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What's up with James O'Keefe?

Who is James O'Keefe, and what's Project Veritas?

A thritysomething conservative provocateur and self-proclaimed "guerilla journalist," O'Keefe has been making undercover sting videos since 2009. That was the year he teamed up with a young conservative activist, Hannah Giles, to make a series of damning videos targeting ACORN, a left-wing organizing group.

O'Keefe and Giles got ACORN workers to advise them "on how to smuggle Salvadoran girls into the country, falsify a loan application to buy a house for use as a brothel and even claim the under-age prostitutes as dependents for tax purposes," according to The New York Times. Critics countered that the videos were selectively edited – an accusation O'Keefe has faced many times since – but ACORN effectively closed up shop soon after.

The sting made O'Keefe an overnight superstar in the burgeoning conservative media, and caught the attention of Andrew Breitbart, who was then one of the most powerful conservative journalists in the country. In 2010, O'Keefe founded Project Veritas, a nonprofit organization he uses to release and promote his videos.

And why are we talking about him?

Because he just screwed up. O'Keefe and his team of amateur investigators have had a few hits and a number of misses in the last seven years. But this week showcased perhaps his biggest flop yet: an attempted sting of the Washington Post that devolved into what conservative columnist Noah Rothman described as "an unrelenting cascade of incompetence."

O'Keefe and company apparently hoped to get The Washington Post to print a false story about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with minors, including assault in one case. To that end, they seem to have recruited an aspiring conservative journalist to tell Post reporters that Moore had impregnated her when she was 15 and then forced her to get an abortion.

The Post quickly concluded that the woman's story was fiction and that she was deliberately trying to mislead the paper. In response, O'Keefe released a video in which a Washington Post reporter indicates that he sometimes disagrees with his paper's left-leaning opinion page.

O'Keefe, as he always does, marketed his video as a major revelation. But it was met with a collective eyeroll by just about everyone else, including many of O'Keefe's erstwhile allies on the right.

Don't conservatives like him?

O'Keefe is an increasingly controversial figure on the right, particularly among conservative-leaning journalists. Many conservative news sites, including Breitbart and The Daily Caller, still regularly host his videos when he releases them. He also makes a lot of money off of well-heeled conservative donors. But many conservatives agree that his methods are unsound and his judgment is highly questionable.

Still, O'Keefe occasionally gets a scalp, and his videos led to the firing of two Democratic operatives in October 2016 after they confessed to a whole host of shoddy dealings on his hidden cameras. In 2011, O'Keefe forced the resignation of high-ranking NPR executives after they described the tea party as "racist" in a meeting his employees secretly recorded.

But for every success there are flops touted as bombshells. In 2010, he was arrested for trying to infiltrate then Democratic Sen. Mary Landreau's office dressed as a telephone repairman. In 2015, he tried to trick a staffer working for Hillary Clinton into accepting a $75 donation from someone who identified as a Canadian citizen, held a press conference to release the footage, and was roundly mocked by the reporters in attendance.

Other stings failed because of what can only be described as incompetence, such as when one of his employees called a target and forgot to hang up the phone before describing the details of the plot to another person.

O'Keefe has also had a series of fallings-out with some of his employees, who describe him as unethical and eager to take credit for others' work. "All [O'Keefe] cared about was that he had people saying embarrassing stuff on video," one former Veritas operative told The Daily Beast after the NPR sting in 2011. "I came to learn how desperate he was in terms of money and needing to rehabilitate his reputation."

Where did he get his start?

A New Jersey native, O'Keefe attended Rutgers University, where he attracted some attention for a video in which he satirically complained to a school official that Lucky Charms cereal is offensive because it trades on Irish stereotypes. He also founded a conservative paper at the school.

In his early 20s, according to The New York Times, he read labor organizer Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," a book that popular in tea party circles around the time of President Obama's election. After Rutgers, he went to work for the Leadership Institute, which was founded to train young conservative activists. 

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