By now, you’ve probably seen the ‘undercover sting operation’ video by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, which purports to show a Cornell University Dean helping a student start an ISIS club on campus, and saying that Cornell would be happy to invite terrorists on campus to give lectures or hold training sessions.
In the video, a Project Veritas ‘sting operative’ posed as a student in distress, and asked Cornell’s Dean of Student Activities Joseph Scaffido a series of questions about humanitarian aid, fishing for statements that could later be spliced together.
If you read the official description, it seems that he tricked Mr. Scaffido into ‘revealing’ a pro-Jihad agenda in the Ivy League.
Fortunately for the observant viewer, this video is laughably transparent.
The scam becomes obvious within the first few moments of the video, when the operative begins his introduction to Mr. Scaffido by saying that he would like to ‘start a humanitarian group that supports distressed communities, a humanitarian group in the Middle East, northern Iraq and Syria’.
He then says that he is concerned for ‘the families and the freedom fighters in particular and their families…’, and wants ‘to maybe send them care packages, whether it be food, water, electronics.’
That is, throughout the video, the operative never actually says ‘ISIS’.
Instead, he says he is interested in ‘helping out the communities in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’. Not ‘of’, which is the official name, but ‘in’.
This grammatical sleight of hand is important. Had he wanted to be direct, he could have said ‘in ISIS’ or even ‘helping out the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. But by using ‘in’ repeatedly, and purposefully, he indicates that he is talking about areas or regions, not organizations.
By repeatedly saying ‘communities’, he speaks as though he is talking about groups that live in ISIS-controlled areas, that are being affected by terrorism and need shelter or other humanitarian aid. And, in the way he uses the word ‘freedom fighters’, he gives the impression that he is talking about people fighting ISIS. Anyone would assume this.
If you don’t believe me, ask the Internet.
For example, if you did a google search before March 24th (that is, before Project Veritas posted their video) for ‘ISIS Freedom Fighter’, nearly every instance would be a reference to people fighting against ISIS. A New York Post article tells the story of ‘three renegade freedom fighters [who] are the first known Americans to take up the on-the-ground fight against the Islamic State’. It even features a quote from an ex-Army soldier boasting that he just ‘delivered an ISIS bastard to hell’. A piece in VICE shows action shots of smiling, rifle-toting Kurdish women, ready to defend Syria’s northeastern Hasakh province against ISIS.
YouTube searches, if you’ve got the stomach for combat footage, reveal more of the same.
Any reasonable person would have assumed that someone wanting to help ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘support distressed communities’ would be trying to provide aid to communities ravaged by terror. Not promote violence.
Now, let’s talk about this ‘Ithaca is very liberal’ thing.
When Scaffido says that the Ithaca community is ‘liberal’, he does not mean that the right wing is absent or unwelcome (Cornell has an award-winning conservative newspaper, and Rudy Guiliani gave our 2011 commencement address). He might well have been telling the ‘student’ that Ithaca would not discriminate against him for being a Moroccan immigrant. In a statement released by Cornell President David Skorton, it was revealed that the operative had claimed that he was being victimized by racial discrimination at another university, and wanted to transfer somewhere safer. Mr. Scaffido’s responses were likely an attempt to assure him that he would be safe in Ithaca, and free to express himself. ‘Liberal’, then, in original Latin sense — ‘worthy of a free citizen’. But this information was spliced out of the video.
Okay, so maybe the guy’s just dumb?
I mean, maybe there’s another criticism here — that an administrator (even if he is in charge of Student Activities and not Near Eastern Studies) at an Ivy League University doesn’t know the acronym for ISIS when he hears it. Shouldn’t staff — even office workers — at Cornell be well-rounded on everything there is to know in the world? Shouldn’t everyone here — from the president to the gymnastics coach — be ready for a pop quiz on world events?
Some might say so. Cornell Law professor William A Jacobson, who for some odd reason has a direct line of communication with Project Veritas leadership, quoted James O’Keefe himself as saying:
‘If you have an assistant Dean of Students at an Ivy league University that doesn’t know what Hamas is or the Islamic State is, perhaps you need to redefine the qualifications for University leadership.’
But if this is the case, the video also insults the intelligence of the viewer, because every time the operative mumbles ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’, the on-screen subtitles follow it with ‘(ISIS)’.
Why do we need this explanation, but Mr. Scaffido doesn’t? Isn’t that a bit patronizing? Is Project Veritas implying that we, the viewers, are stupider than Mr. Scaffido?
It would seem that Mr. O’Keefe is more elitist than the Ivy League Liberals that he is trying to take down.
The video hits its fear-mongering peak
when a clumsy, out-of-sync voiceover says that Cornell would also welcome terrorists visiting the campus to lecture. But again, the operative uses misleading language to bait for soundbites. He never refers to ISIS directly, but instead asks if he could ‘bring a freedom fighter to speak’, or to run ‘a training camp for students’. I know that if I heard this, I would assume that he perhaps wanted to invite one of the oppressed people of the region, or perhaps even Canadian-Israeli Gila Rosenberg, who was featured in the Jerusalem Post for joining the anti-ISIS fighters, to lecture.
I mean, we’ve established that ISIS is a fairly savvy organization. Would somebody with actual ties to ISIS be stupid enough to show up, as a prospective student, and ask for money? And, would ISIS be stupid enough to run a training camp in the middle of the Cornell Arts Quad? What, are they going to do, wind sprints in Okenshields?
Are they going to bring Nerf darts and kidnap Happy Dave as a practice mission?
Or, was Mr. Scaffido supposed to immediately suspect that this ‘prospective student’ was a terrorist, because he (presumably) looked Moroccan and had a bit of an accent? In fact, was that the point of the whole ‘Moroccan’ backstory? Was it to make the story scarier when it was released on YouTube? Was a regular old American white dude not good enough? Have we forgotten that white dudes are perfectly capable of blowing stuff up?
Now, let’s talk about this whole support of Hamas thing.
At one point, the operative asks if it would be a problem if he supported Hamas. Scaffido gives him a fairly boilerplate response:
The university is not going to look at different groups and say you’re not allowed to support that group, because we don’t believe in them or something like that. I think it’s just the opposite. I think the university wants the entire community to understand what’s going on in all parts of the world.
I could see someone being upset at this. But, it is just as Scaffido says: because nobody at Cornell thinks the same way (this is a good thing), and because we are in the USA, it’s a bit hard for Cornell to put its foot down as a unified body and tell a group that they are not allowed to announce that they agree with someone.
After all, Cornell has a history of not only ideologically, but financially supporting groups that have turned out to be kinda unpopular.
One example: about thirty years ago, a bunch of students staged a sit-in to demand that Cornell stop investing in the apartheid regime of South Africa. Cornell officials ignored them. In 1986, the University held $146 million of stock in companies doing business in South Africa.
Eventually, some progress was made, and by 1989, this number had fallen to $42 million — but the University trustees refused to do anything further.
That is, even Cornell, that liberal bastion of the Northeast, kept $42 million of its money invested in a government that had been on the UN’s blacklist for decades. Apartheid ended before Cornell could manage to make a coherent moral stance in favor of democracy.
That’s hardly what I would call the bleeding edge of liberalism. If anything, we’re behind the curve.
Hell, Duke beat us.
There are a lot of negative things that can be said about Cornell.
For example, depending on how strongly you feel about apartheid, you could say that we used to financially support terrorism. And depending on how you feel about Palestine, and Cornell’s 2014 rejection of a proposal to divest from Israel’s military, you might say that we still do. But to say that Cornell is itching to hand money to ISIS terrorists is not only disingenuous, it is delusional.
And even though the truth is now out, it probably doesn’t matter — O’Keefe has made his mark. As it so happens, the video was strategically released to coincide with Cornell’s Giving Day — a fundraising effort that Cornell has been advertising for months. I have heard (unofficial) estimates that today alone, Cornell lost around $2 million in scheduled donations.
Which is sad, because it’s so obvious that Project Veritas’ most recent low-budget smear campaign is the journalistic equivalent of a two-dollar Rolex. Not because it doesn’t work — the story is clearly riling people up as it was intended to — but because if you buy it, you’re a fool.
talk to me: @dexdigi
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