Jan 15, 2020

My 'tangle' with James O'Keefe.

My 'tangle' with James O'Keefe.

Plus, a Tangle exclusive and the Democratic debate.

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Today’s read: 11 minutes.

It has been a wild 24 hours, and today’s Tangle is a special edition to cover it all: The Democratic debate, my tangle with conservative activist and “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe, and a Tangle exclusive on who the betting markets are predicting will win the 2020 race.
Elizabeth Warren appears to snub Bernie Sanders’ handshake at the end of last night’s debate. Screenshot: CNN

Tangle exclusive.

Last night, I spoke to Maxim Lott. He is the creator of ElectionBettingOdds.com, a website that predicts what will happen in elections based on the betting markets. Lott believes the betting markets are a powerful prediction tool, and he is enthusiastic about their advantages over polls when trying to guess the outcome of an election. When we spoke last night, he shared with me his prediction on who would win the Democratic primary, the general election, and made the case that his website is a great tool for tracking everyone’s odds. You can read our interview by clicking here.

What the left is talking about.

On Tuesday night, a new trove of documents related to the Ukraine scandal were released. In them, one particular piece of evidence got everyone’s attention: Republican lobbyist Robert Hyde exchanging text messages with Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas, in which they’re discussing the whereabouts of Marie Yovanovitch. Reminder: Yovanovitch is the former Ukraine ambassador who was abruptly removed from her post last year. Testimony and documentary evidence suggests that Giuliani led the effort to remove her so he could execute a plan to pressure Ukriane’s government into investigating Joe Biden, a plan he suspected Yovanovitch would thwart. These newly revealed documents turned over by Parnas suggest that Giuliani’s methods may have included secret monitoring of a U.S. ambassador. “It’s confirmed we have a person inside,” one text read. Another said, “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money.” The documents also point to evidence that Giuliani’s scheme may have been tied to a former Ukrainian prosecutor’s efforts to escape a U.S. indictment that alleged he had engaged in bribery. It’s all very, very complicated, dark and shady. And it comes just as articles of impeachment are being sent to the Senate. Click.

What the right is talking about.

Yesterday, conservative activist and guerilla reporter James O’Keefe released a video of a Bernie Sanders staffer in Iowa threatening violence at the DNC convention if Sanders doesn’t win. Kyle Jurek, the staffer, spoke approvingly of “gulags” and said that Sanders wanted “free education” so Trump supporters could be taught “how not to be a f-cking Nazi.” He also said that he wanted to go into MSNBC studios and “drag those motherf-ckers out by their hair and light them on fire in the streets.” Two Iowa state directors locked their Twitter accounts after the videos were released, and Jurek is MIA. Along with the video, O’Keefe also shared past tweets from the Iowa state directors celebrating their canvassing efforts, “This room is about to hit 20,000 phone calls!!” one tweet said. “Led by our top-tier organizers @hiranodanielle and Kyle Jurek!" O’Keefe is the same conservative activist who released the bombshell tapes of ABC host Amy Robach saying that ABC squashed the Jeffrey Epstein story in 2015. On Wednesday morning, he released Part II of the videos, in which Jurek is seen claiming there are several more people like him on the Sanders campaign.

The lion’s den.

Yours truly actually stepped into the madness when I objected to O’Keefe labeling himself as a reporter:

O’Keefe responded:

It’s true that O’Keefe often releases the entire raw footage from his encounters. It’s also true that he has won several lawsuits when people have sued him for defamation or other shady tactics. And it’s also true that before 2011, O’Keefe had released misleadingly edited videos that made things appear differently than they were, according to TIME Magazine and the conservative website The Blaze. There was also the time in 2017 when an actor reverse-stung O’Keefe, stealthily recording their interaction and revealing some of the ways O’Keefe gets people to say compromising things.

I walked back my comments by noting that it was probably more appropriate to say O’Keefe “selectively edited” his videos. His fans objected to that, too, contending that every news organization in the world “selectively edits.” In fact, they said, selective editing is the very nature of editing. And you know what: they’re right. That’s a fair point.

My real concern here, and my initial gripe, is that I wouldn’t consider O’Keefe a reporter. Not because he doesn’t produce “real” or valuable content, but because he basically does what amount to video hit pieces. And his targets always seem the same: people he views as being on the left. I’ve never seen an O’Keefe video where he takes down a conservative politician, official or organization. I was particularly unnerved by the time he got caught trying to plant a fake Roy Moore accuser into a story at The Washington Post. I’m not sure what that is, but it’s not being a journalist. Maybe that’s the essence of “guerilla journalism,” as O’Keefe describes his work, but it’s the kind of shady stuff that makes me hesitate to label him a reporter. It’s also worth noting his company, Project Veritas, has received thousands of dollars in donations from Trump, according to The New York Times. His fans will counter this argument by saying many reporters are liberals and have left-leaning policies — that’s fine. I think there is a difference between reporters with bias and some of O’Keefe’s connections to conservatives.

It was wrong of me to claim his videos were “heavily edited,” as many do show people saying very compromising things — and it’s not as if he is editing in words or dialogue that don’t exist. And maybe it was unfair of me to label his videos as being selectively edited since most news videos are. But I do think that when you view his work, it’s worth considering some of the things he’s been caught doing and the simple fact that he’s received money from the President of the United States. I’ve reached out via Twitter and a private message for an interview with O’Keefe to discuss his work more thoroughly, and I’m hoping he’ll take me up on it.

The debate.

Last night was the Democratic debate. I’ll get into the specifics of what happened, but first want to give my one-sentence take on how the night went for each candidate.

Elizabeth Warren: She hit a home run with the most memorable line of the night, noting that the only people on stage who had won every election they’d been in were women.

Bernie Sanders: He turned in his usual performance, flatly denied the charges against him made by Warren and stood out as the most anti-war of the bunch.

Pete Buttigieg: The mayor still sounds the smartest and smoothest when he gets in his groove, but it’s unclear if his more scripted-sounding approach is going to win over voters in this political moment.

Joe Biden: It’s always confounding to watch Biden on stage, but his stumbles and slip-ups were as few as they’d been in any debate; he succeeded by staying on message.

Amy Klobuchar: This seemed like the best night of her campaign to me, and I thought she stood out with her response on the most important issue to Americans: health care (more on that below).

Tom Steyer: As the stage shrunk, Steyer stuck out, and not for the right reasons — he seemed the least experienced and spent most of the night just parroting what other candidates had said.

Bernie-Warren feud.

The inevitable question came halfway through the debate: CNN’s moderator asked Bernie Sanders if he had told Elizabeth Warren a woman couldn’t win. Bernie responded:

Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it. And I don't want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want. Anybody knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.

He also noted there was a video from 30 years ago encouraging women to run for president, and said unabashedly if any of the men or women on stage won the primary he would support them in the election. After Sanders’ flat denial, CNN moderator Abby Phillip then tried to crystallize the denial, which led to this exchange:

PHILLIP: So Sen. Sanders — Sen. Sanders, I do want to be clear here, you're saying that you never told Sen. Warren that a woman could not win the election?

SANDERS: That is correct.

PHILLIP: Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?

This got a lot of people talking, who accused Phillip of bias for totally ignoring Sanders’ denial and proceeding forward as if everything Warren said was true. Warren responded:

I disagreed. Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised, and it's time for us to attack it head-on.

Things seemed to cool off until the end of the debate when cameras caught this awkward moment where Sanders tried to shake Warren’s hand and she appears to rebuff him. The two have a tense-looking exchange and then Sanders walks away.

War. What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing. That’s the vibe each and every Democratic candidate put off on Tuesday night, pushing the Democrats further into an anti-war posture than ever before in American history. America’s foreign policy dominated the first 45 minutes of the debate. Here are some of the talking points from each candidate:

Former Vice President Joe Biden: He said his vote in favor of the Iraq War was a mistake but insisted he was prepared to compare his record to anyone else on stage. He emphasized that his experience as Vice President, when he already made life and death decisions or negotiated with world leaders, left him most ready for the White House. He said he would leave some troops in the Middle East to patrol the Gulf, adding that it was a mistake to pull troops out of Iraq because ISIS will “reconstitute” itself. Biden also made two pledges: he would not meet with North Korean leaders without preconditions, and he would not take America to war without congressional approval: “The only way you can take a nation to war is with the informed consent of the American people,” he said.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders: He was asked about his vote in favor of the Afghanistan war, one of his rare pro-war votes, and why his judgment is any better than Biden’s. Sanders noted that every single member of the House voted for war in Afghanistan — except Barbara Lee. But he added that he voted against the war in Iraq, which turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, we spent trillions of dollars, and some 4,500 U.S. troops were killed.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar: She was asked about past comments dismissing Pete Buttigieg’s military experience and why she was ready to be commander in chief. She said she respected Buttigieg’s experience in the military, but she’s been in the U.S. Senate for over 12 years. She insisted we want a president who has dealt with life and death decisions. She opposed the Iraq War and when she got to the Senate she pushed to bring the troops home. Donald Trump was talking us into another war, she said, and she just found out the recently passed resolution to reduce his power to start a war with Iran is picking up Republican support in the Senate. She said she would bring troops home from Afghanistan, leave a small troop force in Iraq, and called it a mistake to abandon the Kurds and bring troops home from Syria.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg said he served with people barely old enough to remember the votes on those wars. He added there are people serving now who weren’t alive when those votes happened. He called for an end to the 2001 authorization that allows us to use force in the Middle East as a response to 9/11. He also added that it’s about more than just past experience: it was about future threats. Cybersecurity, climate change, and foreign interference in our elections — “it’s going to take a view to the future as well as a readiness to learn from the lessons of the past” to be the next commander in chief.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: Moderators cited polls showing voters’ belief that her ability to lead the military was more a weakness than a strength. Warren emphasized that it’s judgment that matters, not experience. But she has experience sitting on the Armed Service Committee, visiting troops, meeting with intelligence officials. She said she’s spoken to our troops and fights for them, ensuring they have financial stability and the care they need. She added that she has three brothers in the military and knows how much families sacrifice. “We should stop asking our military to solve problems that we cannot solve militarily,” emphasizing nobody has a plan to get the troops home.

Billionaire Tom Steyer: Presented with the same question about his readiness to be commander in chief, Steyer said that he’s worked around the world, traveled and met with businessman and learned how America interacts with other countries. He said Warren made a great point: it isn’t experience that matters, its judgment. “What you’re hearing is 20 years of mistakes and failure in the Middle East,” he said.

Health care.

Another big topic of the night was health care. Here is what some of the candidates said about the issue that ranks #1 with most American voters.

Warren: She started her comments by saying that 36 million people went to the doctor last year and got a prescription that they couldn’t afford to get filled. Her approach was that she wanted to get as much help to as many people as possible, and she promised to use the power that’s already given to the president to reduce the cost of things like epi-pens.

Biden: He said he would change the rules so you can’t raise the price of a drug beyond the cost of inflation, and said he wanted to negotiate with Medicare over prescription drug prices.

Steyer: Steyer spoke more tangentially, saying “we’ve had this convo on this stage so many times. Everyone on this stage believes affordable health care is a right.” He said the government has to step in and develop the Affordable Care Act with a public option, blaming corporations for “buying” the health care industry.

Sanders: Sen. Sanders made his usual big promises: Medicare for all will end all premiums, end all copayments, ends the absurdity of deductibles, end the out of pocket expenses. He promised to take on the pharma industry which charges “10 times more” than they need to for some prescription drugs.

Klobuchar: Klobuchar had what I thought was the most impressive and specific answer of the night. She said the Affordable Care Act was 10 pts more popular than Trump, so she would keep and improve it. She said her team had identified 137 things a president can do in the first 100 days without Congress that are totally legal to reduce health care costs. One of those things is to start bringing in less expensive drugs from other countries. She referenced the time she got 14 Republican votes at midnight on a bill to do just that, and said she’s currently co-sponsoring a bill with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to bring these drugs in.

Buttigieg: Buttigieg hit the other candidates for the cost of their bills. “The bigness of plans is not how many trillions of dollars it costs,” he said. He claimed his bill would be the biggest thing done to American health care in the last 50 years, but he would actually handle the cost of the program and have a monthly out-of-pocket cap on how much people can spend on prescription drugs (versus a yearly cap, which he says doesn’t make sense for Americans who are usually paid every two weeks).  He also said there needed to be a mandate for buy-in because the “system doesn’t work if there are free riders,” a comment that was widely criticized.


There wasn’t a lot of new info on the night. Everyone basically stuck to their talking points and the much-hyped tension was almost entirely absent (save the end of the night with Warren and Sanders). There were some important conversations about childcare that happen almost exclusively in Democratic settings, but a lot of viewers left feeling like it was all old news.

The absentees.

Four notable candidates were missing from the debate stage: Cory Booker, who dropped out. Andrew Yang, who hit the donations threshold but missed the polling threshold, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is spending more than any candidate but doesn’t receive donations so he didn’t qualify for the debate. And Tulsi Gabbard, who failed to qualify for either of the last two debates, failed to hit the polling or funding threshold. Here’s how these candidates spent the night.

Booker tweeted a recap of his campaign:

Yang got endorsed by Dave Chapelle and received a glowing article in Glamour magazine.

Bloomberg’s team spent the night firing off some truly bizarre tweets after they changed Bloomberg’s avatar to a photo of a meatball with his face on it. It left a lot of people wondering if the account had been hacked before they confirmed that it was, in fact, them.

And Tulsi Gabbard stayed relatively quiet, but took one shot at the other candidates during the debate:


  • $1.7 million. The amount of money Bernie Sanders’ campaign said he raised during debate day yesterday.
  • Two. The number of Big Pharma lobbyists for every member of Congress, according to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
  • 56%. The percentage of African Americans who said they were considering voting for Bernie Sanders, according to a new VICE/Ipsos poll.
  • 54%. The percentage of African Americans who said they were considering voting for Joe Biden, according to a new VICE/Ipsos poll.
  • 42-33. Bernie Sanders’ lead over President Trump amongst independents, according to a new Morning Consult poll.
  • 38-34. Joe Biden’s lead over President Trump amongst independents, according to a new Morning Consult poll.
  • 35-35. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump’s tie, according to the same Morning Consult poll of independents.
  • This fascinating data from Dave Wasserman:

Have a nice day.

Britain has banned using credit cards for gambling in an effort to tamp down gambling debt. The move comes just a year after Britain slashed the maximum stake that can be placed on popular fixed-odds bets, according to Reuters. It’s now stopping 24 million potential gamblers who could use credit cards to bet online and rack up debt. UK Finance said some 800,000 Britons have used credit cards to gamble, and a quarter of those are “problem gamblers” placing bets to win back their debt. This latest regulation is expected to save a lot of people from financial trouble. The move is also a warning sign for Americans as gambling legalization is spreading across the United States. Click.

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