February 1, 2012

Earlier this week Project Veritas leader James O’Keefe filed a defamation lawsuit against The Star-Ledger of New Jersey after a Jan. 22 opinion section article stated he is “still on probation for trying to tap the phone of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.” The paper named O’Keefe as its “Knucklehead of the Week,” and referred to him as “New Jersey’s homegrown gotcha artist.”

O’Keefe’s court filing notes the paper made the same claim about phone tapping back in 2010 and subsequently issued a correction on Nov. 3 of that year. Tuesday, the Star-Ledger issued another correction for its recent repetition of that claim.

Here’s Tuesday’s correction:

An article in the Perspective section on Jan. 22 misstated one of the charges against James O’Keefe III, the activist videographer from Bergen County. O’Keefe is on federal probation in Louisiana for entering the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) under false pretenses. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge after he was caught in an attempt to “orchestrate a conversation about phone calls to the Senator’s staff and capture the conversation on video, not to actually tamper with the phone system or commit any other felony,” according to court papers describing the plea agreement.

And here’s the 2010 correction:

An editorial on Oct. 29 incorrectly described legal findings against James O’Keefe, a conservative activist who secretly recorded events at a recent convention of the New Jersey Education Association. Earlier this year, O’Keefe pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after entering the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu under false pretenses.

Okeefe’s suit alleges the repetition of the tampering accusation constitutes defamation. From his filing:

The suit also alleges the paper defamed O’Keefe on other occasions, though it does not cite specifics. My guess is he may have taken offense to Star-Ledger pieces such an editorial from March of last year, which said:

At this point, no one needs a video of O’Keefe to know what he’s about. In his hands, the camera is a weapon to distort facts, and smash lives and reputations. He and his ilk are not to be trusted.

Gawker’s Maureen O’Connor recently published an email from O’Keefe that suggested he was planning to sue media outlets. The Star-Ledger is the first such suit.

In a post announcing the lawsuit on the Project Veritas website, O’Keefe wrote that he was seeking “monetary damages and an injunction compelling them to print another retraction with language approved by the court.”

I emailed the paper to find out if Tuesday’s correction was approved by O’Keefe or reviewed by him in any way prior to publication. The fact that it offers no apology or explicit expression of regret leads me to believe the paper did not offer O’Keefe or his lawyer the chance to review or offer guidance on the correction prior to publication. But  that’s just a guess. I will update with any response from the paper.

Oh, and just a friendly note to O’Keefe: your court papers misstate the date of the most recent Star-Ledger article as January 23, rather than Jan. 22. And your post announcing the lawsuit misquotes the allegedly offending sentence by leaving out the word “Democratic” in front of Senator Mary Landrieu’s name.

Veritas indeed.

Correction: This post included a misspelling of Project Veritas as Project Vertias.

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Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
Craig Silverman

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