"O'Keefe has terrible judgment at times, but his news judgment is even worse,” said a former O’Keefe employee who spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve professional relationships. “His sense of what is legitimately of public interest really is as bad as it looks given some of the trash he publishes. It might help with fundraising from the diehard Bannon wing, but pieces like the Clinton Campaign T-Shirt story also badly water down his brand. Earlier high risk/no reward stunts like the attempted Landrieu and Abbie Boudreau debacle nearly finished him before NPR resurrected him. Even Andrew Breitbart was close to cutting ties."
And O’Keefe has not always carefully prepared for his stings, as evidenced by the Washington Post scheme. A simple Google search for Jaime Phillips, the woman who posed as a Roy Moore accuser, would have turned up the GoFundMe she had created to fund her move to New York to become a conservative media operative—a key piece of evidence that the Post used to figure out what was really going on.
"O'Keefe's nature is to fly by the seat of his pants,” the former employee said. “It's astounding how little O'Keefe understands about how real journalists operate, even now. There's real bias and corruption, but it's not as though reporters don't have basic skills."
Part of why O’Keefe’s latest effort stands apart from previous projects is that instead of exposing alleged liberal hypocrisy and corruption as part of a larger goal, the botched Washington Post sting was launched in the service of defending a candidate. And not just any candidate, but one who has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers and who is deeply unsympathetic even to many allies of O’Keefe’s.
The Washington Post reported that O’Keefe did not answer when asked if he had worked with anyone from the Moore campaign on the scheme, or with any Republican operatives including Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and Breitbart News chairman who is backing Moore.
Breitbart News, the launching pad for O’Keefe’s career, has been relatively circumspect about his latest stunt; as of Monday night, the incident was on the front page but not leading the site, and the headline gave as much credit to the Post as to O’Keefe: “James O’Keefe and Washington Post Bust Each Other.”
“No one at Breitbart News was involved in, or aware of, O’Keefe’s investigation,” editor-at-large Joel Pollak wrote.
A source close to Bannon who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely said that Bannon and his circle had not known about or been involved in the plot. Asked if the Moore campaign had known or been involved, Moore adviser Dean Young said no.
In response to questions from The Atlantic, O’Keefe directed us to the hidden-camera videos Project Veritas had made of Washington Post employees. And on Tuesday evening, Project Veritas sent out an email to fundraise off of what was by then widely seen as a debacle: “The good news is...we already got our story.”