Here’s a one-question pop quiz for journalists…
Last weekend, which organization reversed course and didn’t tell anyone, then lied about it until they got caught, at which point they still refuse to comment?
- PROJECT VERITAS – “the faux conservative group of pranksters pretending to be journalists”
- SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS – “the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization”
Obviously, it’s the second one. Or I wouldn’t have anything interesting to write about.
Project Veritas is perhaps best known for losing lawsuits – both the ones it files and the ones filed against it. That’s because they call themselves journalists when, actually, their “investigations” are unethical and their video editing is deceptive.
Most journalists and politicians know all about Project Veritas. Apparently, SPJ leaders didn’t. They let Project Veritas sign up as an exhibitor at SPJ’s annual convention, called MediaFest. For a few hours last week, Project Veritas had a table near SPJ’s registration booth.
Then suddenly, it didn’t.
When some of the 1,000 college and pro journalists in attendance saw that table, they posed questions on the convention app. SPJ didn’t reply, so the questions quickly became condemnations. Eventually, an SPJ staffer – not, notably, an elected leader – posted this…
…but that’s not really true.
Specifically, this is a lie: “That decision was not brought to the attention of the SPJ staff.” If you watch the Project Veritas video above, they were smart enough to keep emails from SPJ staff before the convention.
SPJ doubled down on the lies when another staffer – also not an elected leader, because they were oddly absent – explained Project Veritas was asked to leave because they hadn’t paid for their table. Yup, watch the video. That’s not true, either.
If this was just another SPJ embarrassment – and I’ve documented more than a few of those over the years – it wouldn’t be worth any more kilobytes. But here’s where it gets sinister.
SPJ’s staff infection
At the end of Project Veritas’s smarmy video, founder James O’Keefe implores…
Be brave! Do something! Reach out to the Society of Professional Journalists and ask them why they won’t have Project Veritas at their conference.
Well, some of Project Veritas’s 1.5 million YouTube subscribers did indeed “reach out.” But not bravely.
They’ve been harassing the staffer with the most airtime in that video. By email. By phone. By social media. They’ve threatened her and her children.
I won’t repeat her name, but you can easily find it. Dozens of assholes already have. Here’s the thing: She had nothing to do with the decision to accept Project Veritas – or literally send them packing. Like most employees, she does what she’s told: “Here’s some paperwork, make sure it’s filled out correctly.”
Now, you’d think SPJ would be saying what I just did. To protect their employees and, you know, “be brave.” Instead, SPJ’s board of directors have said nothing all week.
Meanwhile, that employee told me, “I’ve locked every public facing account and will keep it that way for a while. I also screen my phone calls.”
On Thursday – four days after the convention ended and the employee’s nightmare began – I emailed the SPJ board I once served on: “I seek comment on the Project Veritas video and the controversy that preceded it.”
I received this reply: “The board hasn’t had a chance to talk about this yet, but we are having a meeting in executive session tonight which will soon be posted on the website. Hopefully we’ll have more to say after that.”
It’s now Sunday. They haven’t said or posted anything.
Yesterday, seven SPJ “regional coordinators” (of which I’m one) sent a letter to the board…
Our staff does not deserve abuse, period. They do not deserve abuse from within, from our leaders and members, and they certainly do not deserve abuse from those outside of our organization. … We are urging the board and its legal counsel to immediately issue a statement that redirects the scrutiny, hostility and acrimony away from our staff.
The board of directors hasn’t responded. Or even acknowledged the letter.
A very loud silence
I’m sure fear is one reason SPJ leaders are so quiet. They’re scared Project Veritas will sue them – and win, for a change.
After all, Project Veritas followed SPJ’s rules and sent people to staff their exhibit hall table. They drove four hours from their headquarters in Mamaroneck, New York, to the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC. They got hotel rooms. They put their other vile projects on hold.
More than compensation, Project Veritas will sue SPJ for its promotional opportunities. James O’Keefe is probably rehearsing another video script right now. So SPJ should immediately offer to reimburse Project Veritas’s expenses. Ask for receipts and cut a check. Swallow your pride, put this behind you, don’t look back, and all those other cliches.
Then issue a goddamned statement. Something like…
As SPJ’s elected leaders, the buck stops here, and the blame rests with us. We were planning our first in-person convention in three years with new officers and without an executive director (who recently accepted another job). It was a perfect storm of imperfection, and we apologize. But we also demand an apology.
Project Veritas purposefully sent their audience to harass an innocent SPJ staffer. We’re collecting those threats and will report them to authorities. In the meantime, we’ve asked Project Veritas and now ask everyone else: If you want to complain, email email@example.com. We’ll respond, but no one else you harass will. We’ve instructed staff and other SPJ volunteers to forward any communication on this topic to us.
Finally, it’s pathetic and frightening that an innocent staffer just doing her job is a target of such harassment. SPJ won’t tolerate it, and we won’t be intimidated by it.
At this same convention a couple of nights after Project Veritas was booted, SPJ swore in a new president. Her name is Claire Regan.
“Journalists need SPJ now more than ever for support and solidarity,” Regan said in her installment speech. “I promise to work hard to make every SPJ member feel valued and empowered.”
I guess that doesn’t include SPJ staff.
But it’s not just Regan. The rest of the board are quiet cowards. They can’t pretend to support journalists if they can’t support their own employees.
If you’re an SPJ member, I might suggest you tell them that. But you can’t. The directors have removed their own contact information from SPJ’s website. Obviously, they don’t want to face the same harassment their staff is. How brave.