Depending on your political outlook and/or how much paint you’ve huffed lately, the far-right activist group Project Veritas is either a groundbreaking conservative investigative outlet or a group of dweebs doing an unending series of pratfalls and faceplants for your amusement. Just kidding, it’s the latter, always. Point in case: Their latest “scoop.”
For years, Project Veritas has employed conservative activists in the U.S. and enlisted backstabbing insiders for a pantomime of investigative journalism, using secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos to smear liberal groups, tech companies, and perceived opponents of the conservative movement and, in particular, Donald Trump. They’ve also propped up a series of bogus whistleblowers claiming to uncover liberal corruption and who all conveniently seem to have crowdfunding accounts, like a United States Post Office employee who fabricated a story about vote-by-mail fraud in Pennsylvania. In their latest effort, Project Veritas convinced Fox 26 Houston general assignment reporter Ivory Hecker to secretly record her colleagues in some sort of effort to discredit Fox News.
Now let’s get one thing straight: Fox News sucks. It’s a lousy propaganda machine for racists and other right-wing zealots, and the same could be said of many of its affiliates and local stations. But that’s not what Hecker sought to expose. Instead, she sought to portray the Fox owned-and-operated Fox 26 Houston as part of some kind of… liberal media conspiracy?
I’m encouraging copycats. It’s not okay to bully a reporter out of covering a newsworthy story. It’s not okay to pressure a reporter out of asking the people’s questions. I’m already hearing from several TV journalists wanting speak#Fox26Whistleblower pic.twitter.com/0O5Ehiq1tb
— Ivory Hecker (@IvoryHecker) June 16, 2021
In a recent broadcast, Hecker told the station’s viewers that “Fox Corp has been muzzling me to keep certain information from you, the viewers” and that “I am going to be releasing some recordings about what goes on behind the scenes at Fox, because it applies to you, the viewers.” She was promptly and justly fired. Project Veritas then released the supposedly shocking recordings, which are not shocking in the least. The Daily Beast reported that one of her primary complaints is that station staff didn’t want a deluge of primetime Bitcoin coverage:
In one piece of surreptitiously recorded footage, Fox 26 assistant news director Lee Meier was seen explaining why the station does not do more stories on Bitcoin. In the clip, Meier said it’s “an editorial choice” to not cover the cryptocurrency because it likely would not appeal to the station’s early-evening broadcast viewership.
“I have passed on Bitcoin stories by almost every single reporter for our five o’clock audience, because that’s not our five o’clock audience,” Meier stated. “So, there are lots of reasons. If I know our numbers are tanking from five to six and in one particular segment… I may say, yeah, and Bitcoin for poor African-American audience at five, it’s probably not going to play. That’s a choice I’m making.”
In the Project Veritas video, the clip plays before Hecker tells founder James O’Keefe, “I want out of this narrative news telling! I want out of this corruption.”
That a local TV station is apparently “meh” about wall-to-wall primetime Bitcoin coverage is about the least juicy topic in the world. Local news, as the name implies, generally covers local issues that national outlets barely touch — a category that doesn’t usually include cryptocurrency. (Due to Project Veritas’s history of malicious editing, we can’t even be sure low-income Black viewers are the only demographic Hecker’s producer mentioned as potentially disinterested in wall-to-wall Bitcoin coverage.) What’s more, local states typically outsource much national news to wire services like the Associated Press or, in Fox 26 Houston’s case, Fox News. But this is apparently a moral outrage because cryptocurrency is popular with the type of libertarian convinced that people who don’t agree with them on everything fall into the two categories of either nefarious puppet master or gullible sheeple.
Hecker also apparently took issue with the station’s unwillingness to play uncritical coverage of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-parasitic drug that Trump promoted as a sort of miracle cure for the novel coronavirus. There was never more than weak evidence that hydroxychloroquine worked in the first place, and scientific studies eventually demonstrated it is essentially useless as a pandemic treatment. Hecker videotaped a call in which she was apparently dressed down by station management for sharing a video interview on Facebook with Dr. Joseph Varon, who said he had used the drug to “good success.”
Meier, the assistant news director, and Fox 26 vice president/news director Susan Schiller told Hecker during the call she had “failed as a reporter” and did not look at the “latest research” before sharing the post. Shiller told Hecker, “You need to cease and desist posting about hydroxychloroquine.”
At the time the video was posted on August 10, 2020, the original study promoting hydroxychloroquine had been debunked, the World Health Organisation had ceased trials citing safety concerns, and the Food and Drug Administration had yanked its emergency use authorization in coronavirus treatment. Hecker’s rebuttal was that the scientific research showing the drug was not effective made Varon’s comments even more explosive, and she also cited Dr. Stella Immanuel, a religious minister who believes literal demons steal sperm from people while they sleep in order to breed via gay sex. Note that Fox 26 Houston was just fine with running Hecker’s coverage claiming Immanuel was a victim of censorship.
Varon, by all accounts a hardworking doctor, is part of a group known for promoting unsubstantiated and experimental treatments, and on August 2, the Texas medical board warned doctors not to promote hydroxychloroquine as a cure. Even more research showing hydroxychloroquine is not effective against the SARS-COV-2 virus came out in September 2020.
As the Daily Beast reported, Hecker also offered an apparently secretly recorded conversation between Hecker and a station staffer on the business side. That staffer mentioned that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was one of their biggest advertisers. This is the type of thing that absolutely no one but anti-vax losers would find alarming, and this is a group that apparently includes Hecker, who suspected the station could theoretically be advocating vaccines to get that sweet, sweet Big Epidemiology money. The Daily Beast wrote:
“So could the Ad Council call you and be like, ‘Hey, I want to run all these spots but I want to make sure your journalists aren’t running any anti-vax stories’?” the Project Veritas plant asked.
“If that happens, it’s above our [pay grade],” the promo producer replied.
“Does that stuff like that ever happen?” the Project Veritas operator pressed some more.
“It can, a lot of stuff can happen,” the sales coordinator responded.
It would of course be improper for advertisers to influence coverage. But the sales coordinator only suggests it’s theoretically possible advertisers could be pressuring Fox 26 Houston behind the scenes. This is something that any journalist can tell you happens all the time — the entire point is whether or not the bigwigs cave and order reporters to change their coverage, something the staffer explicitly said they weren’t aware of happening at the station. Besides, one would be hard-pressed to find a person working for a journalistic outfit that doesn’t have some vague suspicion that senior management could be up to no good. It’s fucking media!
This is all beside the point, as no news station should be running anti-vax conspiracy theories as news in the first place.
Finally, Hecker claimed that she met with Fox News to discuss a job offer, but was told she would have to “get in line with the narrative” to receive it. A company spokesperson told the Daily Beast she was never offered a job and the meeting was, apparently outside Hecker’s understanding, a “courtesy.”
This might have been a pathetic showing even for Project Veritas, whose past best hits included failing to trick the Washington Post into running additional hoax accusations against actually accused pedophile and former Senator Roy Moore and unsuccessfully plotting to get former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster drunk to record him talking shit about Trump. But that didn’t stop Hecker and O’Keefe from taking their best shot at cashing in.
At the tail end of the video, Hecker announces she wants a job where she can “tell true stories without fear of if it fits the corporate narrative.” O’Keefe added that she was “ready to pursue a career in independent journalism where she can report the news without fear or favour.”
While there’s no news yet as to whether a job at Newsmax or One America News might be in Hecker’s future, taking up with Project Veritas seems to have been extremely lucrative for her in the short term. A fundraiser on the Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo stood at over $US90,000 ($115,434) as of early Wednesday afternoon. (Two others on GoFundMe had only raised a total of $US240 ($308).)
“FOX 26 adheres to the highest editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality,” the station told the Houston Chronicle in a statement. “This incident involves nothing more than a disgruntled former employee seeking publicity by promoting a false narrative produced through selective editing and misrepresentation.”