Correction: In an earlier version of this piece, Project Veritas’ response to allegations about the Washington Post incident were mischaracterized. Hour Detroit regrets the error.
In early May, Cherry Street Health Center in Grand Rapids came under fire after staffers lined up at its drive-thru COVID-19 testing site to make the site seem busy for cameras visiting from CBS This Morning. The duplicity was made public by Project Veritas, a controversial New York-based group known for efforts to embarrass mainstream media outlets, after a clinic employee sent the group undercover audio of Cherry Health officials admitting to it. CBS said the network didn’t know the line was padded and has since removed the footage from the online version of the report.
That episode was a trial-by-fire for Project Veritas’ new spokeswoman, Plymouth native Megan Piwowar, who started days before the CBS kerfuffle. The 34-year-old with degrees from both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University is a former Michigan GOP spokeswoman who served as campaign manager in 2014 for Dave Trott’s first successful congressional campaign.
Piwowar’s prior gig was as spokeswoman for Philip Morris, so she’s not new to controversy. Yet in taking the Project Veritas job, she becomes a chief defender of founder James O’Keefe, a conservative provocateur who has been sued repeatedly in connection with undercover probes in which he or others assumed false identities or surreptitiously recorded people making what O’Keefe presents as incriminating remarks. In 2017, for instance, the group had a woman try to persuade Washington Post reporters to write about her fabricated claim that Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore had impregnated her when she was underage. The Post instead reported on Project Veritas’ effort to dupe its reporters, earning the group widespread condemnation.
Piwowar is undeterred, as seen in this conversation with Hour Detroit from her New York home.
Hour Detroit: Since Veritas is all about media transparency, I must acknowledge that, as a journalist, I am very uncomfortable with the way you operate.
Megan Piwowar: Can you give me a specific example?
Sure. The Washington Post case, in which Veritas tried to inject false narratives into the media to see if they’d bite. That’s very disturbing.
Steve, I would point you to our website’s Top 10 Lies about Project Veritas. It speaks to one of the examples you’re speaking to. I’m happy to address any specific example that’s not addressed on the website. [The website’s response to the Washington Post sting reads: “Project Veritas uses a variety of aliases to get meetings with people.” Read the rest of the response here.]
So, you don’t believe there have been deceptively edited videos or unethical activities?
Undercover journalism is a genre of journalism. Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes had plenty of examples that he aired. He also received a lot of litigation. And the woman who I believe was one of the first undercover journalists, which I think is very inspiring as a female, Nellie Bly, in the 1800s admitted herself to a psychiatric ward to get the real story. Undercover journalistic tactics have been used for years and years and years.
Let’s talk about the big CBS case. It’s not clear whether you’re saying CBS orchestrated the deceptive video.
Our role is not to interpret the intentions. Our job is to simply put out the information that a segment that aired nationally on CBS This Morning misrepresented that those were patients when they were not. [Project Veritas presented the scoop on a site called exposecbs.com, where it boasted that it had caught “one of the largest media corporations demonstrating how desperate the media is to hype the COVID-19 pandemic beyond reality.”]
You must have known about Veritas’ tactics and history. Did you need to become comfortable with representing them?
If I had never done anything uncomfortable in my life, I would not be where I am now. I would not be an 18-time marathon finisher. I would not be pursuing my first Ironman. I’d probably not be living here in New York City. It’s not a matter of if you’re comfortable with something. It’s if you believe in it. James has a saying that nothing in life is as sweet as justice, and nothing in life is as motivating as injustice. I don’t see this as a partisan issue. If something is misrepresented in such a fashion that it creates fear or puts misinformation that can be dangerous out there, it needs to be exposed.
Why doesn’t Veritas release its unedited raw video footage? Wouldn’t that show whether you deceptively edit your work?
We have never edited content out of context. I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the Chuck Todd situation on NBC, where he aired a misleadingly edited clip of Attorney General Barr. … I was hoping that it was something we could discuss.
Was Veritas involved with that one?
No, I just thought it was a very timely example of the trend.
But he apologized.
He did, a few days later.
Any day of the week, you could find something in the media that didn’t go right. But what people call “media bias” is usually journalists being lazy or careless, not necessarily trying to harm anybody.
Well, Chuck Todd’s influence is a bit more powerful than just anyone you might find posting on any given day.
You helped Rep. Dave Trott get elected. He left Congress after two terms, disillusioned by D.C. partisanship. In December, he wrote in The Atlantic that President Trump is “psychologically, morally, intellectually, and emotionally unfit for office.” Were you surprised?
I’m not going to comment. I haven’t spoken to Dave to get his exact reason for leaving. I haven’t read that letter, but I’m definitely going to add that to my reading list.
It was pretty big news.
Maybe this will surprise you, but I’m not political to be political. It’s been more, “Do I have the individual freedom to make my own choices? Do my friends have the individual freedom to get married if they want to get married? Do I have the ability to make a good living and to lead the kind of life I want if I work hard?”
Why did you leave Philip Morris?
I can make an impact at an organization that’s still relatively small. And for me to have the first big story be in Michigan was very cool. It’s a great way to reconnect with a lot of folks back home