It’s like your standard con: The flimflammer counts on the flimflammee to be ripe for the swindle, to be a larcenous cheat him- or herself. In the case of the journalistic sting, the political hustler relies on the overly ambitious reporter’s willingness to cut corners in the name of the big scoop. Anytime I was covering a scandal, whether it involved a Republican or Democrat, I could always count on some operative furtively telling me that someone in the other party was about to be exposed for even worse sleazy behavior, usually sexual. He or she was telling me “as a friend,” and the kicker would be that a competing news organization was about to blow the lid off the story. The idea was to panic me into abandoning my normal caution so I could avoid being battered by my bosses because I was beaten on the story. They were shameless.
It happened so often that it was predictable, and I never bit. What they didn’t realize is that even more than some second-guessing manager, which many are, I feared the ridicule of reporting something spectacularly wrong. So I didn’t take the bait. I had to be really, truly sure. What they were peddling was almost always a crock.
A variation also occurred frequently as I was covering the second war in Iraq, the one that Bush 2’s administration falsely justified as a military campaign against Saddam Hussein’s phony cache of weapons of mass destruction. Repeatedly, some ambitious military public-affairs officer who knew I had the capability to quickly report live would lead me to a storage facility and show me devices they claimed were proof that Saddam really did hide WMDs. Again, he was hoping I’d foolishly report to the world that I’d discovered the smoking nerve gas canister or the like. A little investigating would prove it was no such thing. End of story. I should point out that many armed-forces public-affairs officers are genuinely helpful, but others or their commanders are snakes who do whatever they can to obstruct or discredit the media.
Which brings us back to politics and the snakes at Project Veritas. That is the right-wing extremist “news” site originally commissioned by the late Andrew Breitbart (yes THAT Breitbart) to attack liberal groups like Planned Parenthood with fraudulent and sometimes illegal undercover recording and deceptive editing. It also targets news organizations, which as every conservative can tell you, are shamefully leftist. It just took on The Washington Post, which has taken the lead in disclosing charges that Alabama religious zealot and GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had a history of stalking teenager girls nearly 40 years ago, when he was in his 30s. The WashPo interviews included one who accused Moore of sexually assaulting her back when she was 14. Moore angrily denies the accusations.
So Project Veritas decided to help him out. They assigned a woman to approach the paper with a conjured-up story that Moore had made her pregnant when she was a kid and forced her to get an abortion. The obvious intent was to deceive the Post reporters, who would then run her story. At that point, Project Veritas would swoop in and proudly expose how it deceived The Washington Post. That would discredit all Roy Moore reporting, and the hard right’s agenda against us mainstream media scumbags would be advanced.
Unfortunately, the scumbags at the Post didn’t cooperate. They did the normal kind of due diligence and quickly realized that the people at Project Veritas were engaging in their usual clumsy subterfuge. So they turned the tables, and did an embarrassing story on Project Veritas. The difference is, that story was true.
Do I need to mention that Veritas, with its Breitbart connection, is aligned with Steve Bannon and Donald Trump? It’s not just their agendas that are similar. They’re all con artists.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.