Latest fact-check fail: Fox News runs with claim that White House official worked for ACORN
Research ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG
After Matthew Vadum wrote in The American Spectator that "[e]vidence shows that years before he joined the Obama administration," White House political affairs director Patrick Gaspard "was ACORN boss Bertha Lewis's political director in New York," Fox News seized on the blog post, asserting that -- in Sean Hannity's words -- "ACORN has somebody on the inside of the White House." However Politico's Ben Smith has since reported that the allegation "just isn't true" and that the White House has denied the American Spectator report; in its reporting, Fox News gave no indication that they attempted to fact-check the Spectator report or contact the White House for a response.
Conservative blogs grasp at Gaspard-ACORN ties
RedState's Erickson: Lewis "has Patrick Gaspard's office number, home number, and cell phone number." In a "RedState Exclusive," Erickson wrote that Gaspard and his brother Michael Gaspard are included in Lewis' Rolodex, a copy of which Erickson said "just showed up one day unsolicited." [RedState, 9/22/09]
American Spectator's Vadum: Gaspard is "longtime ACORN operative." Vadum cited Erickson's post about Lewis' Rolodex and further stated that "[e]vidence shows that years before he joined the Obama administration, Gaspard was ACORN boss Bertha Lewis's political director in New York." Vadum's evidence is a blog post by ACORN co-founder Wade Rathke, who stated that Gaspard "was ACORN New York's political director" before working at the union local 1199SEIU. Vadum asserted, "With Gaspard at work in the White House, Lewis might as well be speaking to President Obama through an earpiece as he goes about his daily business ruining the country," and later added, "Who knows how many administration officials were put in place by Gaspard with direct input from ACORN's Bertha Lewis. It boggles the mind." [The American Spectator, 9/28/09]
Fox News follows blogs, asserts ACORN "has somebody on the inside of the White House"
Hannity: "Sounds like ACORN has somebody on the inside of the White House." Hannity stated on his Fox News program that "questions are being raised" about Gaspard's alleged connection to ACORN and that "according to The American Spectator, he previously worked as the political director for none other than Bertha Lewis, who is now the chief organizer of ACORN." Hannity added, "Sounds like ACORN has somebody on the inside of the White House. Now there's a real comforting thought." [Hannity, 9/28/09]
Fox Nation: "Who is White House Aide Patrick Gaspard? What Is His Alleged Tie to ACORN?" The Fox News website TheFoxNation.com used the headline "Who is White House Aide Patrick Gaspard? What Is His Alleged Tie to ACORN?" to link to a page that stated Gaspard "is a 'longtime ACORN operative' and former union official, according to a report posted Monday on the American Spectator's online blog." The page also linked to a video of Hannity's segment on Gaspard. The headline has since been removed from Fox Nation's front page. From The Fox Nation on September 29:
Doocy: Gaspard "has been in bed with ACORN." Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy stated that Gaspard "apparently has been in bed with ACORN. And, in fact, Bertha Lewis, who heads up ACORN, he -- Mr. Gaspard -- was her right-hand man. So does ACORN have somebody in the White House in one way or another?" During the segment, on-screen text stated, "ACORN In The White House?" The on-screen text also asserted that Gaspard is a "Fmr ACORN Operative" and that he "Served as Org's Political Director." [Fox & Friends, 9/29/09]
Beck: Obama "is surrounded by these people." Appearing on Fox & Friends, Fox News host Glenn Beck stated, "What's really weird is [Gaspard] was also one of the top guys at SEIU. Oh, my goodness. SEIU, ACORN, the same organization in -- right -- he holds the Karl Rove position at the White House. The president has zero credibility when he says, 'I haven't been following this ACORN thing.' This is his army -- SEIU and ACORN." Beck added that Obama "is surrounded by these people. He's surrounded by SEIU, and he's surrounded by ACORN. While ACORN may have -- be back one step, SEIU and ACORN are the same." He also asserted that "what America has to understand is stop looking at the people on the ground. It's the people on the ground -- some of them know what they are doing, some of them don't -- most of them don't. The union members are not bad people. It's the people at the top. It's the Andy Sterns, it's the Gaspards -- it's the people at the very top of this." [Fox & Friends, 9/29/09]
RedState blogger repeats claim -- without challenge -- on MSNBC
RedState's Brian Faughnan suggests White House "political director" was "from ACORN." Faughnan stated, "I think that if there are senior people from ACORN who hold positions of power in the White House like political director, like chief of staffing, that we need to know what they are doing." MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan did not challenge Faughnan's assertion. [MSNBC's Morning Meeting, 9/29/09]
Politico's Ben Smith: Report that Gaspard worked for ACORN "just isn't true"
Smith's September 29 blog post:
ACORN attack misses mark
I hate to put a damper on the day's firestorm on the right over a White House staffer, but an American Spectator report making the rounds this morning that White House political director Patrick Gaspard used to work for ACORN in New York just isn't true.
The Spectator (accurately) quotes ACORN founder Wade Rathke claiming that Gaspard was political director at the group's New York chapter at some point before 2003.
I covered New York politics at the time, and that was news to me; the also White House denies it. But just to be sure, I checked checked just now with Gaspard's former boss, whom he ultimately replaced as the political director of the giant New York SEIU local, 1199, Jennifer Cunningham. Cunningham confirmed to me that he'd worked for her starting in 1999; that he'd worked for a City Council member before that; and before that, for the Dinkins Administration.
The fact that Rathke got this wrong does provide more evidence of how totally decentralized and disorganized -- contrary to the claims of both fans and detractors -- the group is, but that's all it says.
The Spectator piece is a model of the sort of guilt-by-association Google work in which partisans of both sides specialize. Gaspard is also allegedly linked -- gasp! -- to Rep. Jerry Nadler. Writes the Spectator:
As the old Washington saying goes, politics is personnel. Who knows how many administration officials were put in place by Gaspard with direct input from ACORN's Bertha Lewis. It boggles the mind.
Fox News' has previously skipped fact-check in rush to smear ACORN
Fox News reports fake murder story from ACORN video as fact. 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 San Bernardino, California, ACORN worker who claimed that she had murdered her husband and gave advice on how to run a brothel. The ACORN employee 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. [Media Matters for America, 9/16/09]
San Bernardino PD: Investigators found ACORN employee's former husbands "alive and well." In a September 15 news release, which was repeatedly ignored by Fox News, the San Bernardino Police Department stated that the ACORN employee's claim that she shot and killed her husband "do[es] not appear to be factual."
From the September 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
HANNITY: And tonight on "Your America," the undercover video investigation into ACORN continues to spell trouble for that organization. Now, earlier today Bank of America announced it had suspended its dealings with ACORN, and now questions are being raised about a top White House adviser's connection to the group.
Now, the director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, Patrick Gaspard, is said to be closely affiliated with ACORN, and according to The American Spectator, he previously worked as the political director for none other than Bertha Lewis, who is now the chief organizer of ACORN. Sounds like ACORN has somebody on the inside of the White House. Now there's a real comforting thought.
From the September 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Does ACORN have someone in the White House? An explosive new report that this morning that says one of President Obama's top aides is an ACORN operative. Who is it? Well, the answer may surprise you. He's keeping a low profile.
DOOCY: The White House political director --
DOOCY: -- is a fellow by the name of Patrick Gaspard. And he apparently has been in bed with ACORN. And, in fact, Bertha Lewis, who heads up ACORN, he -- Mr. Gaspard -- was her right-hand man. So does ACORN have somebody in the White House --
BECK: You know what's --
DOOCY: -- in one way or another?
BECK: You know what's really weird is -- and the answer to that is yes. What's really weird is he was also one of the top guys at SEIU. Oh, my goodness. SEIU --
KILMEADE: That's a labor union.
BECK: -- ACORN, the same organization in -- right -- he holds the Karl Rove position at the White House. The president has zero credibility when he says, "I haven't been following this ACORN thing."
BECK: This is his army -- SEIU and ACORN.
JULIET HUDDY (guest co-host): So do you think this guy is going into the president, you know, "Hey, by the way," you know --
BECK: Absolutely. He is surrounded by these people. He's surrounded by SEIU, and he's surrounded by ACORN. While ACORN may have -- be back one step, SEIU and ACORN are the same.
DOOCY: Well, wait -- as we look at some of the purple-shirted SEIU members --
DOOCY: -- what about the fact that, you know, this should not be a surprise to anybody, because Barack Obama was ACORN's lawyer. And in the run-up to the election, he spent $700,000 of his campaign bucks to have a division of ACORN help get him elected.
BECK: ACORN and SEIU -- what America has to understand is stop looking at the people on the ground. It's the people on the ground -- some of them know what they are doing, some of them don't -- most of them don't. The union members are not bad people. It's the people at the top. It's the Andy Sterns, it's the Gaspards -- it's the people at the very top of this.
KILMEADE: I know you've traveled a lot, getting a lot of awards, a lot of keys to the city with your shirt out and having a good time. New York Times wrote a -- had their public editor go to work on Sunday, and the public editor admitted that The New York Times as an institution was very slow getting off the mark when it comes to the ACORN story and earlier Van Jones.
From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the September 29 edition of MSNBC's Morning Meeting:
RATIGAN: Brian Faughnan, contributor to RedState.com; we, of course, have the presence here in studio of Arianna Huffington, co-founder, editor in chief of The Huffington Post.
Brian, I want to begin with you. When you look at all the various conspiracies -- and we'll start with ACORN, which is where your attention is focused. What do you think the priorities should be for all of us, whether it's bloggers, people like myself hosting TV shows, Arianna, or anybody else, when it comes to asking questions of the relationship and conspiracies that are speculated in our government?
FAUGHNAN: Well, I don't think I'd couch this in terms of a conspiracy theory. What we have here, according to reports from the House government reform committee in July, is a criminal organization operating across state lines. ACORN has been involved in voter fraud and tax fraud, in hiding embezzlement in violations of the law prior to these recent sting videos. And I think that if there are senior people from ACORN who hold positions of power in the White House like political director, like chief of staffing, that we need to know what they are doing.
RATIGAN: I have a question for you, and again, I won't get into an ACORN debate one way or another. But I do wonder, when you see the corrupt nature or outdated nature of so many of our government systems, financial systems, obviously that we perpetuate a monopoly right now in health care for reasons I can't comprehend, why do you choose to devote your resources to this?
Not that it's not a valid concern, but it strikes me as maybe number 20 or 30 on the list of priorities in terms of outdated systems and problems in our government when you look at the few trillion that came out of the taxpayer last year, and a health care debate right now that refuses to address the elephant in the room, which is the health care monopoly and the employer-based health care system.