Memo to media: Do not trust Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe

Andrew Breitbart and convicted criminal James O'Keefe are promising to unveil another video. In assessing Breitbart and O'Keefe's claims, media should keep in mind their record of dishonest and illegal practices and their failed attempt to show that ACORN was engaging in criminal behavior.


Breitbart's “strategy”: Withhold evidence and “deprive” people of “information”

Breitbart's “strategy” is to “deprive” people of the “information” needed to evaluate his allegations. A September 24 Washington Independent article about Breitbart's release of the ACORN tapes reported [emphasis added]:

Within hours, Breitbart was doing interviews with reporters who wanted to know how, exactly, the story had come about, and why Big Government was releasing the videos and the identity of the muckrackers -- 25-year-old James O'Keefe III and 20-year-old Hannah Giles -- so slowly.

“It was strategized,” Breitbart told TWI this week, so “that they would be deprived of the type of information that a defense attorney would try to gather in order to create a defense.”

Who were “these people?” They were not just the leaders or members of ACORN itself. “They” were the Democratic Party, the White House, the progressive Center for American Progress and its president John Podesta. The “Democrat-media complex” is Breitbart's name for the whole apparatus. “We deprived them of information,” Breitbart explained, “so that they couldn't come up with a vile, kill-the-messenger attack with the media doing the groundwork for them.”

Breitbart and O'Keefe withheld exculpatory LA ACORN video for two months. In a video released November 16, 2009 -- more than two months after Andrew Breitbart's website began posting videos in which O'Keefe and Giles posed as a pimp and prostitute in ACORN offices -- O'Keefe finally acknowledged that a Los Angeles ACORN worker they filmed in August 2009 “would not assist us obtain a house for our illegal activities.” Two months earlier, in September 2009, Hannah Giles and Big Government editor-in-chief Mike Flynn had both falsely claimed that every ACORN office O'Keefe and Giles visited had offered to help them. Also during September 2009, both Breitbart and O'Keefe chose not to disclose the existence of the Los Angeles tape when asked directly by reporters whether any ACORN offices had refused to help. On September 27, Fox News' Chris Wallace reported that O'Keefe “says he'll release all the tapes soon to show if any ACORN offices did the right thing,” but O'Keefe and Breitbart failed to release the LA tape until nearly two months after that report.


O'Keefe is a convicted criminal

O'Keefe pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charge in Landrieu office case. As reported by The Times-Picayune on May 26:

The four defendants who were arrested in January in Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs federal complex in New Orleans pleaded guilty Wednesday morning in federal court to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses.

Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles III sentenced Stan Dai, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan each to two years probation, a fine of $1,500 and 75 hours of community service during their first year of probation.

James O'Keefe, as leader of the group and famous for posing as a pimp in ACORN office videos, received three years of probation, a fine of $1,500 and 100 hours of community service.


Breitbart and O'Keefe's ACORN scam exposed no criminality

California attorney general: "[N]o violation of criminal laws." On April 1, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. stated that his office concluded that the videos show “some members of the community organizing group ACORN engaged in 'highly inappropriate behavior,' but committed no violation of criminal laws.” The release added that the videotapes were “severely edited by O'Keefe.”

Brooklyn DA clears ACORN of “criminality” after tape probe. Kings County, New York, district attorney Joe Hynes cleared ACORN of wrongdoing stemming from claims instigated by O'Keefe and Giles' taping at ACORN's Brooklyn office, stating: “That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found.”

Harshbarger report: No “pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff.” In his December 7, 2009, “Independent Governance Assessment of ACORN,” former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (D), who was hired by ACORN to conduct an inquiry into the videos, wrote, “While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers.”

Breitbart backtracks on ACORN “criminality.” After Brooklyn prosecutors cleared ACORN, Breitbart wrote in a March 2 post that the “ACORN tapes were less about 'criminality' than facility with which employees all knew how to work system for any lowlife wanting govmnt $.” However, Breitbart, along with James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, had previously used the tapes to accuse ACORN of engaging in or abetting criminal behavior.


Breitbart and O'Keefe criticized for selective editing and manipulating video

California attorney general: ACORN videos were “severely edited by O'Keefe.” According to the California attorney general's office [emphasis added]:

Videotapes secretly recorded last summer and severely edited by O'Keefe seemed to show ACORN employees encouraging a “pimp” (O'Keefe) and his “prostitute,” actually a Florida college student named Hannah Giles, in conversations involving prostitution by underage girls, human trafficking and cheating on taxes. Those videos created a media sensation.

Evidence obtained by Brown tells a somewhat different story, however, as reflected in three videotapes made at ACORN locations in California. One ACORN worker in San Diego called the cops. Another ACORN worker in San Bernardino caught on to the scheme and played along with it, claiming among other things that she had murdered her abusive husband. Her two former husbands are alive and well, the Attorney General's report noted. At the beginning and end of the Internet videos, O'Keefe was dressed as a 1970s Superfly pimp, but in his actual taped sessions with ACORN workers, he was dressed in a shirt and tie, presented himself as a law student, and said he planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress. He never claimed he was a pimp.

“The evidence illustrates,” Brown said, “that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.”

Law enforcement sources criticize O'Keefe and Giles' editing ACORN tape “to meet their agenda.” A March 1 New York Daily News article reported that “a law enforcement source” said of O'Keefe and Giles: “They edited the tape to meet their agenda.” A March 2 New York Post article, headlined “ACORN set up by vidiots: DA,” reported of O'Keefe and Giles' ACORN tapes: “Many of the seemingly crime-encouraging answers were taken out of context so as to appear more sinister, sources said.”

Breitbart and O'Keefe released “heavily edited tape” of Philly ACORN office. On October 21, 2009, Fox News reported that O'Keefe and Giles released “a heavily-edited video on Wednesday depicting their visit to ACORN's Philadelphia office.” Fox reported that a “new eight-minute video depicts O'Keefe and Giles entering ACORN's Philadelphia office and meeting with [ACORN employee] Conway-Russell. O'Keefe and Giles are seen speaking with Conway-Russell, but audio portions of the video are missing or edited in some portions.” Fox News correspondent Eric Shawn stated, “They played that heavily edited tape but did not show the ACORN worker's audio for legal reasons.” O'Keefe later wrote: “We muted the audio of the ACORN employees on the video released today due to ACORN's legal attack upon us. We call upon ACORN to state publicly now that it has no objection to the public release of any its employees oral statements to us. If they are interested in the truth, why wouldn't they do so?”

O'Keefe falsely claims he sought advice from DC ACORN on establishing brothel for “prostitution of a dozen underage girls.” In a voiceover at the beginning of his Washington, D.C., ACORN video -- which was promoted by Breitbart -- O'Keefe claims that in Washington, he and Giles “sought housing assistance from ACORN in order to establish a brothel where we could profit off the prostitution of a dozen underage girls trafficked in from El Salvador.” In fact, at no point in the transcript of Giles and O'Keefe's visit to the Washington, D.C., ACORN office does either Giles or O'Keefe clearly state that they are planning to engage in child prostitution.

O'Keefe falsely labels NY ACORN video a “Child Prostitution Investigation.” O'Keefe's YouTube videos of his visit to a New York ACORN office -- videos that are posted on Breitbart's Big Government website -- are falsely titled, “ACORN NYC Child Prostitution Investigation.” In fact, the transcript posted on Big Government shows that O'Keefe and Giles did not clearly discuss with the New York ACORN employees their purported intention to engage in child prostitution.

Breitbart-promoted doctored video falsely claimed community organizers were “praying” to Obama. On September 29, 2009, embedded a YouTube video under the headline: “Shock Discovery: Community Organizers Pray TO President-Elect Obama.” The video included captions reading “Deliver Us Obama” and “Hear Our Cry Obama,” suggesting that the crowd of people -- members of the faith-based group The Gamaliel Foundation -- featured in the clip was “pray[ing] to” Obama. subsequently updated the original post with an editor's note acknowledging that “there is a debate over what is actually being said” and that the crowd may, in fact, be saying “oh God” rather than “Obama.” The Gamaliel Foundation subsequently stated that “at no time have we prayed to President Obama” and that in the video, the organizers “can be heard saying, 'Hear our cry oh God,' 'Deliver us oh God,' etc.”

Friend of O'Keefe reportedly objected to past transcript distortion. A September 18, 2009, New York Times article reported that Liz Farkas, a college friend of O'Keefe's while at Rutgers University, said she “grew disillusioned” after O'Keefe asked Farkas to help deceptively “edit the script” of a video involving a nurse at the University of California at Los Angeles.


O'Keefe's video methods slammed by former employer

Leadership Institute's Sutton says O'Keefe's tactics are “not something that we teach here.” According to a January 28 Politico report, Steve Sutton, the vice president of development and campus programs at the Leadership Institute -- O'Keefe's former employer -- “said that what O'Keefe ... did with his ACORN videos - and what is he is accused of doing in New Orleans - crossed the line and 'is not something that we teach here.' ”


Breitbart and O'Keefe repeatedly misrepresented ACORN tapes

Breitbart and O'Keefe spread pimp hoax. On September 21, 2009, Breitbart falsely claimed that O'Keefe was dressed as a “pimp” when he visited the ACORN offices. Similarly, on September 14, 2009, O'Keefe appeared on Fox & Friends dressed as a pimp. Host Steve Doocy said that O'Keefe was “dressed exactly in the same outfit that he wore to these ACORN offices up and down the Eastern Seaboard” -- a statement O'Keefe made no effort to correct. In fact, while the “title sequences” of the videos Breitbart promoted misleadingly show O'Keefe dressed as a pimp, he was not dressed as a pimp during his actual visits to ACORN offices.

Breitbart and O'Keefe falsely claimed that ACORN tapes show “in almost every single office, the employees at ACORN helping aid and abet the establishment of an underage prostitution brothel.” Interviewed on MSNBC in January, Andrew Breitbart falsely claimed that the ACORN videos created by O'Keefe and Giles “clearly show in every -- in almost every single office, the employees at ACORN helping aid and abet the establishment of an underage prostitution brothel.” O'Keefe similarly falsely claimed that the video campaign was a “nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation” implicating many ACORN employees. But in at least six of the eight heavily edited videos produced by O'Keefe and Giles and distributed by Breitbart, either the activists did not clearly tell the ACORN employees that they were planning to engage in child prostitution; or the ACORN employees refused to help them or apparently deliberately misled them; or ACORN employees contacted the police following their visit.

O'Keefe falsely claimed only one ACORN employee “would not assist us.” In a November 16, 2009, post, O'Keefe claimed that “Mr. Felix D. Harris of Los Angeles ACORN” was “the only employee in our nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation who would not assist us.” However, in at least one instance, an ACORN employee apparently deliberately misled O'Keefe and Giles, while ACORN employees at two other offices contacted the police following their visit.


Breitbart threatened to release more tapes during election unless DOJ investigates ACORN

Breitbart: “We have more tapes ... we're going to hold out until the next election cycle,” unless Holder investigates ACORN. On November 19, 2009, Breitbart said: “Not only are there more tapes, it's not just ACORN. And this message is to Attorney General Holder. I want you to know that we have more tapes, it's not just ACORN, and we're going to hold out until the next election cycle. Or else, if you want to do a clean investigation, we will give you the rest of what we have, we will comply with you, we will give you the documentation we have from countless ACORN whistleblowers who want to come forward but are fearful of this organization and the retribution, that they fear that this is a dangerous organization. So if you get into an investigation, we will give you the tapes. If you don't give us the tapes, we will revisit these tapes come election time.”


O'Keefe has received significant backing from right-wing funders

O'Keefe reportedly falsely claimed he did not get “any money from conservative backers.” On the September 27, 2009, edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace said: “O'Keefe wants to set the record straight. He denies reports on left-wing blogs he got any money from conservative backers.” However, the Village Voice reported on September 22, 2009, that the spokesperson for conservative investor Peter Thiel acknowledged that Thiel had contributed “about $10,000” to an earlier video that O'Keefe released in February 2009. Thiel's spokesperson denied that Thiel had “any involvement with the ACORN videos.”

Right-wing media fundraise for O'Keefe's and Giles' legal defense. Conservative media figures, including Breitbart, Sean Hannity, and HotAir have all solicited donations for O'Keefe's and Giles' legal defense.

Breitbart pays O'Keefe “a fair salary.” Breitbart has acknowledged that he pays O'Keefe “a fair salary.”