Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court’s Middle District of Florida against Project Veritas and Breitbart News. Wentz was the unwitting star of an undercover video shot in 2015 at a Florida teacher’s union conference and produced by James O’Keefe and his outfit, Project Veritas.
Wentz was not pleased with the way he came off. “Overall,” reads the lawsuit, “the video makes Wentz look unworthy, corrupt, and makes the union look corrupt.” The problem for Wentz is that his own words did him in. Like virtually all of the subjects of Project Veritas stings, Wentz claims to be the victim of “deceptive editing,” but an honest look at the finished video would suggest otherwise.
In one segment Wentz (SW) tells a young female undercover Project Veritas (PV) journalist about classroom violence. He introduces the subject by sharing the fact that he was “ex-military.”
SW: I mean, you know, there were times in my class where I had a kid do something crazy and, you know, I told him when the bell rings, I said, “Hang on, hang on a minute, I want to talk to you.” So the bell rings, everyone leaves, and I go over, shut the door, lock it, pull the shades down, take all my sh** out of my pockets and I go, “Do you really want to kick my ass? Do you really think I’m a mother*****? Son, go for it, and I’ll give you first shot.”
In his suit, Wentz argues that he was telling the story of one memorable “tough love” encounter that eventually turned the kid’s life around. Allegedly, the kid in question later thanked Wentz for showing him the light. The next question in the videotaped conversation, however, undercuts that argument.
PV: You’ve done this to a student?
SW: “I’ve done this more than once and I said, “but I guarantee you, I will kick your f***ing ass.”
This unedited segment last fifty seconds, a lifetime in TV news. Wentz may have just been showing off to an attractive young female at a hotel bar, but there is do denying what he said. There is no denying he claimed to have made such threats “more than once.” At this stage in the finished video, there is an edit in the conversation. The journalist seems to have asked off camera how the union would respond–Wentz had just been elected president–and he gives what appears to be straight answer:
SW: The union would throw me under the bus. I mean . . .
PV: Would they?
SW: Are you serious? I mean, yeah. If it was proven that I told a kid, “Come at me, hit me, I will kick your ass,” oh yeah, they wouldn’t. I don’t know about Virginia, but Kansas would hang my ass out to dry.”
PV: They wouldn’t support you?
SW: No, no, that’s over the line.
This second segment was also unedited. Despite Wentz’s claim to the contrary, it does not make the union look at all corrupt, quite the opposite. Wentz clearly acknowledges that, however noble his alleged goal, what he was threatening could have resulted in his termination.
In the second half of the Project Veritas video an older journalist tracks Wentz down in Wichita, pretending to be the uncle of a student who had been threatened by Wentz. Says Wentz, obviously confused by the accusation, “I have never said that to a kid at school.” When the journalist persists, quoting Wentz word for word on his threat, Wentz denies it again, saying, “No, why would I say that to one of my students?”
Wentz concludes the conversation, telling the journalist, “If you show up again, I’m gonna call the cops.” This conversation took place in a coffee shop. Although persistent, the journalist never threatened Wentz.
The suit claims that Project Veritas recorded Wentz without his permission. That is true, but both Florida and Kansas are one-party consent states. “Our position is, we caught him on video saying things,” said Project Veritas spokesman Stephen Gordon. “Which one of Mr. Wentz’s statements that are recorded on video is he claiming he didn’t say?”