MEDIA / ACORN Hoax : Times Won’t Admit It Was Wrong

Pimp and ho: James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles went undercover at ACORN. But guess what: They weren’t dressed like this!

NYT and the ACORN Hoax:
Paper won’t admit its mistakes

March 11, 2010

Ignoring calls from numerous critics, the New York Times refuses to own up to mistakes in the paper’s coverage of the now-famous right-wing videotapes attacking the community organizing group ACORN. Instead, the paper’s public editor, Clark Hoyt, is relying on an absurd semantic justification in order to claim the paper does not need to print any corrections.

As conventionally reported in the Times and elsewhere, right-wing activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles dressed up as a pimp and a prostitute and visited several local ACORN offices, where office workers gave the duo advice on setting up a brothel, concealing a child prostitution ring and so forth. But many of the key “facts” surrounding the videos are either in dispute or are demonstrable fabrications.

Though O’Keefe appears in various scenes in the videos wearing a garish and absurd “pimp” costume, he in fact did not wear the outfit when he appeared in the ACORN offices (Washington Independent, 2/19/10); he was dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks. This fact undermines one of the key contentions of the ACORN smear–that the group is so hopelessly corrupt that they would dispense advice to an obvious criminal.

What’s more, the “advice” that they received, according to the transcripts released by O’Keefe and Giles, does not appear to be as incriminating as it was portrayed in the videos–and echoed in outlets like the New York Times.

A review of the Times coverage:

  • In an early piece (9/16/09), readers were told of the “amateur actors, posing as a prostitute and a pimp and recorded on hidden cameras in visits to ACORN offices…. Conservative advocates and broadcasters were gleeful about the success of the tactics in exposing ACORN workers, who appeared to blithely encourage prostitution and tax evasion.” The Times explained:

    The undercover videos showed a scantily dressed young woman, Hannah Giles, posing as a prostitute, while a young man, James O’Keefe, played her pimp. They visited ACORN offices in Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Bernardino, Calif., candidly describing their illicit business and asking the advice of ACORN workers. Among other questions, they asked how to buy a house to use as a brothel employing underage girls from El Salvador.

    The paper also reported that O’Keefe “was dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risque high school play. But in the footage made public–initially by a new website,–ACORN employees raised no objections to the criminal plans. Instead, they eagerly counseled the couple on how to hide their activities from the authorities, avoid taxes and make the brothel scheme work.”

  • Three days later (9/19/09): “Their travels in the gaudy guise of pimp and prostitute through various offices of ACORN, the national community organizing group, caught its low-level employees in five cities sounding eager to assist with tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution.”
  • New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt weighed in (9/27/09), chiding the paper for not being more aggressive in promoting the ACORN videos–lamenting that Times readers weren’t as up-to-speed on the story as “followers of Fox News,” who already knew “that a video sting had caught ACORN workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes.”
  • The following week (10/4/09), Hoyt was on the ACORN case again: “To recap: Two conservative activists with a concealed video camera, posing as a prostitute and her pimp, visited offices of ACORN, the community organizing group, and lured employees into bizarre conversations about how to establish a bordello, cheat on taxes and smuggle in underage girls from Central America.”
  • After O’Keefe was charged in January with attempting to tamper with the phone system in Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office, the Times reported under the headline, “After Arrest, Provocateur’s Tactics Are Questioned”
    (1/28/10): “Mr. O’Keefe is a conservative activist who gained fame last year by posing as a pimp and secretly recording members of the community group ACORN giving him advice on how to set up a brothel.”
  • On January 31, 2010: “Mr. O’Keefe made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group ACORN — eliciting advice on financing a brothel on videos that would threaten to become ACORN’s undoing.
  • On March 2, 2010, under the headline, “ACORN’s Advice to Fake Pimp Was No Crime, Prosecutor Says, “the Times reported: “The ACORN employees in Brooklyn who were captured on a hidden camera seeming to offer conservative activists posing as a pimp and a prostitute creative advice on how to get a mortgage have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.”

But the story the Times continues to tell is wildly misleading, as a review of the publicly available transcripts of his visit ( makes clear. O’Keefe never dressed as a pimp during his visits to ACORN offices, seems to never actually represent himself as a “pimp,” and the advice he solicits is usually about how to file income taxes (which is not “tax evasion”). In at least one encounter (at a Baltimore ACORN office), the pair seemed to first insist that Giles was a dancer, not a prostitute.

In the case recounted in the March 2 Times story, the transcripts show that O’Keefe did not portray himself as a pimp to the ACORN workers in Brooklyn, but told them that he was trying to help his prostitute girlfriend. In part of the exchange, O’Keefe and his accomplice seem to be telling ACORN staffers that they are attempting to buy a house to protect child prostitutes from an abusive pimp.

Throughout the months the Times covered the story, it made a major mistake: believing that Internet videos produced by right-wing activists were to be trusted uncritically, rather than approached with the skepticism due to anything you’d come across on the Web. O’Keefe and the Web publisher Andrew Breitbart refused to make unedited copies of the videotape public, and with good reason: A more complete viewing, as the transcripts show, would produce a much different impression.

While the Times decide to skip the standard rules of journalism, ACORN commissioned an independent investigation led by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (12/7/09), which noted that the

unedited videos have never been made public. The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms.Giles’ comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.

So what has the Times done in response? As reported extensively by blogger Brad Friedman (Brad Blog), several Times staffers have been asked to justify the paper’s lack of accountability. In the most remarkable exchange, public editor Clark Hoyt–who had criticized the paper for not doing enough reporting on the tapes–wrote that the paper had made no errors that merited a correction (Brad Blog, 2/23/10). He explained that the January 31 story “says O’Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on ACORN counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time.”

It is hard to believe that Hoyt actually believes what he’s saying here. The obvious implication from the language of the article (and the others documented above) is that ACORN was dispensing advice to someone dressed up in an absurd pimp outfit. The Times chose to believe that O’Keefe’s work was journalism that didn’t need to be treated skeptically. The videos were in fact a hoax, and the Times was duped. Its readers deserve to know as much–and ACORN, which suffered serious political damage as a result of the false stories, deserves an apology.

In his September column criticizing the paper for being slow to report the ACORN videos, Hoyt wrote: “Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like the Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.” Worse than looking partisan, though, is being wrong.

ACTION: Encourage New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt to recommond that the paper investigate the ACORN videos and produce a report that clarifies the record.

New York Times
Clark Hoyt, Public Editor
Phone: (212) 556-7652

Source /

The Rag Blog

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3 Responses to MEDIA / ACORN Hoax : Times Won’t Admit It Was Wrong

  1. Brother Jonah says:

    Well, Fox doesn’t exactly cater to people who are, how shall we put this, Not Batshit Insane and or stupid.

    Kind of like the uproar they instigated by claiming that ACORN, in compliance with the Law, turned in every voter registration form which people filled out. With notations on the “Special” ones that would require further validation in Nevada.

    Registration workers aren’t required or even allowed to question whether a form is valid. I know, I worked for them… twice.

    In Texas and in Colorado. That little miniature campaign to throw out probable Democratic voters failed. So Fox and their unofficial Masters at the RNC had to do SOMETHING.

    They could have been honest for a pleasant chan… sorry my fingers rebelled at completing the thought.

    Interesting that the Times would go along with Fox, after Fox did their weeklong OUTRAGE! tantrum condemning the Times and MoveOn for entering into a business deal for a half page ad that called General Betray-us “General Betray-us” and pointing out what’s become increasingly obvious, Bush lied. Repeatedly.
    Also at the time there was a rash of Racist displays of nooses on college campuses around the country, including one at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Not that you would learn anything about that from Fox.

    Yep, in the middle of a Heightened Terror Alert, somebody or bodies unknown slipped onto a “secured” American military installation and hanged up a noose, in support of the Young Klansmen in Jena LA who got their arses beat for trying the age-old Terror Tactic.

    Then there’s Fox doing exactly what they were so OUTRAGE!d about, on a massive scale, giving free airtime to the Tea Party and of course Republicans.

    Point out the hypocrisy and let’s face it, outright Lying attitude on the part of Fox and their fans, and they’ll go from Zero to Crybaby in under three seconds. “How DARE those Liberal Attack Dogs suggest we’re Liars and Hypocrites! WE’RE the only ones allowed to call names!”

    And now, their ACORN scam is being exposed. I better get my Whine-proof earplugs.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Many neo-marxist snot peddlers like ole bro jonas and other wannabe sundry elites, can’t stand the heat when their comrads get their ass kicked and caught with their bras down. don’t shit ur nappies brother j, the ninteenth century experiment called socialism is DEAD bro.Sadly hundreds of thousands nay millions lost their lives in the workers paradises run by leftist fascists like lenin, stalin mao, pol pot castro and the nutcase in N. Korea. Get a life Brother Jonah take a brave step into the future Karl & fredrick are dead man, these butchers will be remembered alongside Adolf Hitler for what they were. Barach is the last death throws of this 19th century mindset.

  3. Anonymous says:

    To all reactionary socialists, “progressives” liberal-democrats, are you REALLY more comfortable with “workers of the world unite or do you still long for Seig Heil.

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