Wash. Post ignores ACORN filmmakers' credibility problems


A Washington Post article about recently released ACORN videotapes quoted Andrew Breitbart as saying the incident "is the Abu Ghraib of the Great Society," but the article did not make clear that no fraud or harm came to the government as a result of ACORN's actions. Moreover, the Post ignored facts which undermined the conservative filmmakers' credibility and ignored Breitbart's role in providing the videos to Fox News for aggressive promotion.

Post did not make clear that the government was not harmed by ACORN's actions

ACORN provided only counseling to the activists and no fraud or harm came to the government as a result of the sessions. The article did not mention that there is no evidence the ACORN employees provided anything beyond the counseling sessions to conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe and Townhall.com columnist Hannah Giles, who dressed as a pimp and prostitute and secretly videotaped the sessions. It also did not report that the government was not defrauded in anyway as a result of the employees' actions, despite reporting that Congress voted to "defund the organization, handing conservative Republicans a major victory." The article added that conservatives "have long seen the liberal group -- which offers housing and other services, including voter registration, to the poor -- as a shady operation devoted to electing liberals and siphoning off taxpayer money for a permanent underclass."

Interactions occurred at a small percentage of total number of ACORN offices nationwide. O'Keefe and Giles have posted video of interactions with ACORN employees at five offices. The Post did not report that those offices represent a fraction of ACORN locations nationwide. According to its website, ACORN has more than 100 offices, with locations in 41 states and the District of Columbia.

Post ignored facts that undermine the filmmakers' credibility

Some of the videotapes may have been taken illegally. The Post did not report that in secretly videotaping their conversations with ACORN employees, O'Keefe and Giles may have violated state criminal statutes in Maryland and California.

Post reported activists removed from Philadelphia ACORN office but "disputed" ACORN's "account" of length of time they were in the office. From the article:

In Philadelphia, Neil Herrmann, ACORN's lead organizer there, said the couple was kicked out after talking to a counselor "for a few minutes." They called to set up an appointment the day before the visit.

"At first when the counselor came," she wasn't going to take them back," Herrmann said. "But they had made an appointment. When he mentioned the 13-year-old girls, they were asked to leave."

O'Keefe disputed Herrmann's account, saying "we talked to them for more than a few minutes."

ACORN emailed a copy of a Philadelphia police report dated July 24 to The Post to verify its account that police were called and the couple was shown the door. O'Keefe is named on the report. [Post, 9/18/09]

The Post ignored that O'Keefe and Breitbart previously claimed they were never turned away. Contrary to the Post's suggestion that O'Keefe only disputed the amount of time the filmmakers spent at the Philadelphia office, both O'Keefe and BigGovernment.com publisher Breitbart have claimed they were never turned away at all. As Media Matters for America has documented, during the September 13 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, senior correspondent Eric Shawn asked O'Keefe, "ACORN says that you went to, what, five other places around the country where they kicked you out. ... [D]id you find ethical, honest ACORN employees in any of the places that you went to that kicked you out and said, 'No, we're not going to do this. We're not going to cooperate. We're not going to have ACORN help you'?" O'Keefe responded that the people at ACORN are "liars" and that he "[a]bsolutely" wanted an apology and later added: "[N]one of the facilities kicked us out. That's a lie." Breitbart also has claimed, "There's no place, as ACORN tried to state, that kicked them out based upon the premise that they were doing something nefarious."

Giles and Flynn have similarly argued that all ACORN offices visited were complicit. On the September 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Sean Hannity asked Giles, "[Y]ou didn't go into one office, and they said, 'We're not going to help you do anything like that?' " Giles responded, "No." According to a September 16 article on the conservative website Human Events, Mike Flynn, the editor-in-chief of BigGovernment.com, said in an exclusive interview: "It's not even just one random employee, it's so comprehensive, it's everywhere [O'Keefe] went. What shocks me is when you watch the videos, they don't even flinch."

The Post reported "O'Keefe dismissed" ACORN's claim "that the videos were doctored" but ignored evidence that they were. The Post reported that "ACORN has said that the videos were manipulated" and added that O'Keefe dismissed [ACORN CEO Bertha] Lewis's assertion that the videos were doctored. 'They've lied every step of the way,' he said." But one video reportedly "left out" an ACORN employee's statement that it would have nothing to do with prostitution business. According to a report by CNN's Casey Wian on the September 17 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, the filmmakers edited San Bernardino ACORN organizer Tresa Kaelke's statement from one of the videos that ACORN would not associate itself with prostitution. Wian said: "Left out of the originally released tape but included in a transcript the filmmakers later released is Kaelke's statement that ACORN would have nothing to do with their prostitution business."

Post ignored Breitbart's use of Fox News for aggressive promotion of the video

Post highlights Breitbart's connections with the video; ignores Fox News' involvement. From the Post article:

When O'Keefe had filmed the first two videos -- in the District and Baltimore -- a friend urged him to share his project with Andrew Breitbart, a conservative Internet entrepreneur who had plans to launch an anti-liberal site called BigGovernment.com. Breitbart said he was skeptical after a June phone call with O'Keefe about what he had, but when the video was rolling in his basement office in Los Angeles in late July, Breitbart said, he gasped.

Breitbart, who also has a column that appears in the Washington Times, advised O'Keefe to roll out the videos one by one, rather than at once. He said he predicted the mainstream media would try to ignore the story, and after a day "poof, it would be over."

"When I saw these videos, I couldn't help thinking, this is the Abu Ghraib of the Great Society," said Breitbart, who put the videos on BigGovernment.com. "Everybody that is a conservative news junkie thinks that ACORN is the most important institution for us to uncover to the American public."

The strategy worked. As ACORN's fortunes have fallen, those of O'Keefe and Giles have risen. O'Keefe said he has received hundreds of requests for interviews and his inbox has thousands of e-mails. Giles and O'Keefe have become Facebook sensations, with fan clubs and testimonial walls. "Hannah Giles is HOTT!" reads the motto of one of her fan club sites. "Beware the Acorn Exterminator!" [Post, 9/18/09]

In promoting videos, Breitbart gave Fox the "exclusive." During the September 9 edition of his Fox News program, Glenn Beck previewed an "exclusive" that would air on his program the next day, which he claimed would make "things change a lot for those in power, " and aired snippets of O'Keefe's video in the ACORN Baltimore office. Beck suggested the video was the "exclusive stuff" that he predicted the media would be "talking about" instead of health care. On September 10, Beck interviewed Giles and credited Breitbart for starting the story, calling him "one of the "great journalists of our time."

Fox News frequently mentioned Breitbart and his website in reporting on video. For instance, on September 10, the website was mentioned on programs such as Glenn Beck, The O'Reilly Factor (according to a Nexis search), Hannity, Happening Now, America's Newsroom, and Special Report. Mediaite.com's Robert Quigley wrote on September 10 that Breitbart knows "how to promote: he went on Fox News this morning [on America's Newsroom] to discuss his 'exclusive' (and happened to mention his website a decent handful of times during the interview), and he got his video placed as the top story on Foxnews.com, ahead of arguably bigger stories like Joe Wilson's outburst during Obama's healthcare speech last night."

Fox ran wild with false murder allegation made in ACORN video

Fox News repeatedly falsely reported ACORN employee killed her former husband. Fox News repeatedly promoted the fake claim that an ACORN employee killed her former husband without fact-checking the allegation or indicating that it had contacted ACORN for a response. On September 15 and 16, Fox News devoted significant programming to O'Keefe and Giles' video of their interactions with Tresa Kaelke, who claimed she murdered her ex-husband and gave advice on how to run a brothel. After the video was released, Kaelke stated that she had merely been attempting to "shock them as much as they were shocking me," and the San Bernardino police confirmed that investigators found former husbands "alive and well."

Hannity asked Giles if she had verified the murder, and Giles said: "[W]e're working on that." On his Fox News show, 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?"


From the September 17 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

WIAN: The video comes on the heels of one from an ACORN office in San Bernardino. An employee there said she previously worked as a madam, offered business advice on running a brothel, and claims she got away with killing her husband, a story she now says she made up to play along with her visitors.

KAELKE: I apologize for that to ACORN. But it was a joke. It's still a joke. Nothing was true. And that's all there is to it.

WIAN: Left out of the originally released tape, but included in a transcript the filmmakers later released, is Kaelke's statement that ACORN would have nothing to do with their prostitution business.

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Justice & Civil Liberties
The Washington Post
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