On Tuesday morning, hours before the Democratic primary debate, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released a hidden-camera video of a Bernie Sanders field organizer romanticizing Soviet gulags and threatening violent revolution if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination. It was meant to expose Sanders’ campaign staff as bloodthirsty revolutionaries and scare the nation about the threat they posed to our democracy.
It was meant to be a bombshell. But it landed with a thud.
Sure, the Veritas video lit up the right wing media circuit, with Brietbart, Gateway Pundit and The Daily Wire covering it. Conservative pundits and personalities Charlie Kirk, Mike Cernovich and Sebastian Gorka posted about it. But almost no one in the mainstream media even acknowledged its existence. O’Keefe et. al. would cite that as proof of liberal media bias, ignoring a damaging story that might hurt a Democratic candidate. But all it really proves is that O’Keefe can’t penetrate the media because he has no idea what the left cares about.
It isn’t hard to figure out why the video made so little impact.
By the time the video published Monday morning, political media was already wrapped up in another story. An anonymously sourced CNN report claimed Sanders told Elizabeth Warren a woman “couldn’t win” the presidency. It was all anyone on political Twitter was talking about. Anyone could see the Warren/Sanders story had legs, especially leading up to Tuesday night’s debate. Even if O’Keefe’s video wasn’t so underwhelming, the timing of its release would’ve doomed it to obscurity.
And underwhelming it is. The video features Kyle Jurek, who Veritas identifies as a Sanders field organizer. During the video, he opines that anti-fascists are more eager to use violence against threatening speech and that Sanders is offering free education to “re-teach [people] how not to be a Nazi” much like Germany did after World War II—remarks that don’t seem controversial. He also said Soviet gulags are portrayed by the CIA as worse than they actually were, and that if Sanders doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, Milwaukee and other cities will “burn.” Right-wingers have cast his comments as threatening violent revolution and free speech. But in truth, his comments are hardly threatening. He doesn’t glorify gulags. He just half-jokingly explains how they might be used to force the super rich to appreciate the working class. And Jurek’s city-burning prediction is fairly anodyne, no worse than when Trump supporters promised to take up arms if the president is removed from office. One person’s opinion doesn’t represent a candidate or their campaign or even large swaths of its supporters.
O’Keefe’s been trying to bring down media companies, liberal politicians and advocacy groups for years by using heavily doctored videos from bizarre sting operations. He faked a racially motivated donation to Planned Parenthood in 2008, causing widespread outrage. In 2009, O’Keefe and a friend posed as a prostitute and a pimp seeking advice from the community advocacy organization ACORN and led Congress to freeze ACORN’s funding before multiple law enforcement agencies found no criminal wrongdoing on the organization’s part due to “heavily edited” video. But Planned Parenthood and ACORN are O’Keefe’s only semi-successful attempts at hitting the political zeitgeist. O’Keefe’s recent flubs include bare-assed attempts to sting the Washington Post and the Open Society Foundations (both in 2017). During the latter, O’Keefe forgot to hang up after leaving a voicemail and let slip that he was trying to make embarrassing “gotcha” videos about them.
O’Keefe is a bad sting artist, but even he could’ve seen this wouldn’t crack the mainstream news cycle. Even anti-Bernie outlets trying to beat up on Sanders are wise to O’Keefe’s game because he’s been doing it so badly for so long. No one takes anything he produces seriously, except those whose political narrative it fits. Project Veritas’ work is designed to rile up conservatives and create a media frenzy. But when it’s completely ignored by everyone else, it just makes you look stupid.