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Environment

Gasland's Josh Fox Busts James O'Keefe's Latest Bogus Claim

The conservative videographer's latest 'gotcha' video bombs at Cannes.

Photo Credit: Joshua B. Pribanic / Shutterstock

Conservative videographer James O'Keefe tried to make a big splash at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this week, debuting a 20-minute video that he claims exposes hypocrisy among notable documentary filmmakers and Hollywood activists. But the film ended up backfiring on O'Keefe as one of his targets,Gasland director Josh Fox, recorded his end of a phone conversation with O'Keefe's cohorts, and exposed deceptive editing by O'Keefe.

O'Keefe also secretly recorded and filmed environmentalists Josh and Rebecca Tickell and their friends, actors Ed Begley, Jr., and Mariel Hemingway, trying to trap them into accepting financing for an anti-fracking film from Middle East oil interests.

But while the Tickell's might have taken the bait from O'Keefe's Project Veritas, Fox was wary of the group that contacted him several months back and made his own secret recording. Fox claims that he's become careful with his contacts, as he's frequently a target of the energy industry since the debut of his landmark 2010 documentary.

The latest O'Keefe saga began in December 2013, when Fox said that a large number of emails from a group called Beacon International began to arrive in his inbox. The organization claimed to be an overseas consortium interested in funding an anti-fracking film. Smelling a rat, Fox took to Google. All he could find was a hastily slapped-together site that “basically looked like a joke site set up overnight.”

Recognizing that he was likely being scammed, Fox began to ignore the emails. But Beacon International was persistent, even visiting Fox's New York City apartment, where they left calling cards in his mailbox and on his door.

Fox grew even more suspicious at this point, and he decided to engage the suspicious contact. With a fellow filmmaker in the room, Fox made the call. In the recording he gave The Daily Beast, Fox asks a representative from Beacon International the names of the individuals the group represents. But the person on the other end of the line, “Brandon Turner” would only tell Fox that they were from Europe and the Middle East. At this, Fox balked, repeatedly and pointedly explaining to Turner that he wouldn't participate in a project if he didn't know the names of the individuals funding it. 

On the recording Fox says: “We don’t know much about your company...I would need to have more transparency than you’re giving me right now to feel comfortable with doing that." 

Fox concluded that his contact with Beacon International was just a scam and didn't give it much of a thought after that...until this week when James O'Keefe debuted his latest sting video at Cannes.

Toward the end of O’Keefe’s video, Fox is recorded as saying: “Obviously there are projects that we are working on ahead of time, that we’re working on now, that do sound like they would be interesting to your clients.” But Fox's worries about Beacon International's lack of transparency had been cut from the audio clip. Instead, it appears as though Fox had shown interest in the investors. 

“We have them caught in total deception,” Fox told The Daily Beast. “This phone call reveals exactly how they work. They willfully portray it in the wrong light. They edit it so it sounds like you said something that you didn’t. Luckily I had the full tape.”

O'Keefe is a conservative activist who infamously produced audio and video recordings of staged encounters with public figures and workers in a variety of organizations, purportedly showing abusive or illegal behavior. He first gained national attention by recording ACORN workers supposedly aiding a couple (himself and a colleague pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute) in criminal planning in 2009. While the video footage virtually destroyed ACORN, California prosecutors later found that O'Keefe selectively and heavily edited the raw footage.

O'Keefe has received monetary support from conservative media and interest groups to produce videos where he 'punks' individuals and organizations considered liberal. In 2009 Andrew Breitbart paid the activist to produce videos for BigGovernment.com. In June 2010 O'Keefe formed a 501(c)(3) organization, dubbed Project Veritas with the stated mission to "investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud and other misconduct."

Despite his tactics, O'Keefe's productions are praised by conservative pundits like Weekly Standard Editor Fred Barnes, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly.

O'Keefe's activities have generated legal trouble for him. He was arrested and sentenced to three years’ probation for his involvement in a break-in at Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in 2010.

In this latest sting operation, O’Keefe claims to have been inspired by the 2012 film Promised Land, where an anti-fracking activist was actually an operative for the energy companies trying to buy land rights from a small, rural community. The film was financed, in part, by an organization partially owned by the United Arab Emirates government.

After Fox didn't take the bait, Brandon Turner dangled it in front of the Tickells, producers of the documentary, Fuel, a few months later. The Tickells are currently working on a documentary on hydraulic fracturing. The duo, however, were less suspicious of Turner and appeared grateful to have found possible funding for a film that they felt was very important.

Turner told the Tickells that his client — who wished to remain a silent parter — was from the Middle East and was heavily steeped in oil energy interests. The Tickells then participated in a series of follow-up conversations. The recordings portray the couple as promising to keep the identity of their new-found funding source a secret.

“We’re confident that we can keep this zip-locked, you know tight, tight, air-tight forever,” Josh Tickell says in one recording. “Money to us...It’s money...we have no moral issue...But we know how a lot of people that would be necessary to pull this off, they would have issue.”

The Tickells now claim that they were trapped and prodded into responses by Turner, although Josh Tickell admits they were gullible. “We flat out deny any implication of impropriety,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Turner asked the Tickells to participate in another meeting with two other men at the Beverly Hills Hotel. One of the men was “Muhammad,” who Turner identified as the son of Beacon International's funding source. The Tickells brought their friends Begley and Hemingway for support. In the meeting, Muhammad complains that fracking and energy efficiency in America are a threat to Middle Eastern oil interests.

Toward the end of the meeting, the Tickells say they started to get worried, but instead of going with their instincts they continued to talk to Beacon International.

In response to the O'Keefe video, Begley and Hemingway have both released statements insisting that they attended the meeting solely to help their friends get financing for their film. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Begley even insisted that hearing problems kept him from understanding much of what Muhammad was saying and that his agreeable demeanor shown on tape was just him being polite.

The Tickells have contacted the FBI and local authorities wondering if O'Keefe broke any laws by recording their conversations, considering that they signed a non-disclosure agreement presented by Beacon International.
 
For his part, Fox says that he's disappointed in the Tickell's behavior. However, Fox points out that the real villain in this Hollywood drama is O'Keefe.

Watch Josh Fox on Chris Hayes below:

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.

 

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