Well, that kind of back-fired on the conservative investigative group Project Veritas. In an attempt to show how mainstream media would print just about any accusation against Roy Moore, the controversial group actually got beat at their own sting operation by The Washington Post which ended up posting recordings of a woman attempting to trick them into printing her false story. The woman reportedly approached the paper claiming that Moore impregnated her as a teenager, but The Post quickly discovered that she actually worked for the organization run by James O’Keefe who is well-known for using stealth recordings in order to “expose” his targets.
You can watch the Post reporter confront the woman about the apparent fraud in the video below:
Did the group do anything illegal with this sting operation? Well, first off, there is nothing illegal about lying to a journalist. If there was, plenty of politicians would have faced charges by now.
However, there are some ways that groups like Project Veritas have gotten in trouble with the law before. In fact, the group’s founder, James O’Keefe, was sentenced to three years of probation after his involvement in a break-in at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office back in 2010. It was an attempt on his group’s part to prove the Senator was ignoring constituent’s calls.
So could he and his group get in trouble this time?
The first way that they could face problems is by recording a reporter (or anyone else) without their consent. It is not totally clear where all of the conversations between the Washington Post and this woman took place. The one above took place at a Greek restaurant in Virginia. Virginia is a one party consent state which means only one party needs to be aware and consent to the recording. In this case, the Washington Post reporter did notify the woman she was being recorded. It is not clear if during the prior conversations that the woman had with reporter that she notified the journalist that she was being recorded. We previously wrote about another sting operation in which Project Veritas tried to expose CNN, and how they potentially ran afoul of privacy laws during that sting. In fact, California prosecutors recently charged two anti-abortion working activists working with a different group with 14 counts of illegal recordings after they secretly tapes videos in an attempt to expose Planned Parenthood.
Another way groups or journalist organizations can get in trouble is if they falsify documents in order to perpetuate their fraud or news gathering operation. The two anti-abortion activists, mentioned above, were also indicted by Texas prosecutors on charges of tampering with government records for using faking identifications (those charges were later dropped). The Washington Post has not said whether the group took measures like falsifying identification or forms in order to fool them. If they did, they could open themselves up to liability.
Project Veritas calls itself a journalistic organization working to “Investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.” Even if a court accepts they were acting as journalists, they could still be exposed to other liabilities. For example in the landmark Food Lion case, journalists lied on employment applications in order to gain access to a privately owned grocery store and operate an undercover sting operation. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the First Amendment didn’t protect the ABC journalist from liability for offenses like trespass.
Bottom line on this one: there is still a lot we don’t know about how this fraud was perpetrated. The group has skirted the legal line before. However, so far, there is nothing that screams that the group did anything illegal.