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A Conservative On Project Veritas

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The conservative activist James O'Keefe and his nonprofit Project Veritas have sprung sting operations on many media organizations, including NPR. In 2011, after one such scheme, NPR pushed out our CEO and also our top fundraiser. These operations often involve undercover videos edited in misleading ways.

And this week, The Washington Post was the target. A woman working for the group had approached The Post with a fake story about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. The newspaper did not publish it and wound up exposing Project Veritas instead. Noah Rothmann is an editor at the conservative Commentary Magazine. He has an essay out about all of this called "Conservative Media Give Up." And he joins us. Good morning.

NOAH ROTHMAN: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Tell me about the title of your piece, "Conservative Media Give Up." What do you mean?

ROTHMAN: Well, because, in my opinion - and particularly because of the face-saving effort on the part of James O'Keefe after the fact to put up this video that demonstrated he was actually right because The Washington Post was covering for its embarrassment over the fact that he had confronted national security reporter, Dan Lamothe, who spent some time in a candid setting talking about how he was generally embarrassed by the editorial page's coverage of Trump for being too hard on Trump as though this was some sort of a big sting.

He presented that to his audience as though this was a demonstration of a Washington Post reporter saying that he was embarrassed by his paper as opposed to the editorial board. And now, he knows the difference between a reporter and the editorial board, but maybe his audience does not.

GREENE: I just - let me just catch our - let me catch our listeners up, if I can. I mean, you're saying that The Post responded to all of this news about this woman coming to them - I'm sorry. James O'Keefe responded by saying I've got this other bombshell. Turned out, that it was a Washington Post journalist saying that the paper had been too hard on Trump and that actually backfired.

ROTHMAN: Yeah. He was being very professional and polite in a candid setting. And it made The Washington Post look even better than they already looked. But it was James O'Keefe's responsibility, at that point, to, if he were not - if he was being a journalist, to inform his audience about the distinctions between the business side of media, the reporters and the tensions between reporters and an editorial board. But he didn't do that.

He relied on ignorance. It was an appeal to ignorance in order to make a point. And that's not what conservative media, alternative media, guerrilla media was established to do. It was established to be truth tellers. And this is the exact opposite of that.

GREENE: Did you like some of what Project Veritas has done in the past? I mean, their tactics have been heavily questioned, but some supporters suggested that they got results. I mean, the sting of ACORN, the organization the registered low-income people to vote, was very damaged. Did you like some of what they used to do?

ROTHMAN: Sure, they did. And there's some mythology, on the left in particular, that because these videos were deceptively edited - for example, James O'Keefe didn't wear this big, you know, mawkish sort of cartoonish pimp get up as he demonstrated that he did in that video. But the comments that were made on that video survived the scrutiny - for example, the New York Times public editor at the time. And they resulted in some serious action. When you have somebody who a community activist endorsing, if not abetting, criminal activity - yes, it's a big deal.

GREENE: What does this say about conservative activism at this moment?

ROTHMAN: It says that it has been as corrupted as quite a bit of conservatism has in the Trump era - that it is serving a political agenda and no longer serving the truth as it was established to see it and to educate its audience. It's become more propagandistic than it has been educational, and that's very tragic.

GREENE: Noah Rothman is an editor at Commentary magazine. Noah, thanks for joining us.

ROTHMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.