James O'Keefe, founder of conservative news outlet Project Veritas, will speak at Southern Methodist University on Wednesday, only days after The Washington Post reported a woman with possible ties to O'Keefe's organization targeted a Post reporter in a sting operation.
The event, titled "Real News — Stopping Bias in American Media," is hosted by the conservative youth organization Young Americans for Freedom. O'Keefe plans to discuss several topics, including bias in the media. Project Veritas characterizes itself as an investigative journalism organization, though it uses tactics shunned by mainstream journalists, including secretly recording sources and undercover "sting" operations.
The Washington Post reported Monday that a woman named Jaime Phillips approached the publication claiming she had been impregnated by U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has recently been accused of molesting teenage girls and is running for election in Alabama. Throughout a series of interviews, the Post reported, Phillips pushed reporters to give their opinions on how her story would impact Moore's campaign. After the Post ran a background check on Phillips, they found possible ties between her and Project Veritas.
The Washington Post later confronted Phillips about inconsistencies in her story and asked O'Keefe if Phillips worked for Project Veritas. Phillips denied working for an organization that targets journalists. O'Keefe declined to comment on any ties between the organization and Phillips.
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In 2014, Project Veritas released a video claiming to show supporters of then-state Sen. Wendy Davis mocking then-Attorney General Greg Abbott's disability when the two were running against each other for governor. But the video showed signs of alteration to make comments appear more derisive.
Protests have erupted on campuses across the country in response to controversial speakers. Kim Cobb, director of media relations for SMU, said the university always provides security for public events and did not plan to treat O'Keefe's talk differently.
"Protection of free speech is bedrock at SMU," Cobb said in a written statement. "This speaker was invited to campus by a student organization, and we respect our students’ right to do so. Please do not misinterpret our support for that freedom as an indication of official University agreement on any particular issue."
In a public statement about the event, Young Americans for Freedom said they invited O'Keefe because his acts "holding organizations and media outlets accountable makes him noteworthy." Still, the campus organization never encourages student groups to do undercover investigations and recognizes journalists should "act with the same integrity they aim to ensure."
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
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