Should we believe Breitbart's latest pimp spin? Tough to say. It probably represents his only way out of this mess.
It turns out that Andrew Breitbart didn't actually know what was on the ACORN tapes when he helped launch them on his website last year, and used the videos to fuel his oddly personal crusade against the low-income advocacy organization.
That's right -- Breitbart didn't know what was on the tapes. Take a few seconds to let the implications of that confession sink in, and what it means to Breitbart's already dented credibility.
Recall that for months Breitbart personally vouched for the ACORN videos, braying loudly that they could not be ignored and that they represented the unvarnished truth. Breitbart claimed he had told “the truth” every step of the way about the controversial ACORN clips and bragged that "[t]hroughout the ACORN story I applied my conscience to the material."
But now it turns out that Breitbart was fooled by the ACORN pimp hoax and mistakenly assumed, after watching deceptively edited clips from his protégé James O'Keefe, that O'Keefe strolled into ACORN offices wearing the outlandish pimp outfit.
Now Breitbart, the chief promoter of the ACORN sting, claims he “didn't know” the truth about the tapes. Although he's quick to insist it doesn't really matter anyway.
And yes, that sound you hear is Breitbart throwing O'Keefe under the bus. Because it's O'Keefe who Breitbart now blames for the “discrepancy” regarding the pimp hoax. It's O'Keefe, who Breitbart once touted as a should-be Pulitzer Prize winner, who created the false impression that he walked into ACORN offices last summer dressed as a garish pimp.
In a video interview posted Monday at Crooks and Liars, Stark Reports, as well as The Brad Blog, Breitbart, filmed by blogger Mike Stark at the recent CPAC convention, claims he did not know the facts about O'Keefe's pimp outfit. (See video below.)
Essentially, Breitbart claims he was duped like everyone else who saw the ACORN clips created by O'Keefe. He was duped because at the outset, the misleading clips contain cut-away shots filmed outdoors, which feature O'Keefe decked out in the cane-fur-sunglasses pimp costume. (Breitbart deceptively refers to the dressed-as-pimp section as the “title sequence” of the videos, but it's really much more than that.)
It appears that many viewers just assumed O'Keefe wore the get-up while he surreptitiously filmed the ACORN workers who ignited a scandal when they gave O'Keefe and his pretend prostitute girlfriend, Hannah Giles, tax advice on how to run a brothel.
The dressed-as-a-pimp storyline was one Breitbart, O'Keefe, and others eagerly pushed last fall. And it was one the press quickly embraced. (In truth, O'Keefe was often dressed rather conservatively -- slacks and dress shirt -- when he talked to ACORN staffers, and he often presented himself as a law school student and an aspiring politician trying to rescue his prostitute girlfriend from her abusive pimp.) The outlandish costume was used as a prop to both mislead viewers, and to make ACORN staffers look like idiots for not being able to spot the obvious ruse.
But it was all a hoax. And for weeks now, ever since the trick was highlighted by blogger Brad Friedman, Breitbart has been wrestling with the glaring contradiction and struggling to explain his own role in the hoax. He's been straining to explain why, for instance, in a September 21 column in The Washington Times, Breitbart specifically claimed O'Keefe had been “dressed as a pimp” while receiving tax advice from ACORN workers.
That claim was categorically false.
He's been laboring to explain why he never sought a single correction last year when an avalanche of news outlets erroneously reported O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp inside ACORN offices.
And he's been struggling to explain why, in light of the pimp hoax, he refuses to release all of the unedited ACORN tapes so we can see what other discrepancies might pop up.
At least now, thanks to Stark, we finally have Breitbart's unequivocal admission: It was all O'Keefe's fault.
From the Stark interview [emphasis added; full transcript here]:
Hello to anyone that thinks that I was misleading. I did not know that there was a discrepancy between the title sequence -- I didn't think it was significant. I saw the videos. I read the transcripts to make sure that there was continuity, and my only mistake -- and I've admitted it to Brad, I've admitted it, now that I now know about it -- is that there is a title sequence and it doesn't reflect what he was wearing when he was in there. But he still represented himself as a pimp.
In the interview, Breitbart also stressed that because O'Keefe is an “independent film producer,” Breitbart couldn't “tell him what to put on these things.” And to make his point clear, when Stark pressed further about the hoax, Breitbart responded, “Your problem is with James.”
Breitbart may have tried to shift the blame, but the admission was a devastating one. After all, he's the guy who won't stop bragging about how he's going to reinvent online journalism, and how he and his conservative activists are going to shame the liberal media with relentless fact-checking. Yet it turns out that for the biggest story of his career, Breitbart didn't even know what was on the ACORN tapes.
Not only did Breitbart clearly fail Journalism 101 in this case, but the way he's refused to publicly accept responsibility for the blunder represents another body blow to his credibility. To date, Breitbart has made no effort to correct the record on his site, which helped launch the ACORN sting. Which means that, to date, Breitbart's sycophantic readers have not been told that, oh, by the way, that whole dressed-as-a-pimp thing was bogus.
With that in mind, what journalist would take seriously the next undercover video sting Breitbart might sponsor, when we find out that for the all-important ACORN caper he didn't even know what was on the tapes until observers pointed out a glaring discrepancy?
Meanwhile, should we believe Breitbart's pimp spin? Tough to say. It probably represents his only way out of this mess. If Breitbart actually confessed that he knew the pimp costume story was a fake, and that not only did he do nothing to try to stop the misinformation last year but actively helped to spread the hoax, then I think his credibility would be permanently demolished. At that point even mainstream journalists, who tend to turn a blind eye to Breitbart's mendacity, would have to acknowledge he is nothing more than a partisan propagandist.
So, searching for a face-saving move, it appears Breitbart has opted for Plan B: Blame the young “independent film producer” O'Keefe, who brought the videos to Breitbart, complete with the misleading pimp costumes shots already embedded. (Does Breitbart really expect people to believe that he never had a single conversation with O'Keefe about the pimp outfit prior to the release of the videos?)
The problem with Breitbart's alibi (i.e. it's O'Keefe's fault!) is that it means Breitbart has copped to the fact that he didn't know what was on the tapes that he relentlessly hyped and used as a weapon in his oddly unhinged attack on ACORN, an underfunded and somewhat adrift nonprofit that advocates for poor people. (In one disturbed dispatch from a pro-ACORN rally last year, Breitbart attacked the attendees as “common street thugs, the dregs of society.” )
His new song and dance (literally -- see the 6:40 mark in the video below) is that none of this matters because it's irrelevant whether O'Keefe was dressed flamboyantly inside the ACORN offices. It's true, as I've stated many times, that the costume question does not negate what was captured on the ACORN videos. But the hoax certainly does matter in terms of the larger ACORN attack and how the press embraced it. Breitbart knows it, and that's why he's been so slow to clear up the confusion. (And it's why he seemed so eager last year to spread the confusion.)
As the blogger Digby recently explained:
But the less than obvious reason this is a big deal is that the pimp and ho costumes were a send-up of over-the-top racial stereotypes that both reinforced some very ugly notions about the African American community, but more importantly, made these ACORN workers look as though they were so dumb they shouldn't be allowed to cross the street, much less handle tax dollars. And this was done for a reason.
The pimp hoax is not some footnote that can just be dismissed. The glaring blunder goes to the heart of Breitbart's credibility as a wannabe journalist. The lie was absolutely central to the rollout of last year's ACORN attack campaign. And now, six months later, Breitbart claims he didn't know the first thing about the hoax because, truth be told, he didn't even know what was on the ACORN tapes.