James O’Keefe: “The Times made this false claim saying our story relied solely on ‘unidentified sources.’ This is absolute hogwash, dishonest and libelous.”
O’Keefe: “The second word of the article about our Minnesota ballot harvesting investigation calls the video ‘deceptive,’ but there is nothing in the article to substantiate this libelous claim.”
Project Veritas lawyer: The New York Times reporters Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu violated their paper’s own Code of Conduct
New York Times lawyer: “Alleged ‘errors,’ however are either immaterial or not errors—they are disagreements with the authors’ opinions and conclusions.”
NYT lawyer: “Word ‘deceptive’ is not actionable as libel, because it is an opinion.”
[WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y.—Oct. 30, 2020] The founder and CEO of Project Veritas announced today his journalism outfit intends to sue The New York Times reporters Maggie Astor, Tiffany Hsu and their paper for defamation after failed negotiations.
“We are not going to forget the transgressions against us,” said James O’Keefe, who established Project Veritas in 2011 as a non-profit company dedicated to investigative and undercover journalism.
“Several weeks ago, The New York Times published two articles saying our Minnesota ballot harvesting investigation was ‘deceptive,’” he said.
“The Times made this false claim saying our story relied solely on ‘unidentified sources.’ This is absolute hogwash, dishonest and libelous,” he said.
“Project Veritas is suing the New York Times and we will win,” O’Keefe said. The legal action was filed at the Westchester County courthouse of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
The lead counsel for this lawsuit is Libby Locke of Clare Locke. Locke successfully litigated against The New York Times in the past and won a multi-million-dollar judgement against Rolling Stone. Last year she secured a $26 million defamation verdict in North Carolina.
Local counsel for Project Veritas is Scarsdale attorney Amy L. Bellantoni. Bellantoni is a former Rockland County senior assistant district attorney and former special assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“This lawsuit is a watershed moment for Project Veritas and all the other individuals and organizations the Old Gray Lady has unfairly attacked and marginalized,” O’Keefe said.
“We are making our stand here and we are telling The Times, and everyone else: ‘The lies stop now, or we will fight you all the way to the Supreme Court,’” he said.
Minneapolis ballot harvesting investigation
At issue is how Astor characterized the Sept. 27 Project Veritas report “Ilhan Omar Connected Cash-For-Ballots Voter Fraud Scheme Corrupts Elections: 'These Here Are All Absentee Ballots...Look...My Car Is Full’ … 'Money Is The King Of Everything'.”
Astor’s article “Researchers say a Project Veritas video accusing Ilhan Omar of voter fraud was a ‘coordinated disinformation campaign’” was posted online Sept. 29 but ran in the print editions of the paper Sept. 30.
Mr. O’Keefe’s promotional posts had said the video would be released on Monday, but Project Veritas released it on Sunday instead, a few hours after the publication of The Times’s investigation. The Stanford researchers concluded that this timing was unlikely to be a coincidence.
“It’s a great example of what a coordinated disinformation campaign looks like: pre-seeding the ground and then simultaneously hitting from a bunch of different accounts at once,” said Alex Stamos, who led the research team at the Stanford Internet Observatory.
Stamos is one of the authors of the “rapid response” blog post “Project Veritas #BallotHarvesting Amplification,” which was posted Sept. 29 by Stamos and his Stanford Internet Observatory colleagues Isabella Garcia-Camargo and Elena Cryst and also Joe Bak-Coleman, Kate Starbird and Joey Schafer from the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public. The teams from each school fall under the rubric of the Election Integrity Partnership, or EIP.
Astor used this blog post to back up her assertions.
O’Keefe said Astor’s assertions were false.
“The article goes on in the first paragraph to say the video was ‘probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort,’” he said.
“The second word of the article about our Minnesota ballot harvesting investigation calls the video ‘deceptive,’ but there is nothing in the article to substantiate this libelous claim,” he said.
“In fact, the video speaks for itself and is very clear,” he said.
“All Maggie Astor had to do is call me and ask what happened. I would have told her that we decided Saturday that a Sunday night release might be better for social media,” O’Keefe said. “The truth is that we were correct—so correct that Astor concluded there had to be a conspiracy.”
Astor also intentionally misrepresented Minnesota state law, stating: “None of the material in the video actually proved voter fraud.”
Central to the Project Veritas report were videos posted by Liban Mohamed, also known as Liban Osman, the brother of Minneapolis Ward 6 City Councilor Jamal Osman. In the videos that he posted on his KingLiban1 Snapchat profile, Liban brags that he had a car full of 300 ballots for his brother’s run in the Aug. 22 special election for the Ward 6 seat.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Liban said in his video as he filmed ballots stacked on the dashboard of his car. “You see my car is full. All these here are absentee ballots. Can’t you see? Look at all these. My car is full.”
Minnesota state law prohibits individuals from handling more than three ballots, so Liban’s boast put him at 100 times the legal limit.
Astor gave this description:
“The video contains footage of a man, identified as Liban Mohamed, showing off ballots he says he has collected for a Minneapolis City Council candidate — something that, depending on when the video was filmed, may not have been illegal, because a district court judge in July temporarily suspended Minnesota’s ban on third parties collecting and returning large numbers of completed ballots. Mr. Mohamed was not working for Ms. Omar.”
Astor omits from her story that at least one of Liban’s videos was dated by Liban as having been posted on July 2 – prior to the district court ruling Astor cites.
Even so, the intentional misdirection Astor makes is irrelevant because the law was never nullified. During the five-week window when enforcement was suspended, ballot harvesters proceeded at their own risk pending the court challenge.
When the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the three-ballot limit in its Sept. 4 ruling, the violations of the now-affirmed law remained violations.
In an Oct. 5 report for Minneapolis’ KMSP-TV, Liban confessed to reporter Tom Lyden that he had no fewer than 20 ballots in his car, still more than six times the legal limit.
Another mistake Astor made was when she wrote that Project Veritas used unidentified sources to connect Rep. Ilhan Omar (D.-Minn.) with illegal ballot collection.
In fact, local Somali-American community activist Omar Jamal was interviewed for both the Sept. 27 and the Sept. 29 report “Caught In the Act: Ballot Harvester on Camera Exchanging Cash for General Election Ballot … ‘She’s [Ilhan Omar] the One Who Came Up With All Of This…We Are Taking the Money And We’ll Vote for You…We Don’t Care Illegal’”
O’Keefe said Jamal, who is the chairman of the Somali Watchdog Group, was fully identified and his face was not blurred.
“Here’s the absolutely crazy irony of all this, The New York Times itself has published at least 10 articles quoting Jamal on matters relating to the Somali community,” he said. “The lack of honesty and the blatant hypocrisy by The New York Times would be laughable if it weren’t so defamatory.”
An unidentified Somali-American was interviewed for the Sept. 27 report and he said campaign operatives came to his apartment building and went door-to-door collecting ballots.
Omar operatives request the ballots and fill them out for the voters, he said.
“They come to us. They came to our homes. They said: ‘This year, you will vote for Ilhan,’” he said. “They said: ‘We will make the absentee ballots. We will fill out the forms for you and when you get them back, we will again fill it out and send it.’”
There was no need to go to the voting site, because the Omar operatives told him: “You stay home, and you will not go to the place.”
After the ballots are signed and documented the man said he got paid.
Another man is partially identified in the Sept. 27 report, as Jamal, Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the name of the political organization that functions as the Minnesota chapter of the Democratic National Committee.
Jamal said he saw the KingLiban1 videos and he confirmed that papers piled up on the dashboard looked to him like ballots.
In further evidence of Astor’s bad faith, in her article she provided hyperlinks to her paper’s article about President Donald J. Trump’s taxes, the Stanford study and to a statement from Omar’s spokesman—but not to the actual Project Veritas investigative report in question, which would have given readers the opportunity to judge for themselves.
Examination of Stanford study exposes Astor’s bias, collusion
Project Veritas Chief Legal Officer Jered Ede said Astor’s malice was evidenced by what the Stanford study did not say about Project Veritas.
“Nowhere in the Stanford blog post does the word ‘deceptive’ appear,” Ede said.
“This makes it perfectly clear that although Astor relies on the Stanford study and makes it the centerpiece of her headline and narrative—any charge of deception against Project Veritas is indigenous to Astor herself,” he said.
“Astor’s journalistic sleight of hand, of appearing to be summarizing an academic paper, but actually her own hostility towards Project Veritas, is brought into stark relief by the pull-quote placed in the center of the text: “Making claims without evidence of ballot harvesting,” he said.
“The pull-quote is itself disproved by the Project Veritas report, but Astor and her editors give this false and misleading statement nearly equal billing with the headline,” he said.
Ede said it was the height of hypocrisy for Astor to accuse Project Veritas of a coordinated campaign when she herself appears to be the one coordinating with the Stanford’s Internet Observatory.
“Metadata from the websites of The Times and Election Integrity Partnership reveals that The Times published Astor’s story on the researchers’ study less than 63 minutes after the EIP blog post was published,” he said.
“This information is readily available in the source code that can be accessed by right-clicking on the respective webpages,” he said.
“Obviously, in the span of only one hour, Astor would not have been able to read and digest EIP’s 1,200-word post, then contact the authors of EIP’s post for comment and then contact others quoted in the story for comment, and then write her own nearly 1,000-word article and finally submit her draft article to her editors at The Times for review and approval,” he said.
“The inescapable conclusion revealed by the timing of Astor’s story is that EIP provided her with a draft of its blog post well in advance of when it was actually published, so that The New York Times could publish its own story highlighting the blog post shortly after it was released, thus greatly increasing its reach and visibility,” Ede said.
Ede said because of the clear evidence of apparent orchestration between EIP and The Times, he is “curious about the provenance of the EIP blog post.
“I am curious if The Times conceived the idea and thesis of the blog post in the first instance—that Project Veritas published its investigative report early in an effort to distract from The Times’ story on the President’s tax returns—to create a pretextual basis for a New York Times story attacking the Project Veritas report,” he said.
Reporter Tiffany Hsu, The New York Times double down while in talks with Project Veritas
O’Keefe said while he and the Project Veritas legal team were attempting to work out a retraction and or correction with The New York Times lawyers, the paper’s reporter Tiffany Hsu wrote an Oct. 25 article “Conservative News Sites Fuel Voter Fraud Misinformation” that amplified Astor’s libel and defamation.
“Hsu’s article came after we threatened to sue and after the lawyer from The Times offered to negotiate an editor’s note or other corrective edits to address our concerns,” he said.
Like Astor’s stories, Hsu’s online and print stories falsely called Project Veritas’ video “deceptive,” and incorrectly asserted that its reports “claimed without named sources or verifiable evidence” that ballots were being collected illegally.
Project Veritas demands retraction from The New York Times
Ede sent a Sept. 30 letter to The New York Times addressed to both Astor and the paper’s Executive Editor Dean P. Baquet that demanded either the paper retract the complete article by Oct. 2 or face legal action.
While in a normal circumstance Project Veritas would simply ask for a correction, the reality is your articles are so misinformed and libelous and were published with a clear intent to harm someone who, as the researchers you cite admit, “began to compete with – and even overwhelm – the [New York Times’] reporting on Trump’s tax returns.” Accordingly, the only appropriate response is a wholesale retraction of the articles. Please understand that if the articles are not retracted by close of business, Friday, October 2, 2020, we will sue.
In addition, Ede wrote that The New York Times and Astor were disingenuous when they wrote that Project Veritas relied on unnamed sources.
This claim is also, to borrow your wording, deceptive (and untrue). I note that not only do your articles wholly fail to disclose Project Veritas’s September 28, 2020 video release (found here: https://twitter.com/Project_Veritas/status/1310769622568898560) in which Project Veritas exposed a ballot harvester paying for a voter’s voting documentation. That second video also prominently features a named individual (Osman Ali Dahquane) who expressly alleges Ilhan Omar “came up with” the pay-for-vote scheme. Perhaps more to the point of your articles, both videos prominently feature Omar Jamal by his name, with no obscured face, who makes those same allegations. Perhaps you didn’t watch the videos before “reporting,” as it seems that The Times wouldn’t miss such glaring details.
O’Keefe said Project Veritas worked in good faith to resolve the matter with lawyers at The Times.
The first response from the paper was from Dana Green, a New York Times lawyer. Green wrote that the paper was declining the request for a complete retraction because, among other things, the word “deceptive” is not actionable as libel, because it is an opinion, rather than a statement of facts and the errors in the Stanford study referred to in Ede’s letter were all a matter of conjecture.
“Those alleged ‘errors,’ however are either immaterial or not errors—they are disagreements with the authors’ opinions and conclusions,” Green wrote.
In a second letter from The Times sent Oct. 12, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel David E. McGraw, wrote to Project Veritas, through its lead attorney in this matter Libby Locke, of plaintiff’s defamation firm, Clare Locke, which has defeated The Times in the past, that he recognized concerns with Astor’s article, and he was open to a correction suggested by Project Veritas.
However, McGraw wrote he was not budging from Green’s original response to the question of deception being libelous or how the Stanford study was characterized.
The term “deceiver” applied to a reporter or editor is not subject to a precise meaning, McGraw wrote.
“The researchers’ speculation about coordination—which was presented as speculation—may have been thoroughly misguided but that does not turn statements of speculation into statements of facts,” wrote McGraw, who functions at the most senior lawyer for The Times news operation.
Project Veritas did, in fact, present its proposed correction to McGraw, who rejected it without offering any further suggestions on how to resolve the dispute without litigation.
O’Keefe said Project Veritas has no choice but to move forward with the lawsuit against The New York Times.
“It is outrageous that the former ‘Paper of Record’ is now claiming, for itself, full license to accuse anyone of deception and to present any speculation in a news article,” he said.
“Who took my New York Times? Not my actual newspaper, but the newspaper my father used to read—it was honest, reliable and for the most part unbiased—sadly, someone took that New York Times and replaced it with this sad imposter,” he said.
“As they say, you can run, but you cannot hide, New York Times. You defamed us. We are suing you. We will depose you. We will expose you. And we will win,” he said. “And to those of you so-called journalists who repeated the Times’ reporting and assumed the same legal position as the Times after hearing from my lawyers – don’t worry, you’re next. Retract it now and save yourself the trouble and the embarrassment.”
Despite the paper’s assertion and blessing that Astor’s piece was a work of opinion, it was presented to the readers as news. Not only was it printed in the news section of the paper, it was printed in the block paragraph, or justified text, style of the paper’s news articles. The paper prints its opinion, features and other genres in the flush-left-ragged-right paragraph style.
The Times’ own “Guidelines on Integrity” command that Astor was to have contacted Project Veritas before reporting:
Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond.
Ede said it is also troubling that Astor’s piece violates The Times’s own “Guidelines for Integrity” for reporters, because Astor made no effort to reach out O’Keefe nor Project Veritas before posting her article.
“It is further concerning that while The Times pretended to be interested in a good faith negotiation with Project Veritas about making proper corrections so as to avoid a lawsuit, Astor’s falsehoods have been replicated around the world, including in yet another baseless Times article, and treated as factual—even though The New York Times already conceded Astor was not being factual at all.”
Keep up to date with our fight against the Times at exposenyt.com. And if you have inside information or want to join our fight, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About Project Veritas
Project Veritas is a non-profit investigative news organization conducting undercover reporting. Project Veritas investigates and exposes corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions to achieve a more ethical and transparent society. Project Veritas is a registered 501(c)(3) organization.