The FBI searched the home of James O’Keefe—a conservative activist who films undercover videos for his organization, Project Veritas—on Saturday, reportedly because law enforcement wants to know how O’Keefe came to possess a diary allegedly stolen from Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden’s daughter. The FBI also searched the homes of two O’Keefe associates.
There’s still much more to learn about the reasons for the search, but what we do know is troubling and potentially objectionable on the grounds of press freedom. O’Keefe has claimed that he received the diary from a source; Project Veritas did not publish it, though some leaked pages eventually appeared on a right-wing website. According to O’Keefe, he handed the diary over to law enforcement last year. Per The New York Times:
In his video statement on Friday, Mr. O’Keefe offered a lengthy defense of his group’s handling of the diary, saying that he and his colleagues had been operating as ethical journalists, had turned the diary over to the law enforcement authorities last year and had sought to return it to a lawyer for Ms. Biden.
“It appears the Southern District of New York now has journalists in their sights for the supposed crime of doing their jobs lawfully and honestly,” Mr. O’Keefe said in the video statement. “Our efforts were the stuff of responsible, ethical journalism and we are in no doubt that Project Veritas acted properly at each and every step.”
While it would be wrong for an organization to leak materials that it obtained unlawfully, journalistic outlets routinely publish information from sources who themselves might have come by the information improperly. Perhaps additional information will come to light, but for now, the government’s handling of this matter is eminently criticizable—and raises the possibility that Project Veritas is being targeted unfairly.
“Don’t think journalists should be cheerleading this one,” observed New York Times media writer Ben Smith.