The activist group Project Veritas released an undercover video this weekend featuring Senate candidate Rep. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., members of her campaign staff, and a campaign donor.
The edited tape shows Sinema saying the United States “should offer citizenship to every person in this country who isn’t bad. You know, if you haven’t committed a bad crime, you know, then you should get a path to citizenship. That’s what I believe.” The video also shows a Sinema campaign donor, Steve Andrews, saying of the Democratic nominee that she is “probably is [progressive] in her heart, but she knows to survive and get elected, she has got to walk the walk a little bit.”
Overall, the tape isn't that notable or even particularly damaging. It doesn't catch the candidate in an especially embarrassing gaffe — she does enough of that on her own — or policy flip-flop. But you’d think Project Veritas stumbled onto undercover gold judging by the amount of energy the Arizona Republic exerted Tuesday discrediting the group.
“Right-wing activist group films undercover video of Kyrsten Sinema, staffers,” reads the paper’s headline.
The story’s first paragraph refers to the group as a “right-wing operation.” The second paragraph takes care to characterize Project Veritas as a “controversial group.” The third paragraph reports that Project Veritas “has conducted ‘stings’ of multiple politicians and media organizations, under false pretenses. … The group's operatives often identify themselves with fake personas as potential volunteers or donors.” The story’s fourth paragraph says Project Veritas’ videos “have been discredited by many partly because they are heavily edited.”
Just to be clear: We’re four paragraphs into the Arizona Republic story and we still don’t know what was said in this undercover video. But we do know that the story’s author, Rachel Leingang, doesn’t want us to trust the group responsible for the tape.
The report’s fifth and sixth paragraphs give background on the Arizona Senate race, including that Sinema and her GOP opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., are in a statistical dead heat.
The story’s seventh paragraph goes on to note that “right-wing groups and conservative media” began sharing Project Veritas’ videos this weekend. The eighth paragraph serves as a defense of Sinema, explaining that nothing she says on tape contradicts what she has stated publicly.
It’s not until the ninth paragraph that we learn what Sinema and her staffers were actually recorded as saying.
It isn’t wrong to warn readers about the undercover activist group. Project Veritas is indeed untrustworthy, especially after it was caught in 2017 trying to plant a bogus anti-media story with the Washington Post alleging sexual misconduct by then-Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
It's fine to offer a caveat in the story's opening, but ... nine paragraphs?
If a reporter wants to give more context, that information is generally presented farther down, below the actual news event. Mummifying the front end of an article with the journalism equivalent of “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” tape gives the game away.
The funny thing about this is: The Arizona Republic ran an op-ed Tuesday that is actually more straightforward and to-the-point than the paper’s straight news report. The op-ed addresses the video’s content in the fourth paragraph.