- Project Veritas CEO James O’Keefe guest starred in a parody of Prince’s 1981 song “Controversy”.
- A staff memo outlined a concern about the founder’s spending on “theater stuff”.
- O’Keefe was recently placed on paid leave, New York Magazine reported.
The CEO of Project Veritas, a nonprofit conservative media outlet that often uses clandestine methods or covert operations for its reporting, played a starring role in a parody of the late Prince’s 1981 hit “Controversy,” in which James O. ‘ Keefe sings about his company exploits.
“I just can’t believe/That my face is on TV/Oli-garch-y”, O’Keefe can be seen singing.
—Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) February 9, 2023
Project Veritas posted the video, titled “Oligarchy”, on its website and said it was to “honor” O’Keefe’s 2021 Twitter suspension.
However, not all of Project Veritas’ staff could have agreed with the way in which resources were evidently spent on composing the music, creating the sparse set, and obtaining several backup dancers.
In a staff memo sent to Project Veritas board members on Monday, concerns were raised about how O’Keefe has spent the company’s resources, including personnel and money, to satisfy the CEO’s musical theater aspirations.
“All the theater stuff and how it’s handled makes me very uncomfortable,” said a comment in the letter, signed by 16 employees. “I understand this is rationalized as ‘raising awareness of our brand’, but the cost of it, both in a financial sense and in staff and resources, takes precedence over why donors actually give us money…”
The note also stated that the company was “in deficit right now” and that “fans and potential fans don’t respond positively to all these things because all they want is for us to accomplish the mission”.
Project Veritas has built its brand around unorthodox journalistic methods, most notably using body cameras in interviews to covertly record their sources. The organization announces that it “investigates and exposes corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste and other misconduct in public and private institutions.”
The memo didn’t reveal specifics about production spending, but Project Veritas has been scrutinized before for supporting the founder’s singing ambitions.
In November, the nonprofit was legally required to report that O’Keefe, as a company executive, received $20,512 in “excess benefits” in 2021. The filings were published by the Hawaii Division of Taxes and Charities.
Project Veritas executive director Daniel Strack later told The New York Times through a spokesman that the money was used to “accommodate” the CEO in a production of “Oklahoma!” in Roseland, Virginia, in which O’Keefe played a leading role.
The company said in its filings that O’Keefe did not pay those funds until the end of 2021, which executives are required to do whenever they receive excess benefits. A spokesperson for Project Veritas told The Times that O’Keefe paid them last year.
The staff memo that was first reported by The Daily Beast outlines more than seven pages of complaints about O’Keefe’s alleged “erratic” behavior.
One comment claimed that “James has become a power-drunk tyrant”, while other statements alleged that two employees, including Eric Cochran, were given a lie detector test.
O’Keefe expressed concern that there was a “mole” leaking information about the organization, the memo stated, and most of the team was ordered to Project Veritas headquarters in New York to be questioned by two private investigators.
A few current and former employees, including Cochran, could not be reached for comment.
The memo comes at a time when O’Keefe’s future at the media organization remains uncertain.
The CEO was recently placed on paid leave as Project Veritas board members consider removing him from his executive role, New York Magazine reported.
“Like all newsrooms at this stage, the Project Veritas board and management are constantly evaluating what is the best way forward for the organization,” he said. the company said in a statement posted on Twitter. “The board and management continue this internal assessment to ensure our long-term success.”
O’Keefe’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.