If only that mouthy Olivia Nuzzi hadn’t come and ruined everything.
“Is this a joke?” The Daily Beast reporter asked with a smirk on her face when she was called on during Tuesday’s morning’s presser with rambo-style journalist James O’Keefe at the iconic National Press Club. “I feel like this is a joke,” she repeated.
The O’Keefe video wasn’t very Nuzzi-worthy, apparently.
O’Keefe was there to reveal footage of a Canadian woman at a Hillary Clinton rally buying a $40 T-shirt at the hands of Clinton’s villainous campaign workers Molly Barker and Erin Tibe — who knew they were violating a law.
When the Canadian tried to buy a T-shirt, Hillary’s staff initially shot her down, telling her that they could not violate federal election laws. But soon they found a way around it. The woman would use a third party who just so happened to be an undercover female James O’Keefe journalist.
She paid Clinton’s campaign $75 total for all the swag and collected $40 from the Canadian.
And everyone went on their merry way.
The O’Keefe presser was a well of professionalism. When I arrived, a sandy-haired man handed me a business card that said “Daniel Pollack.” This was O’Keefe’s chief spokesman. He informed me that we knew a lot of people in common. He also gave me this resumé popper: He’s Betsy Woodruff‘s ex-boyfriend.
No way, girl. You are? Tell me MORE! (Actually, no, I just nodded politely. I don’t know Woodruff personally, but I think we once bonded over our first names on Twitter. She’s a reporter for The Daily Beast.)
There was some confusion about which O’Keefe dude was actually Daniel Pollack. I assumed the guy above was Pollack. But a few moments later, a guy with curly black hair came over and handed me his card. WHAT THE HELL? He, too, was Daniel Pollack.
Apart from O’Keefe, did everyone on his staff go by Daniel Pollack?
I walked back to Daniel Pollack #1 and asked who he was. Now he handed me a different card, which said Robert Panzenbeck. He and a young woman who served as O’Keefe’s water girl during the presser explained they were handing out Pollack’s card to all the journalists. This was his first day on the job.
One by one, the journalists flowed in from the nation’s most prestigious media institutions — the NYT, WaPo, Yahoo! News, NPR, MSNBC and U.S. News & World Report. The right-leaning pubs included WorldNetDaily and Accuracy in Media.
“It’s so close to the office. I’m like, why not? Might as well,” a rather unenthused female reporter sitting behind The Mirror remarked to her neighbors.
As the press conference got underway, reporters quickly moved into interrogation mode, asking O’Keefe the same questions over and over, clearly hoping to trip him up. They came because they heard O’Keefe was going to drop a bombshell about Hillary Clinton, but they stayed to ridicule and grill him on whether he committed any crimes.
O’Keefe’s undercover videographer, they soon learned, also broke a campaign finance law that his lawyer, Ben Barr, explained was the equivalent to jaywalking and a $200 fine. What Hillary Clinton’s aides did, he said, was far more serious.
“It was a conduit donation, which is a crime,” said O’Keefe.
On the subject of his videos, he remarked, “We drip them out one at a time. This is the first in a long series.”
Yahoo! News‘s Jon Ward: “Is there a pattern? Are you opposed to investigating a Republican campaign?”
O’Keefe replied, “We’d be completely open to investigating both sides.”
A grizzled reporter with lots of facial hair couldn’t take it anymore. “This is about buying a T-shirt. Seems pretty trivial, not much of a bombshell,” he cracked.
O’Keefe countered, “This is kind of an extraordinary thing. It’s about a willingness to break the law.”
Soon an obviously right-leaning reporter with a tripod piped up and lobbed a softball. “Why aren’t the liberal media exposing what you are?”
A beaming O’Keefe noted the snickers in the audience. “I think journalism today is about access,” he said. “It’s about access and opportunity.”
But some journalists who were not at the presser thought O’Keefe’s news was light on importance:
- WaPo‘s Dave Weigel (to whom O’Keefe granted first dibs): “Basically an O’Keefe undercover journalist helped a Canadian buy Hillary swag after the campaign said no to her,” he wrote on Twitter.
- The Atlantic‘s Matt Ford: “In his most daring ruse yet, James O’Keefe catches the Clinton campaign brazenly following federal election law.”
- NYT‘s Nick Confessore: “Latest O’Keefe video: O’Keefe staffer in attempted conspiracy to violate election law! Good work guys.”
U.S. News & World Report‘s Dave Catanese, who was at the press conference, had a revealing Twitter tone: “James O’Keefe alleging the Clinton campaign violated foreign donation law because a Canadian bought a shirt at a rally.”
O’Keefe’s people seemed to welcome Nuzzi’s obvious loathing for him. Later, O’Keefe’s chief spokesman Daniel Pollack tried to stoke her outrage.
“Do you have a follow-up?” he asked at the conclusion of the press conference, despite the fact that Nuzzi hadn’t raised her hand.
She bit. “Are you sure this isn’t a joke?” she asked again.
On her Twitter feed, Nuzzi was even less kind. In fact, she was loathe to be anywhere near O’Keefe.
“Where did I go wrong in life that this morning I find myself at a James O’Keefe press conference?” she asked rhetorically. (Which is really saying something considering she used to work for that “perv” Anthony Weiner.)
O’Keefe explained that he’s not the first journalist to use undercover tactics such as hidden cameras. Remember that “60 Minutes” reporter Mike Wallace did it too, he remarked.
As the minutes passed, the fury grew. Is this the best he’s got on Hillary? What’s the Canadian woman’s name? What is the name of OKeefe’s journalist? Are his spies infiltrating other campaigns or specifically Hillary’s? Are they looking into Republican presidential campaigns too? What kind of cameras does he use? Why not release (the other stuff) today? Why not release it to the FEC? Your journalists are not embedded with other campaigns? Is this the best thing you have because it’s out first?
The questions were asked repeatedly with lots of variations.
O’Keefe, dressed in a dark suit and crisp white button-down, remained firm and calm. No, despite their vulture-like qualities and WaPo columnist Dana Milbank‘s imposing petite form in the front row, he was not going to give them what they wanted.
“You’re just going to have to stay tuned, he said again and again. “We can’t reveal.”
And he had promises.
“We do have more evidence that is coming out that’s breaking the law,” he said. “We give each video the attention that it deserves. We do have more videos coming out. I can’t reveal the nature of what those videos are. We have many undercover people across the country.”
They’re also firing off a letter to the Clinton campaign requesting a refund of the $75 contribution.
Journalists who bothered to show up in the flesh were visibly agitated. When one declared that the Clinton campaign had denied any violation of the law, O’Keefe snapped, “What video are they watching?”
His lawyer, Ben Barr, backed him up: “There is no maneuver around this.”
Still, the reporters whined, this is what we came here for?
Journalists can be so touchy.
After the presser, I approached the guy who asked the question about the liberal media and asked what publication he worked for. He got a little unnecessarily defensive: “What publication do YOU work for?” he shot back. I told him. He appeared to relax. He told me he works for Accuracy in Media.
I cornered Barr to make him explain the whole T-shirt transaction. The O’Keefe undercover reporter paid $75 in total — $35 was hers, $40 came from the Canadian woman. He said the kind of law that Clinton’s campaign aides broke is hard to catch. “Detection is difficult,” he told The Mirror. “It’s one data point. We think it’s an important data point.”
As the last reporters trickled out, I approached Daniel Pollack (the real one). I asked if he felt that the reporters took O’Keefe’s news seriously. He replied, “Absolutely. The fact that it went on as long as it did. There were a lot of reporters and a lot of questions. By the nature of their questions they were taking it seriously.”
Um. Olivia Nuzzi?
“I will not comment on individual reporters,” Pollack said.
He continued, “These guys are serious — The New York Times, Washington Post — if they weren’t interested they’d get up and leave.”
Um. Olivia Nuzzi?
“I will not comment on individual reporters,” he said.
But the questions and commentary tell a different story.
“Is it underwhelming to you that it involves a T-shirt?” WorldNetDaily Washington Editor Garth Kant asked me under his breath before the presser even began.
He compared it to an adult buying beer for someone who is underage.