism nonprofit, and since journalism nonprofits are (or used to be) vetted on the basis of their educational value, then because O’Keefe’s tactics make him less than an honest educator of the public, he should be pursued and stripped of his nonprofit badge. But expecting any action from the IRS is just plain silly. We hope that Weissman is not really trying to make a case for this, because (1) the IRS is still stinging from the slaps delivered to it after the scandal that emerged about its delays in approving conservatively oriented groups, including a starvation-level budget; and (2) the IRS is not in that business right now. It is far more likely to run an algorithm to ferret out conflicts of interest or automatically drop a group because it doesn’t file 990s than to make its way through the morass that trying to take down Project Veritas would cause.

And, really, would we want them in at this level, judging the benefits of new journalism sites?

By the way, last year Project Veritas raised $5 million for its work, and O’Keefe makes north of $300,000. That’s an interesting point, taken in the context of the congressional grilling Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards took on her $353,000 salary for running an organization with revenues of over $1.3 billion, following the debunked baby parts sting from the similarly modeled Center for Medical Progress.

There is no doubt that these sting operations harm public discourse, but is O’Keefe likely to be subject to an IRS takedown or even free-floating congressional scrutiny ? Probably not. On the other hand, local attorneys general and charity offices can and have gone after the Center for Medical Progress’s sting operations and even David Daleiden himself for crimes attendant to his strategies. We imagine that at this point Project Veritas knows where the line is, even though its chutzpah seems to know no bounds.—Ruth McCambridge