James O’Keefe, Ed Begley Jr., fracking, and Hollywood Smoke and Mirrors

View 825, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


This was the first mail I noticed this morning:

Pournelle neighbor in the News 


"James O’Keefe says he duped Ed Begley Jr. and Mariel Hemmingway into agreeing to get involved with an anti-fracking movie while hiding that its funding comes from Middle Eastern oil interests.

Journalist James O’Keefe, known for his controversial undercover sting operations aimed usually at liberals — is set to unveil at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday the first of a group of videos that he says will reveal hypocrisy among Hollywood environmentalists.

In the video, obtained exclusively by The Hollywood Reporter and embedded below, actors Ed Begley Jr. and Mariel Hemmingway are duped by a man named “Muhammad,” who is looking to make an anti-fracking movie while hiding that its funding is coming from Middle Eastern oil interests.

Muhammad, accompanied by a man pretending to be an ad executive, seemingly has the two actors agreeing to participate in the scheme, even after he acknowledges that his goal is to keep America from becoming energy independent. The meeting, which appears to have been secretly recorded, took place a few months ago at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Nice people


Paul Taggart

Later I got

More on James O’Keefe anti-fracking film sting


This has the actual film and is much more informative.

James O’Keefe is the conservative activist best known for his infiltration and secret videos of the actions of ACORN. His report caused Congressional funding of ACORN to be limited. While the tactics and accuracy of his documentary on ACORN has been disputed and is condemned by liberal journalists, his actions were politically effective. Few, including his supporters, would describe his work as journalism as normally understood. On the other hand, a number of his supporters have pointed out that his tactics are not much different from those used by liberal journalists in defense of their causes. If all this seems to be a commentary on the state of journalism, I would not dispute that.

O’Keefe apparently approached well known producers Josh and Rebecca Tickell, Sundance Festival award winners, with an offer to set up meetings with “Mohammed”, said to be the son of a Middle East Oil Company executive who wished to make an anti-fracking film. Mohammed was fairly open with the Tickells, telling them that oil fracking was cutting into the Middle East Oil sales and affecting their bottom line, and they wanted to finance a film that would stop fracking entirely.

This is from the narrative that accompanies the film:

The video features an undercover journalist from Project Veritas posing as "Muhammad,” a member of a Middle Eastern oil family, offering $9 million in funding to American filmmakers to fund an anti-fracking movie. He was joined by a second undercover activist posing as an ad executive.

O’Keefe entraps actor Ed Begley Jr., actress Mariel Hemingway, and director Josh Tickell, who agree to the film while promising to hide the source of the funds.

The undercover activist tells the group that "if Washington, D.C., continues fracking, America will be energy-efficient, and then they won’t need my oil anymore."

In a phone call to Tickell, the "ad executive" states, "My client’s interest is to end American energy independence; your interest is to end fracking. And you guys understand that?"

Tickell’s response: "Correct. Yes, super clear.”


Assuming that the video is of actual events, there is little question that the Tickells knew precisely what they were getting into. It is not so clear that Ed Begley, Jr., (my neighbor) and Mariel Hemingway (granddaughter of Earnest and Hadley Hemingway) were fully aware of what was going on. They are actors, and while I do not know Ms. Hemingway, Ed is very well known for his Green sympathies and his opposition to fossil fuels. Begley’s position on fracking was stated in his USA Today interview http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/video/perspectives-ed-begley-jr-on-climate-change-fracking-and-solar-energy/1852410717001 and while I do not agree with him, he discusses these matters with another neighbor, Bill Nye the Science Guy, whose views are not particularly different from Ed’s. He can say that his views can’t be unreasonable, else why would such a famous science guy agree with him?

Begley is an actor. It is not clear just how much of “Mohamed’s” part in the documentary was told to him; the line about , "My client’s interest is to end American energy independence; your interest is to end fracking. And you guys understand that?" is from a telephone call that Begley was not part of. Actors are generally not part of the negotiations about film financing. When they are, their part is usually to show up and say very little: they are there to help close a deal, and without the deal no film gets made. Hollywood is not really in the entertainment business; Hollywood is in the business of raising money to invest in entertainment enterprises. The difference is significant, and part of it accounts for why talented actors take so little part in the actual business operations.

A typical movie deal tends to be a series of lies which, if everything goes right, turn out to be retroactively true. As in, a producer tells an actor that his has a famous director lined up for a project, but the director wants this particular actor before he’ll come aboard. He then goes to a financial source and says he’s got a well known actor and a name director, but he needs financing. Once he has the financing he goes to an agent to buy the film rights, but he can’t pay for them just yet, so he buys an option. He then has his first meeting with the director, and he’s got it all: Script, Financing, Actor, and all he needs is this big name director and it’s all got the green light. Astonishingly, while this doesn’t always work, it works far more often than you’d think. Some really great movies have been made that way.

I doubt that O’Keefe duped Begley and Hemingway into anything. He had Mohamed go to the Tickells, sucked them into the project, and as their enthusiasm grew they got Ed Begley and Muriel Hemingway to come on board.

Understand, this is all my speculation. I haven’t discussed this with Ed or anyone else. Apparently O’Keefe is a very persuasive young man, and whomever he hired to be “Mohamed” is likely to be a very good actor as well; and of course producers like the Tickells, and talents like Begley and Hemingway, already convinced of the importance of their causes and their fundamental truths, are eager to take part in something that might be effective in furthering the cause. That they will be paid well to do it doesn’t harm their enthusiasm, but it’s not the sole reason for them to get on board. While Hollywood is really about investments and money, at the talent level it is about movies and their magic, and none of that would happen without the smoke and mirrors of the producer teams who make these things come true.

O’Keefe has done well to show some of the realities in the Great Climate Debate. Note that there is no debate, really: every study that questions the accuracy of the Consensus Theory of Climate Change will be challenged as biased and financed by people with a financial interest in being a Denier; but as the Consensus tightens down, every study financed through universities will find results consistent with the Consensus, or all those tenure track post-docs involved will have to find new jobs when the next grant proposal is denied. I have seen this happen in many research fields; this is the best known of them. Long time readers will recall that I have often argued that on scientific issues important enough to be supported with large amounts of public money, should by law have at least 10% of that money reserved to finance contrarian theories. We can argue over the percentages, but I think it important that there be reliable and publicly financed tests of Big Important Highly Financed Theories. The contrarian research may find questions that ought to have been asked but haven’t; and they are far more likely to find unexpected results even if the established theories are true. But that is a matter for another essay.

I will say that I have known Ed Begley long enough that I would be astonished if he were truly sucked into an actual scam. I am sure he believed that this would be an honest film about an important subject, one that he could be proud to have been a part of. I doubt that he paid much attention to the rest of what was being said in that Arab owned Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills hotel.


As an aside: when Niven and I had an important meeting with a senior official of Simon and Schuster in the Polo Lounge, the hotel had not been sold to the Sultan of Brunei; last I heard Loretta Young and Pat Frawley were involved in the ownership, but that was 34 years ago. It is my understanding that the Sultan has owned the hotel for about twenty years, although I don’t recall anyone knowing this until the recent flap over Sharia Law being imposed in Brunei provoked a boycott movement of the hotel and its famed Polo Lounge. In our case we were told (by our militantly pro Israeli publisher) that our upcoming novel OATH OF FEALTY would become a best seller. He made that as a personal promise, and the only provision is that we would leave that to him, and we’d cooperate as needed in promotion. He did just that. It’s not always smoke and mirrors.


It’s dinner time. Later.






Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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