James O'Keefe's anti-fracking scam backfires

A would-be victim of the conservative prankster made an undercover recording of his own

Published May 22, 2014 6:59PM (EDT)

             (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Conservative prankster James O'Keefe -- famous for entrapping liberals into saying things they'll later live to regret -- has ended up on the wrong end of his own sting operation, the Daily Beast reports. One of the journalist's intended victims, catching on to the chicanery, came forward with a secret recording that he says reveals O'Keefe's true methods of getting his incendiary video clips.

O'Keefe unveiled his newest video, which he claimed exposes the hypocrisy of Hollywood environmentalists, Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival. In it, to the glee of conservative bloggers, environmentalist filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell and actors Mariel Hemingway and Ed Begley Jr. all appear to unwittingly accept funding for a new anti-fracking documentary from some very stereotypical Middle Eastern oil interests. (“If Washington, D.C., continues fracking," a potential investor named Muhammed explains as his motivation for backing the film, "America will be energy-efficient, and then they won’t need my oil anymore”):

All four victims begrudgingly admitted that they'd been punked, though they stopped short of admitting to any wrongdoing. "To be clear, we flat out deny any implication of impropriety," Josh Tickell told the Hollywood Reporter. "Had an offer been made, significant due diligence would have been conducted." Hemingway and Begley, for their part, both said that they had attended the meeting at the Tickells' request, as a favor for friends.

Where things really get interesting, however, is at the very end of the video, where O'Keefe teases a conversation with anti-fracking documentarian Josh Fox (of "Gasland" fame), who appears to be headed for the same trap, “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," Fox is heard saying. But Fox was savvier than O'Keefe's other victims -- he'd made a secret recording of his own, revealing the full context of  their conversation:

In the recording [which can be heard at the Daily Beast] Fox is heard repeatedly asking Brandon Turner from Beacon International to identify his clients. Turner says only that his clients are “people from Europe, and the Middle East, but mainly Europe at this point,” environmentalists who are interested in funding an anti-fracking film. Turner continuously declines to name the European benefactors and instead asks Fox several times whether he’d be willing to set up a meeting. Fox explains in a variety of ways that he “can’t participate in something where, um, we’re taking money from people who aren’t identified. That’s not kosher for us.”

After several minutes of back and forth, in which Turner attempts to convince Fox that his clients are earnest environmentalists, Fox says that “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.” He immediately follows that comment up with a stipulation. “However, I really feel like I would need a more formal approach than just ‘Come meet me for coffee, this is the company we work for,’” Fox is heard saying. “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 ends the conversation by reiterating that Turner’s clients will have to reveal themselves if they want to fund one of his projects.

In other words, what happened is nothing like what O'Keefe's video suggests. “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.”

The Tickells, for their part, told the Daily Beast that they were prodded into the responses seen in O'Keefe's video, and that it only shows them responding to the fake middleman's questions. The setup, they added, took advantage of their desperation for funding. “As documentary filmmakers, the biggest challenge we have is raising money for films,” Rebecca Tickell said. "When that call came along, we were really grateful to have funding for this film that we thought was very important.”

Filmmaker Steven Tabakin, who was in the room with Fox during the recorded call, expressed a similar concern: “If the result of this is that we all have to vet every single person that even expresses interest in supporting a film that’s important to us that we’re passionate about, it has had a chilling effect," he said, "and it’s going to be an enormous waste of time because it’s very, very difficult to get movies made, in particular movies that take on major issues and powerful forces."

By Lindsay Abrams

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Anti-fracking Fracking James O'keefe Josh Fox Video