Monday, November 24, 2014

Is the Abell Foundation's president deceiving his board and [LPP's] potential investors?

Sure looks like it to me... all in the pursuit of the fusion dream.

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Bob Embry, the long-time president of the Abell Foundation. He wanted me to come down to New Jersey to evaluate the prospects of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics.

(I would ordinarily keep correspondence like this confidential. However, as will become clear, Mr. Embry breached any implied promise of confidentiality.)

On 11/17/2014 9:08 AM, Robert Embry wrote:
Professor Seife,

I just completed Sun in a Bottle.  Thank you.  Our foundation has invested in a company founded by an Eric Lerner call LPP (Lawrenceville Plasma Physics) located in Middlesex, New Jersey.  Their aim is to produce electricity through fusion.  I wondered whether it would be worth your while to visit the company and give us your opinion on its prospects.  We would of course compensate you for your time, or if you did not have the time, interest or up to date expertise since you probably moved on to other topics after writing your book, whether you might suggest whom we might ask.

Bob Embry

I wasn't interested. I knew about LPP, and didn't have a high opinion of them, as I told him:

On 11/17/2014 9:55 AM, Charles Seife wrote:
Dear Mr. Embry,

I'm familiar with Eric Lerner and LPP. I have a low opinion of him and them.

Lerner holds some very unconventional views about physics -- such as his big-bang denialism -- and he has shacked up with some very cranky characters over the years. (My recollection is that he was deeply involved with the LaRouche movement, and has gotten a lot of support from Tom Valone's Integrity Research Institute.) Ad hominem, yes, but
his is a very standard profile for a pseudoscientific huckster and a very rare profile for a true scientific innovator.

Lawrenceville Plasma has been around for decades -- certainly since the early 90s, though probably with an official formation date earlier than that. They've managed to spend quite a bit of money since then, and I don't think they've got much to show for it. They've been pumping up anemic results as big breakthroughs... and the bottom line is that
they're still very far away, even though they seem to make it look like they're always a few years and a few hundred thousand dollars from making production models. Whenever anyone bothers to criticize them, Lerner shouts "suppression" -- big physics is trying to stomp on the little guy. Again, standard modus operandi for a certain class of huckster.

Technically, I have doubts about their geometry and their choice of fuel, but it's probably better to have a plasma physicist discuss that. 

Maybe someone at PPPL would be willing to drop by and evaluate them, or perhaps a knowledgable generalist like Stephen O. Dean of Fusion Power Associates could give you a more detailed assessment. From my POV, though, until the cycle of fundraising and inflated claims ends and they start producing results that make outside physicists take notice, I
doubt there's much reason to spend time evaluating them.

Again -- that's just my opinion, as an outsider who's not done a very deep analysis, so take it with a big grain of salt. But I hope it's somewhat helpful.


He thanked me, and then, late that afternoon, he forwarded a recent LPP press release-cum-report about a new paper. My response:

On 11/17/2014 5:15 PM, Charles Seife wrote:
Thanks! I'll read the paper when I get a chance. But I'll note that (a) Physics of Plasmas isn't the leading journal in the field (PRL would be a first-choice publication; Physical Review E is top in plasma physics;
Nuclear Fusion is better regarded, too, and that's just off the top of my head), (b) a one-month submission-to-publication schedule is an odd thing to brag about; in fact, it is usually the sign of a sub-par
peer-review process. (Except in the case of clearly revolutionary and important papers, which this is certainly not, (c) an article explaining why your experiment isn't working is much less exciting than an article
describing progress toward your ultimate goal.

Just the cynic's take. *grin*


I thought that this was the end of it. It wasn't.

On 11/21/2014 10:06 AM, Robert Embry wrote:
Mr. Seife,

Sorry to burden you with another document but I thought you might find this independent analysis of LPP of interest.


My response:
On 11/23/2014 7:27 AM, Charles Seife wrote:
Dear Bob,

Thanks... I do find it interesting. (And, as it turns out, Stephen O.
Dean wasn't a bad suggestion. *grin*)

The report is interesting; I suspect that my read is different than the typical investor's read.

To me, it says:
    1) The technology rests upon several theories that have no experimental support
    2) The source of those theories is largely Eric Lerner
    3) On the plus side, those theories can be experimentally tested in the next few years
The one point I disagree with:
    4) It's a dramatically underfunded effort.

I guess we'll see in the next few years what'll happen. My take is that those theories will never really get tested; there will be a bunch of technical problems that crop up at every stage that will keep the goal
right over the horizon. And that's no matter the funding level. Maybe the next five years will have a different contour, but I'd bet quite a bit of money against LPP doing anything that brings fusion energy closer.


Then, Mr. Embry e-mailed me Eric Lerner's response to my criticisms. I had not given him permission -- nor would I have given permission to share them.

On 11/24/2014 9:23 AM, Robert Embry wrote:

Here is Eric's response.  I of course deleted your name.

 I won't detail Lerner's response, but there is one section of the e-mail chain -- clearly from Embry to Lerner -- which has a very interesting revelation:

I've been debating whether to share these emails with you but decided I would want to know if I were in your situation.  They are the product of my continuing effort to obtain a positive outside review to use with our board and potential investors.  I'll keep trying.  Negative responses I will just share with you.



Not only was Embry sharing my unvarnished criticisms with Eric Lerner, this implies that Embry has been spending his time trying to gin up a "positive outside review" of LPP's work, while systematically discarding "negative responses."

Can anyone tell me whether this behavior is consistent with Embry's fiduciary duty to the Abell foundation, to the Abell board, and to potential Abell LPP investors?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Straight from the panda's mouth: What NASA thinks it's for

Update, 2/14/2014: this post is now also available on the Huffington Post website here.

A furious panda is a thing to behold.

Ordinarily, a panda seems to be superlatively peaceful, diffidently munching bamboo. But when it gets angry, it betrays its true nature -- it's fundamentally a carnivore trying to play itself off as a herbivore. And failing.

Last week, in Slate, I argued that NASA, like a panda, was maladapted and was flirting with extinction as a result. (Panda bashing happens to be a proud Slate tradition.) The argument triggered outrage. Within hours, fueled by social media, the defense of NASA echoed around the nation, even reaching the White House. It was the anger of a panda -- and contrary to what NASA aficionados believe, their response confirms just how screwed up the agency really is.

The fundamental problem isn't terribly hard to understand. The lion's share of NASA's budget -- and reputation -- is for launching people into space. This was sustainable when we were in a no-holds-barred race with the Soviets, but the moment Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, that race was over. Any human spaceflight beyond that (including the remaining Apollo missions, which started being scuttled one by one less than a year after the Eagle touched down) is anticlimax. So it will remain until a manned Mars mission becomes technologically and budgetarily feasible.

This left NASA with a dilemma. What NASA does really well -- remote missions -- at best attract some passing attention from the public (and from Congress) and quickly fade from public consciousness, even though they've resulted in fundamental advances in planetary science, astronomy, cosmology, physics, and earth science. NASA's glory and continued success, on the other hand, comes almost entirely from the hurling-people-in-tin-cans-into-the-void trick, which hasn't had any real purpose since the early 1970s.

In other words, there's a gap between perception and reality, between what NASA does that's really worthwhile and what NASA perceives it must do to maintain its reputation and its budget. The last four decades of NASA's history is an attempt to bridge that gap with sleight of hand, to draw our attention away from that internal contradiction.

It does so by pretending that its astronauts are doing crucial scientific experiments while puttering around in low-Earth orbit. Despite NASA's incessant cooing over its "world class" scientific work in space, the research on board the shuttle and the International Space Station has almost uniformly been of minimal importance. Science-wise, human spaceflight compares incredibly unfavorably on a dollar-for-dollar basis with even a fiscally bloated and physically crippled unmanned craft. Even a single lean, mean, successful project like Mars Pathfinder, which cost about $200 million (maybe $300-$350 million in today's dollars), arguably yielded more for science than the entire multi-hundred-billion-dollar post-Apollo human spaceflight program. (Making matters worse, astronaut-run research has not just come at extraordinary fiscal expense, but at grave human expense as well. As I point out in the Slate article, NASA has killed roughly four percent of the people it has sent into space -- yes, killed, through negligence and mismanagement.)

NASA also has had a few embarrassing episodes where it hyped bad terrestrial science as well, ham-handed attempts to fill the gap by inflating the importance of a new field: astrobiology. (The term "astrobiology" is telling. "Astro" and "biology" are, at the moment, mutually exclusive; where you have one, you simply don't have the other. Hopefully, that will someday change, and give the field a reason for its name.)

This sleight of hand is the core of the problem. Hype doesn't fill the gap between perception and reality, though, and the mismatch is growing bigger each year as remote technology improves, and as budgets tighten. Unless the agency can either find a human spaceflight mission that's worth the effort, expense, and danger -- or, better yet, realign its priorities so that it no longer has to dissemble about the value of more than half of the work that it does -- NASA is in danger. In short, NASA must figure out what it's really for.

This argument paints an unflattering picture of NASA, to be sure, and the reaction from NASA fans was as quick and fierce as a mother panda defending her cubs. Within a few hours, a NASA love-fest developed on twitter, using the hashtag #WhatisNASAfor, to try to answer the question -- or at least to prove that it's silly and presumptuous to ask it. Space fans, both civilian and insiders, joined in, and soon so did the government, including NASA itself.

So what does NASA think it's for? In 140 characters, how does America's space agency justify its existence? Here it is, straight from the panda's mouth:

Spinoffs. Yes, really.

Any time you give a group of smart people lots of money to work together on technological problems, you're going to get unexpected discoveries and side benefits. Whether you're working on military systems, high-energy physics, digital imaging, or any other big high-tech problems, there will be spinoffs. But in all the world, it seems that only NASA thinks that spinoffs are a raison d'etre rather than a natural consequence of doing something else well. Spinoffs (and new technology), especially medical spinoffs, figure prominently in the #WhatisNASAfor thread. Of course, if developing new medical technology is what NASA is for, that's a valid argument, but we should probably incorporate the agency into the Department of Health and Human Services.

Perhaps someone even higher up in government had a better idea. Luckily, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy joined in, too.

It's a nice story, and the general theme of inspiring students and creating future STEM majors was also a salient theme in the #WhatisNASAfor thread. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that in no way do the educational benefits justify the $2.5 billion expense of the Curiosity mission. Don't misunderstand: Curiosity was well worth the money, not because it makes a great story for kids, but because it's producing interesting planetary science. The educational value is a side benefit. In other words, NASA's educational value is fundamentally another kind of spinoff that follows directly from doing interesting things in space. And the vast majority of interesting things in space are done by robots, not humans. The infinite variations of water floating in space are great fun, but it's a Mars panorama or a view of Saturn or even of the Sun that will trigger real awe -- and inspiration.

A few other NASA-related entities also chimed in; NASA's Launch Services Program at Cape Kennedy tweeted about "launching across our solar system," while NASA's Stennis Space Center used the opportunity to plug NASA's PR effort.

Largely missing was NASA's elephant in the room -- NASA's $100-$200 billion-plus flagship, the International Space Station. As far as I can tell, as of Sunday night, there were only two governmental or official contributions that even mentioned the ISS. The first, CASIS, the organization which manages the International Space Station's laboratory facilities. It came out swinging, perhaps the only official tweet which attempted directly to refute the argument made in Slate.

The other was ISS Research, NASA's mouthpiece for scientific research aboard the Station. How is it contributing to NASA's purpose?

Spinoffs. Sigh.

The civilian contributions to #WhatisNASAfor tended to hit on similar themes. (The word cloud below represents relative frequencies of certain words in the part of the thread I captured, after meaningless phrases had been removed.)


Inspiration, education, tech spinoffs, and the sheer coolness of some of NASA's missions: wonderful, but not ends in themselves. The need to escape the confines of the Earth, and the manifest destiny of colonizing space: after Apollo, this became unattainable in any meaningful way for quite a while to come.

What's left is science -- and science is where NASA's greatest achievements lie. NASA spacecraft are helping us answer some of the biggest questions in the universe. (Heck, I wrote an entire book describing a revolution in cosmology sparked, in part, by NASA programs like Hubble, WMAP, and COBE.) But that drive is fundamentally incompatible with the agency's perceived need to hype bad science and trying to convince the world that its astronautic boondoggles are producing world-class scientific achievements.

That's NASA's dilemma in a nutshell: despite all the agency has done, despite all it has to offer, so long as human spaceflight is at the core of NASA's existence, it will never evolve beyond a faint echo of its prior self.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Project Veritas' response to my post -- and my rejoinder

Subject: James O'Keefe
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2012 19:20:22 -0400
From: Brian Meinders


My name is Brian Meinders, and I'm the Director of Communications for Project Veritas. I've read your blog entry on James and Project Veritas, and am writing to express my concern with several factual errors contained in your post. You wrote that we broke the law by accepting tax deductible donations before having been approved by the IRS as a nonprofit. IRS regulations permit organizations with pending applications to collect donations which become fully tax deductible when the application is processed and accepted. All of the donations in question were consequently fully tax deductible; we did nothing wrong in soliciting them and those of our donors who made them and wrote them off on their taxes also did nothing wrong.

You further stated that as a nonprofit we are obliged to respond to requests for information on your part, and that our failure to respond to your inquiries was unlawful. Here again you seem to have your facts confused. Nonprofit organizations are required to report an annual 990, and are required to furnish it to anyone who requests it, as you said. Since our application was accepted in April 2011, our 990 will be due on May 15 of this year. Until that time we are under no obligation to provide you any information; this email is more than you're entitled to. Please make appropriate factual corrections to your blog entry. An apology for your previous misunderstandings or misrepresentations would also be appreciated.

Brian Meinders


Subject: Re: James O'Keefe
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2012 16:51:33 -0700
To: Brian Meinders

Dear Brian,

You were in violation of IRS regulations by claiming that you were 501(c)(3) when your status was pending. If you were a 501(c)(3) as you claimed, you would have been required to furnish it as you yourself admit.

You also told donors that their contributions would be tax deductible when you had no right to say so. As you admit, the contributions only become tax deductible when the 501(c)(3) status is granted.

The fact that the 501(c)(3) status became official later, and those donations did, in fact, become tax deductible are irrelevant to the fact that when I was requesting information -- under the erroneous assumption that your website was accurate about your 501(c)(3) status -- you were in violation of IRS regulations.

Indeed, it seems you were fully aware that you were not in compliance with the law once I pointed it out. Could you explain why you removed the claim of 501(c)(3) status and tax-deductible donations very shortly after I got into contact with Ms. Kluck?

In short, it seems to me that my blog post is entirely factually correct. That being said, though, if you could point to a specific phrase or clause that you believe is factually incorrect, please let me know, and I'll see if a correction is warranted. (Regardless, I am posting your communication to my blog so that your concerns about my post are properly aired.)

I asked for documents from your organization which, in good faith, I thought I was entitled. Your misrepresentation of your status as 501(c)(3) on your website -- without any indication to me (or to your donors) that your status was pending -- was why I made my request, why I wound up complaining to the IRS, and why Project Veritas attempted a sting of me.

On that note... could you please explain to me why the Project-Veritas-sponsored sting on me falls within the purview of your nonprofit organization, especially since it seems like direct retaliation for my request for documents and my communication with the IRS about your misrepresentations?

Also, could you explain to me why it is within the purview of your nonprofit organization to fund and support illegal activities, such as the trespass upon NYU property by two Project Veritas operatives?

Speaking of which, an apology for your organization's illegal and retaliatory actions against me would also be appreciated.

--Charles Seife

Thursday, March 22, 2012

James O'Keefe Attacked Me Because I Caught Him Breaking the Law

Wondering about the motivations about James O'Keefe, faux pimp and purveyor of undercover videos? A failed sting last year -- one that is just coming to public light -- shows just how different his motivations are from the journalists he's trying to emulate.

The target of that sting... me.

I'm not all that well known -- I'm not nearly as influential in the media world as my colleagues, Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky, who were targeted by O'Keefe last fall. I write about science and mathematics, which isn't usually the sort of stuff that would attract the attention of a character like O'Keefe. I also do a little investigative reporting, too, but nothing that would catch O'Keefe's eye.

So why did O'Keefe come after me?

It's because I caught James O'Keefe breaking the law in late 2010.

I don't think he's forgiven me.


My encounter with O'Keefe started in the wake of the very bizarre story where he tried to lure CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau aboard his boat so he could attempt to seduce her on camera. One or two accounts mentioned that the person who tipped off Boudreau was O'Keefe's employee and apparently the executive director of Project Veritas.

I immediately thought: who are these guys?

I was just curious. Journalists are curious creatures by nature. I'm no different. So I looked Project Veritas up. First step: Google.

Project Veritas was James O'Keefe's new venture. Its website stated that it was a nonprofit organization -- specifically, what's known as a 501(c)(3) -- and, as a result, it promised supporters that their donations were tax deductible. Investigative reporters love nonprofits. You can find out a lot of information about them very quickly, because the IRS forces them to reveal certain things to the public on what's known as a form 990. It's really easy to get your hands on those forms; they're freely available on a number of websites. So I did what any investigative reporter would do when curious about a nonprofit: I pulled Project Veritas' 990. Or tried to. I couldn't find it anywhere. Odd.

Any investigative reporter could tell you what my next step would be: I tried to confirm whether Project Veritas was, in fact, a nonprofit organization. The IRS keeps a master list of such organizations, known as Publication 78. Project Veritas wasn't on the list. States also keep registries of nonprofits and charitable organizations. I checked Virginia, New York, and a few other states where the organization would probably be doing fundraising. No Project Veritas. Odder still.

So I tried contacting Project Veritas to figure out what was going on. First I tried Twitter. No response.

Then I tried e-mail. No response, even after a month.

Nonprofits aren't allowed to behave that way. These organizations make a deal with the IRS; they don't pay taxes, but they have to obey certain rules. And one such rule dictates that a nonprofit must respond to a request for certain information within 30 days. If Project Veritas was a nonprofit organization, they were apparently breaking the law.

That wasn't the point. I wasn't trying to catch Project Veritas breaking the law. I was trying to get information to satisfy my curiosity. I just wanted to know what Project Veritas was and how they were spending their money. So I tried again to get the documents I wanted -- I sent a certified letter, and I tried upping the pressure by tweeting again, reminding them publicly that they were required by law to respond. They didn't.

Journalists are stubborn creatures by nature. I'm no different. Deny me information that I'm entitled to, and I won't let go. It doesn't matter if you're a nonprofit organization or an Obama-administration government agency, I'll fight. So I took the next logical step to put pressure on Project Veritas -- I filed a complaint with the IRS, telling them that Project Veritas wasn't playing by the disclosure rules. Either that, or Project Veritas wasn't really a nonprofit.

That got them talking. I called that morning to tell them that I had filed a complaint, and the woman I got on the phone was, surprisingly, quite cooperative. I put my request in writing, and after a string of e-mails, she admitted that application for nonprofit status had been filed, but it had not yet been approved. Contrary to what the website said, Project Veritas was not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and donations were, as a result, not tax-deductible. James O'Keefe had apparently committed an illegal act that could have caused donors unwittingly to make false claims on their taxes.

I finally had my answer. James O'Keefe was apparently breaking the law. So did I contact my friends in the liberal elite press establishment to try to make it a huge story? I could have gone to Romenesko, or sent it to my colleagues on major papers around the country. But I didn't.

For me, what O'Keefe had done wasn't a major story. Boil it down and O'Keefe's violation was pretty technical and easily correctible -- once I got his attention, he quickly altered his website to remove the claim of nonprofit status -- and, in my view, it would be petty to go after him because of it. O'Keefe was in the public eye because of his unethical (and occasionally illegal) surveillance of his enemies. A misleading phrase or two on his website, as dishonest as they might be, seemed to me to be small potatoes -- and irrelevant to the much more substantial discussion about O'Keefe's tactics.

Rather than make a big deal of it, I did a quick tweet to let my small handful of followers know the denouement to the saga -- I had a few who had asked for updates -- and I promptly forgot about the matter.

Apparently, O'Keefe didn't.


Because I had the temerity to ask O'Keefe to turn over documents he was required, by law, to provide, I made myself a target for one of his "stings." I would be an easy target.

Like Jay Rosen, I'm a professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. And like Jay and all of my other colleagues, I'm partly responsible for running the place. Until the end of last academic year, I was the Institute's director of undergraduate studies, and I spent (and still spend) a lot of time with prospective students who visit the building on short notice.

On September 21, 2011, I spent more than an hour with a young woman, "Ashley." She claimed to be an undergraduate who was interested in transferring to NYU from a community college in Texas. Ashley happened to be Nadia Naffe, conservative activist and erstwhile O'Keefe operative. And she was trying to get me to reveal my true colors as a racist and elitist professor indoctrinating students with liberal lies.

Ashley offered me some bait: aging footage of an old Tea Party rally where people called her a racial epithet. Ashley told me that she wanted to turn it into a documentary film when she came to NYU. I didn't want to actively discourage her -- I didn't want to say no to her project idea before she had even enrolled at NYU -- but I didn't think the project was particularly interesting. So I danced around the issue a bit; I told her that there was plenty of other stuff to cover, and that if she's interested in doing a film about racism, New York is a good laboratory. I mentioned the stop and frisk database as an example of a source of rich stories.

Then I gave her a tour.

Ashley and I exchanged a few more e-mails -- she wanted to meet again, but I wasn't able to schedule an appointment. She wanted to attend Jay Rosen's class, and even though it's for graduates rather than undergraduates, I made the arrangements. Then I heard nothing more.

It took me some weeks -- and an O'Keefe attack on my colleagues -- to figure out that Ashley was part of an O'Keefe operation. She posed as a prospective student to get into my office, and, taping me the whole while, she hoped that, presented with the prospect of video evidence of Tea Party racism, I would lose my composure and reveal my liberal biases.

The operation was a failure. O'Keefe never released the footage. Presumably, I was so inoffensive that even O'Keefe couldn't use his signature style of creative editing to turn my utterances into something incriminating. Worse yet for O'Keefe, Ashley -- Nadia -- left the project in disgust. It seems that Nadia finally realized that O'Keefe had used her not to expose a far-left, elite, racist professor but instead to pursue a very personal vendetta against someone who dared point out that he was apparently breaking the law. Nadia's defection brings into stark relief what O'Keefe so sorely lacks: the very same moral sense that is essential to good journalism.


As a journalism professor, I'm grateful to O'Keefe for one thing: he shook up my students a bit, and shaken-up students are the best kind to teach.

The week O'Keefe released his bungled hit-job on Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky, I played a short snippet for my class. As the clip was playing I asked them, quite casually, to try to figure out where the video had been shot. Behind Clay is a whiteboard -- a whiteboard identical to the one behind me as I asked that question. The expression on their faces as they made the connection shows just how powerful this lesson was; no amount of lecturing about press ethics or privacy can match the sense of violation that they got to feel first hand. After their initial expression of shock, our conversation soon turned to address the obvious question: is there a difference between what we do as journalists, and what O'Keefe does? It's not a trivial question to answer.

Any journalist who's inclined in the slightest degree toward introspection knows the opening line of Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible." It's an overstatement, but not by much.

We journalists like to think of ourselves as moral creatures, yet, at the same time, our profession depends on using, and sometimes injuring, people to achieve our ends. We often inject ourselves into the lives of people who would rather dwell in obscurity, exposing them to attention that they would rather avoid. Though we will occasionally make targets miserable, leaving each of them with a lingering sense of violation, we justify our cruelty because we think we do it for the public good. In other words, we use exactly the same calculus as O'Keefe.

But there is a difference.

We attempt to be transparent about our biases and try to overcome them. O'Keefe is driven by them. O'Keefe struck at me as an act of revenge for reporting his nonprofit to the IRS -- and that level of personal animus would compel any real reporter to recuse himself from an investigation. And, of course, O'Keefe has made a career out of using his platform to distort the words of his perceived enemies.

We sometimes do things that are ethically gray; journalists don't live in a world where right and wrong are divided by bright lines. But O'Keefe seems scornful of numerous voices that are telling him he's crossed ethical boundaries that he shouldn't have crossed, including voices from within his organization.

We believe that it can be worth breaking the law for the greater good; many of us would gladly go to jail to protect a source, for example. But O'Keefe shows contempt for the rules of our society: he has broken the law in the past, and, even discounting my discovery about his nonprofit, it looks like he continues to break it by inducing others to commit illegal acts on his behalf. (Though the courts haven't been entirely clear on the matter, "Ashley," as well as Jay Rosen's visitor, "Lucas," appear to have broken the law when they lied to gain access to our offices.)

O'Keefe is a journalist reflected in a funhouse mirror. He appears to be grappling with the same moral and ethical issues that we journalists do all the time, but his actions are distorted and twisted by his own personal agenda into something unrecognizable.

The whole affair makes for a fascinating discussion, one full of ironies. Perhaps the greatest is that IRS form 13909, the one I filled out when Project Veritas was breaking the law, has a little checkbox on it that reads: "I am concerned that I might face retaliation or retribution if my identity is disclosed." I did not check the box, choosing instead to be open about my actions. It is because of this choice to reveal my identity despite IRS' offer to try to shield me from retaliation, that I face retribution. Retribution by a man who masks his identity so he can smear his enemies. And retribution from his organization, which claims to strive for "... a more ethical and transparent society." Yet the only things made clear by my tangle with Project Veritas are the real motives that drive O'Keefe.

It's hard to get more transparent than that.