Project Veritas’ undercover videos and lies have no place in Missouri Senate race

A right-wing group called Project Veritas Action has released an undercover videotape of Sen. Claire McCaskill and her campaign staff, claiming it reveals misstatements by the Missouri Democrat and supporters.

The tape is worthless. It reveals nothing voters do not know, or assume, about any candidate for office. Voters should ignore it.

More concerning is the use of undercover video to capture this nonsense. While all the facts remain unclear, an activist posing as an intern apparently infiltrated McCaskill’s office to capture the images and audio.

So we’re clear: Project Veritas Action began its work by lying, directly and unequivocally. It might be prosecutable fraud. No candidate should endorse this kind of activity.

It also violates the ethics policies of every reputable news organization. “Deception is a form of lying and is to be avoided in news-gathering,” The Star’s ethics policy states.

“People being interviewed for news stories should know they are speaking to a reporter and their comments may be published,” our policy says. “Using deception to gather news, whether by lying or misrepresentation, is inappropriate under virtually all circumstances.”

Hidden-camera exposés are more common in television news. Except in the most unusual circumstances, they are equally objectionable.

We’re uncomfortable with tapes of candidates collected surreptitiously, then aired publicly. That includes Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment at a fundraiser and Barack Obama’s “bitter” comments also recorded secretly. In both cases, though, there’s no indication the renegade tapers lied to gain access to the room, as is apparently the case in Missouri.

The Project Veritas Action videotape is far from compelling or useful in any way. We have no way of gauging the group’s editing practices, or whether the quotes were used out of context.

The tape purports to show financial backing from McCaskill donors who support abortion rights. That is hardly breaking news.

It suggests candidates sometimes tone down their rhetoric to attract moderate voters. That practice is as old as politics. Josh Hawley repeatedly suggests he supports health care coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions. That misleading rhetoric is meant to attract moderate voters as well.

Project Veritas insists there is no link between the Hawley campaign and the videotapes. Perhaps. But the publication of the tapes reflects a desperation from right-wing provocateurs who appear worried Hawley’s election is jeopardy.

Why else would you lie to gain access to McCaskill’s campaign, then release misleading videos just a couple weeks before the election?

In the tapes, Project Veritas uses the word “journalist” to describe its undercover operative. In a second video, posted online, founder James O’Keefe defends the work and criticizes McCaskill’s reaction to it.

“What is lying to the voters?” he asks. “What is that called?”

Missourians know the answer, and it isn’t journalism. It’s called Project Veritas Action.