James O’Keefe has found a new target: Susan Sarandon and her associates.
On Thursday, the conservative-leaning undercover sting journalist is releasing a second video in a series that aims to portray Hollywood environmentalists as hypocrites.
Once again, O’Keefe’s evidence consists of edited video clips drawn from a meal with an industry figure that is surreptitiously recorded by the journalist’s accomplices. O’Keefe’s goal is to show that Hollywood figures will take financing for a proposed anti-fracking film even if they know that the money comes from a backer whose motive is to keep the U.S. dependent on the Middle East for supplying its energy needs.
This time around, O’Keefe zeroes in on Sarandon, primarily through an associate of hers, Chris Talbott, who is a producer and director who has known the actress at least since working postproduction on Dead Man Walking, the 1995 film that earned Sarandon an Oscar for best actress.
The actress is seen at a film event suggesting that a representative meet with “Muhammad” — an O’Keefe associate — in her stead. The scene switches to a lunch meeting with Talbott, who positions himself as a conduit between the phony “Muhammad” and Sarandon.
The O’Keefe actors involved in the sting — one identified as an “ad executive,” the other as “Muhammad” — don’t have much luck getting Talbott to agree to do anything outwardly nefarious, like lie about taking money from an anti-American oil sheik to make a movie that attacks fracking, a controversial technology for extracting natural gas, a competitor to oil. He demurs, suggests alternatives and says he’ll think about the proposal.
“I know that Susan is going to feel that, if it’s anonymous backing, and if anyone should find out, despite our best efforts to keep it a secret, that there will be, like, blowback that would impact her, for instance, right?” Talbott asks. “Maybe being transparent about it gives us an edge in terms of getting the movie seen and takes away that risk.”
Talbott told The Hollywood Reporter he agreed to the lunch with “Muhammad” and his associates only after they made a “generous donation” to a charitable cause he supports, and that he suspected he was being lied to during the lunch.
“I never came close to agreeing to accept any money to make a film. I never connected them to another individual, nor did any person with whom I have ever worked express an interest in accepting their money for an anti-fracking video,” Talbott said. “I am too polite to have laughed at their outrageous statements while in the restaurant, but I did leave the encounter eager to research what this fraud was really all about.”
In the video, narrator O’Keefe also makes an issue of a follow-up email Talbott sent asking for further conversations. Shortly thereafter, O’Keefe poses the question to viewers: “Is Susan Sarandon’s concern standing up for her country’s energy security or selling out to anti-American interests? You decide.”
O’Keefe also targets Josh Fox, maker of the Oscar-nominated Gasland and Gasland Part II. In O’Keefe’s video, Fox is introduced as an environmentalist with “integrity” but then is attacked for trying to “censor” O’Keefe and media outlets — in particular, THR — that reported on his previous video on the topic, which was released two weeks ago and featured actors Ed Begley Jr. and Mariel Hemingway and environmental filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell.
The second video, which is embedded below, updates the fallout from the first one — including a cease and desist order, calls to the FBI and concerns from a U.S. senator that laws may have been broken.
Fox was a mere tease in the first video and did not fall for the sting. Fox, in fact, secretly recorded his conversations with those who were trying to set him up via their own secret recordings. Fox has since issued a press release slamming O’Keefe as an “ultra-right-wing deception fraudster” and also criticizing THR for “acting as a conduit” for O’Keefe, whose most famous past sting operations have brought down the community organizing group ACORN, caused resignations at NPR and have embarrassed poll workers and teachers’ unions. He also pleaded guilty to entering a federal building under false pretenses for a sting-gone-wrong against U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, and critics routinely use that incident to discredit his work. They also accuse him of doctoring audio and video, so O’Keefe releases raw recordings of his operations (the Sarandon-related clips are here and here).
Begley Jr., in fact, strongly encourages people to go to the raw tape of the first video and scan forward to the two-hour-and-28-minute mark and listen for about five minutes. He says the raw tape vindicates him because it indicates he’s not agreeing to everything Muhammad puts forth, only to helping market the movie through social media.
“If anyone wonders why I said some of the wacky things on the James O’Keefe video, I now have a response: I didn’t say them,” Begley Jr. told THR. “The un-edited version of the James O’Keefe tape tells a very different story.”
As to the second video (which teases still a third video), O’Keefe spends several minutes addressing Fox’s press release as well as an appearance with Chris Hayes on MSNBC in which the host disparaged O’Keefe’s sting video against Hollywood environmentalists without showing what was said by Begley Jr., Hemingway or the Tickells.
“Josh Fox is attacking a media outlet for reporting on something that did, in fact, happen.… Josh, isn’t that censorship? Since when do we tell the media what they can and can’t report in America? Are you a progressive or are you a fascist?” O’Keefe asks. “So, why don’t Chris Hayes and Josh Fox actually want you to see what happened in Part 1? Why wouldn’t they air it? Why wouldn’t they show any of the video for you to see and hear?”
Fox told THR that he reserves the right for legal action against O’Keefe.
“When they put out their excerpt from the phone call it was portrayed in a false light. It was misrepresentation and slander,” he said. “This is clearly an attempt to smear my credibility and to present false information, to do something damaging to my character. And this is part of a larger pattern of smear and misinformation by the right wing and also by the oil and gas industry to go ahead and smear honest reporters and distort the science and distort the facts, manipulate evidence and do it in the most crass, disreputable, deceitful fashion possible.”
Fox added about O’Keefe: “Clearly, this is the work of a madman, and that’s not news. He’s just crazy and in his own world.”