Fox News runs with San Bernardino ACORN video without needed fact check

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

On September 15 and 16, Fox News devoted significant programming to conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe and TownHall.com columnist Hannah Giles' video of their interactions with an ACORN worker, who claimed she murdered her husband and gave advice on how to run a brothel, but stated after the video was released that she had merely been attempting to "shock them as much as they were shocking me." In running with the video, Fox News hosts frequently promoted the fake claim that the ACORN employee killed her husband without fact checking the allegation or indicating that they had contacted ACORN for a response.

ACORN statement, police report: ACORN worker's husband still alive

ACORN calls video "an obvious set of lies and manipulations." During the evening on September 15, ACORN issued a statement calling the video of O'Keefe's and Giles' interactions with San Bernardino ACORN organizer Tresa Kaelke an "obvious set of lies and manipulations." Kaelke stated of the conservative activists who filmed her: "They were not believable. ... Somewhat entertaining, but they weren't even good actors. I didn't know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me. Like Stephen Colbert does -- saying the most outrageous things with a straightface." The press release also stated: "When the actors approached Ms. Kaelke with their provocative costuming and outlandish scenario, she could not take them seriously. So she met their outrageousness with her own personal style of outrageousness. She matched their false scenario with her own false scenarios." The release added:

For example, in response to the set-up by the filmmakers in which they say they are trying get the young woman away from her abusive pimp, she responds that she was abused by her former husband as well (true) and that she shot and killed him (false). He is very much alive and living near Barstow, CA.

However, this is taken as the gospel truth, not just in the film itself, but also by several "news" personalities, indicating that no journalistic standards were applied to making the video or vetting it for broadcast.

San Bernardino PD: Investigators found former husband "alive and well." In a September 15 news release, which was repeatedly ignored by Fox News, the San Bernardino Police Department stated that Kaelke's claim that she shot and killed her husband "do[es] not appear to be factual":

DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT:

An undercover video reportedly filmed in the San Bernardino office for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was recently released on the Internet. The film depicts a worker talking about her past involvement in prostitution and the alleged self-defense killing of her former husband.

The San Bernardino Police Department is investigating the claims made regarding the homicide. From the initial investigation conducted, the claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party's known former husbands, who are alive and well.

Timeline: Fox runs wild with San Bernardino video, repeatedly reports Kaelke killed her husband

September 15, afternoon: Fox hosts tease "brand new video." During the 1 p.m. hour of Fox News' The Live Desk, co-hosts Martha MacCallum and Trace Gallagher repeatedly teased a "brand new video" which would be released "tonight after 5 p.m." [all times ET]. From The Live Desk:

GALLAGHER: And in the bottom box, you know those undercover ACORN videos showing ACORN workers advising a young couple on how to get a home loan to open a brothel? Well, another brand new video is about to be released, as the Senate finally takes action against the left-wing group, and the Brooklyn DA launches an investigation on that.

[...]

MacCALLUM: We can now tell you that you are going to see yet another big development in the ACORN story. Another tape is expected to come out tonight after 5 p.m. And here's why this ACORN story, folks, is so remarkable, because this is sort of what never happens, folks. First, two 20-somethings do some real, old-fashioned, undercover investigative journalism, and within days there is some action in the halls of power.

September 15, afternoon: O'Keefe posts San Bernardino "exposé." At 1:49 p.m. ET, O'Keefe posted "Part I of the ACORN San Bernardino exposé" on BigGovernment.com. The embedded YouTube video is six minutes and 41 seconds long, and O'Keefe's post promises "[u]pdates to follow." On September 16, BigGovernment.com posted "Part 2," a 6 minute and 13 second video, and "Part 3," which consists of a 9 minute and 26 second video and a 6 minute and 11 second video. As of 5:15 p.m., under its section, "ACORN Story Resources," BigGovernment.com does not list "Full Audio" or "Full Transcript" for the San Bernardino visit.

September 15, 5 p.m. hour: Beck devotes hour to ACORN video. Glenn Beck devoted his program to the video, stating at the top of his show (from Nexis): "Tonight -- a special program with tape from BigGovernment.com that is so explosive it's going to peel the skin right off of your face. ACORN yet again caught on hidden camera showing their true colors. This is much more than anything you've seen yet." During the program, Beck aired numerous portions from the videotape. From the program:

  • Beck: "I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a jury. But, gosh, even to me, it seems like this is a potential admission of murder." After airing video of Kaelke stating that she shot her husband, Beck stated, "This is twisted, bizarre, macabre -- I mean, is this theater? I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a jury. But, gosh, even to me, it seems like this is a potential admission of murder. And the way she was describing doing some groundwork beforehand, you know, so everybody in town knew exactly what was going on, a case might be made for premeditated murder." Beck later added, "[W]e haven't been even able to confirm from the state of California whether Tresa's husband from 10 years ago was killed, or if he's dead, or if she even had a husband. Did she make the story up? I don't know. Nobody's asking questions."
  • Beck: "It is about the people surrounding the president." Toward the conclusion of his program, Beck said: "Isn't this -- isn't this just some type of insane corruption -- something on which we can all agree? Let me bring the discussion full circle. Again, this is not about ACORN. Just like Van Jones, John Holdren, Cass Sunstein, Mark Lloyd, others. It is about the people surrounding the president of the United States." Beck then interviewed O'Keefe.

September 15, 6 p.m. hour: Special Report. On Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Molly Henneberg covered the ACORN video and reported that "[f]our employees have been fired, even though an ACORN spokesman claims the videos have been doctored, and insist the couple never came close to getting a home loan." Henneberg also aired a quote from ACORN spokesperson Scott Levenson stating, "We have a 15-step process. These people didn't get past step one, not past step one." From Special Report (via the Nexis database):

BRET BAIER (host): Republicans are asking the White House to end all funding for and government ties to the voter registration group known as ACORN. They are also pushing for a federal investigation to add to the many state probes already underway. This comes in the wake of undercover video showing ACORN representatives advising clients how to break the law.

We have a new one tonight. Here is correspondent Molly Henneberg.

[begin video clip]

HENNEBERG: She says her supervisor would shoot down the idea, but this ACORN employee in San Bernardino, California says she can advise the man and woman posing as a pimp and prostitute, in how to set up a brothel without getting caught.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think about my idea of disguising it as a spa?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's exactly what I would do. I would -- I would disguise it as something else -- and they're all over the place, you know. Thai massage, you know, Swedish massage. I mean, there are just a bunch of them.

HENNEBERG: This follows similar statements in other undercover videos at ACORN offices in Baltimore, D.C., and New York. Four employees have been fired, even though an ACORN spokesman claims the videos have been doctored, and insist the couple never came close to getting a home loan.

LEVENSON: We have a 15-step process. These people didn't get past step one, not past step one.

HENNEBERG: Still, the Senate voted last night 83-7 to cut off federal housing and community grant money for ACORN. And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says since the Senate "responded overwhelmingly," he wants to look at the issue, although he called the video makers "despicable."

[end video clip]

September 15, 8 p.m. hour: The O'Reilly Factor. The O'Reilly Factor devoted substantial time to the ACORN video. Host Bill O'Reilly made the topic the subject of his "Talking Points Memo," stating, "So there you have an ACORN employee having a conversation about setting up a house full of child prostitutes. It doesn't get much worse than that." O'Reilly then aired video of ACORN spokesperson Levenson criticizing Fox News for being "a multinational entertainment agency that disguises itself as a news agency, Fox, has spent millions of dollars of resources, time to go after an organization that they don't like. It's clearly an individual who collaborated and cooperated with Fox entertainment under the guise of creating news."

ACORN was also discussed with Fox News contributors Marc Lamont Hill, Angela McGlowan, and Dennis Miller. During a discussion with Miller, O'Reilly said (retrieved from Nexis) that "now the one thing that -- that Hill pointed out that's accurate is that they went to a bunch of other ACORN agencies that didn't do that kind of stuff. So we have to be fair. We have to mention that." O'Reilly then asked Miller if the ACORN controversy will "hurt President Obama? Obama has got some ties to ACORN because ACORN supported him, and he said nice things about them. But does it hurt him?" Miller replied that it does and added that "Hill can talk about the ones who didn't do it. But I'm talking about there's three -- now there's rumored to be six or seven. If you get seven of these offices to do this."

September 15, 9 p.m. hour: Hannity. Sean Hannity devoted significant time to the ACORN video on his program, discussing the topic with numerous guests (including Andrew Breitbart and Giles) and his "Great American Panel."

  • ACORN "scheduled to get $8.5 billion -- taxpayer dollars." In criticizing ACORN, Hannity claimed that ACORN is "scheduled to get $8.5 billion -- taxpayer dollars."
  • Hannity: "[S]he's on tape admitting that she plotted to kill and had her husband killed, but we don't know if it's true yet." Hannity asked Giles, "Have you ever checked to see if in fact she had a husband that was killed?" Giles stated, "[W]e're working on that." Hannity later stated, "So she's on tape admitting that she plotted to kill and had her husband killed, but we don't know if it's true yet." During a later segment, country music singer John Rich said, "[W]hat kind of screening process are they going through that they let a lady who admits to killing her husband standing right there?"

September 15, 10 p.m. hour: On the Record. During On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren discussed the video with Fox News contributor Karl Rove:

  • "[P]rivate citizens who did this and gave the tapes to Fox News." Van Susteren said of ACORN and the video: "I'm sure there are a lot of very fine, good Americans who are in ACORN, but it certainly is stunning if -- you know, what we're seeing. And this is not done by the federal government doing an investigation, these are private citizens who did this and gave the tapes to Fox News. And you know, it -- you know, it's stunning to think of all of the money that's being poured out and is not monitored."
  • Rove: ACORN must have terrific "human resources department to hire people like that." Rove stated that Kaelke "claimed to have killed her husband because she thought he was going to abuse her at some point. So, she's claimed that she shot him in the head. I mean, this is an organization that really must have a terrific human relations -- human resources department to hire people like that."

September 15: FoxNews.com posts more than an hour of video from ACORN visit. FoxNews.com has posted four parts of the ACORN video, which represent more than an hour of footage. FoxNews.com states that it was posted on September 15.

September 16, morning: Fox & Friends. On Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson asked of the employee during the 7 a.m. hour, "She killed somebody?" Carlson had earlier reported, "According to ACORN, he's still alive." Fox & Friends did not mention the police report that the San Bernardino Police Department investigated the matter and concluded that the claims made by Kaelke "do not appear to be factual" and that her "known former husbands" are "alive and well."

During the 8 a.m. hour, after Carlson's remarks, Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade noted that Kaelke's husband was alive:

KILMEADE: She did indicate a little bit later on, I would think this is a set-up if I wasn't sure this was not a set-up, because those two kept saying, I have between -- I have a dozen girls between 12 and 16 coming from El Salvador, I need a place to live, and I have the money to pay for it.

And then they continue to conspire together in this scene to get her a house, a low-interest mortgage, what's her -- how to do it, how to handle tax-wise, and what have you. After that's done, that's pretty much what the California director said, that this is a put-on, and he's upset about it.

CARLSON: Well, yeah, basically that she was playing along in a game after the fact. We are not really sure about the details yet, including whether or not she actually did kill her husband. That is still unknown at this time.

KILMEADE: I believe she didn't. The husband is still around.

CARLSON: OK.

DOOCY: Right, he's alive and living in Barstow

September 16, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.: America's Newsroom. The ACORN video was repeatedly discussed, and portions of it were played on America's Newsroom. Co-host Megyn Kelly discussed the video with Rove, and at approximately 10:27 a.m., Henneberg reported part of ACORN's statement from the previous day:

HENNEBERG: At one point, the ACORN worker says this sounds like a setup, but she continues to try to help them. Bill?

BILL HEMMER (co-host): So far, we've seen four locations now, this one in California as I pointed out. What's ACORN saying about this, Molly?

HENNEBERG: They're saying that the videos from Baltimore, D.C., New York, and now San Bernardino, California, are edited and doctored. And ACORN put out a statement last night responding to this new video, saying that the employee caught on to the couple early on and, quote, "matched their own false scenario with her own false scenarios." ACORN also quotes Tresa Kaelke as saying it was all, quote, "somewhat entertaining, but they weren't even good actors. I didn't know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me -- saying the most outrageous things with a straight face." We should point out, though, that as these videos come out, ACORN has fired four people so far.

Following Beck's instructions, Fox News attempts to change story from health care to ACORN

On September 10, Fox News devotes 17 segments to ACORN video. On September 9, Beck said that while the media "says they're going to be talking about health care" the next day, he didn't "think so," later suggesting that a video of Baltimore ACORN employees would instead be the top story. Apparently taking its cues from Beck, through 7 p.m. the following day, Fox News devoted at least 17 segments on six programs to airing and discussing portions of the video.

Transcripts

From the September 15 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk with Martha and Trace:

GALLAGHER: And in the bottom box, you know those undercover ACORN videos showing ACORN workers advising a young couple on how to get a home loan to open a brothel? Well, another brand new video is about to be released, as the Senate finally takes action against the left-wing group, and the Brooklyn DA launches an investigation on that.

[...]

MacCALLUM: We can now tell you that you are going to see yet another big development in the ACORN story. Another tape is expected to come out tonight after 5 p.m. And here's why this ACORN story, folks, is so remarkable, because this is sort of what never happens, folks. First, two 20-somethings do some real, old-fashioned, undercover investigative journalism, and within days there is some action in the halls of power.

From the September 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: But no one seems apparently interested in a group that could receive $8.5 billion in stimulus money -- the people that had a seat at the president's table when he set his agenda. He said it himself.

Is there something wrong with this picture, America? What is it I'm missing? Please, please tell me. Because I think about this all the time. I wake up at 2 o'clock in the morning thinking, "What have I missed?"

Isn't this -- isn't this just some type of insane corruption -- something on which we can all agree? Let me bring the discussion full circle.

Again, this is not about ACORN. Just like Van Jones, John Holdren, Cass Sunstein, Mark Lloyd, others. It is about the people surrounding the president of the United States.

From the September 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: Here you have -- you know, one city after another. Every city they went to, they got pretty similar reactions. These ACORN guys on tape, you know, literally supporting and not reporting to the police when, you know, Hannah and James go in there and say that, "Hey, we're running a prostitution ring, and we're importing underaged girls from El Salvador."

They're scheduled to get $8.5 billion -- taxpayer dollars -- after they got tens of millions in the past from the federal government.

From the September 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

KILMEADE: She did indicate a little bit later on, I would think this is a set-up if I wasn't sure this was not a set-up, because those two kept saying, I have between -- I have a dozen girls between 12 and 16 coming from El Salvador, I need a place to live, and I have the money to pay for it.

And then they continue to conspire together in this scene to get her a house, a low-interest mortgage, what's her -- how to do it, how to handle tax-wise, and what have you. After that's done, that's pretty much what the California director said, that this is a put-on, and he's upset about it.

CARLSON: Well, yeah, basically that she was playing along in a game after the fact. We are not really sure about the details yet, including whether or not she actually did kill her husband. That is still unknown at this time.

KILMEADE: I believe she didn't. The husband is still around.

CARLSON: OK.

DOOCY: Right, he's alive and living in Barstow

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