A Refresher Course On Andrew Breitbart's Dishonest Tactics

Andrew Breitbart's website Big Government is promoting heavily edited videos produced by anti-abortion rights activist Lila Rose and falsely claiming that the video proves that Planned Parenthood engages in systemic criminal activities. Below, Media Matters reviews the dishonest tactics used in the past by Andrew Breitbart, James O'Keefe, and other Breitbart associates.

Breitbart's Big Government Promotes Dishonest Lila Rose Video

Rose: “Planned Parenthood Advises 'Pimp' on Underage Sex Trafficking, Secret Abortions for Minors.” From Lila Rose's BigGovernment.com blog post, headlined “Shock Investigation: Planned Parenthood Advises 'Pimp' On Underage Sex Trafficking, Secret Abortions For Minors”:

This video reveals a top-level Planned Parenthood worker, the manager of Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey's second largest clinic, making a secret deal with a pimp. Watch and listen as the Planned Parenthood manager, Amy Woodruff, advises the pimp how to make the trafficking of underage girls look “as legit as possible” (her words). Watch and listen as the manager advises the pimp how to ensure that his 14-year old victims of trafficking can still make money for him after secret abortions by performing sex acts “waist up” (her idea). Watch as she advises the pimp to instruct his girls to lie on the paper work about their ages, and identify themselves as “students” to get cheaper contraception and avoid mandatory reporting laws.

We are calling on Congress to immediately freeze all funding of Planned Parenthood. We request that the Department of Justice and FBI launch a full-scale investigation of Planned Parenthood and prosecute the aiding and abetting of human trafficking.

We are also calling on state authorities to immediately revoke the licenses of all Planned Parenthood clinics found covering up sex abuse.

As we release this footage, it disturbs me to think of the Planned Parenthood supporters who will watch this video and still refuse to believe their own eyes and ears. No matter the evidence, a few people will refuse to believe Planned Parenthood would ever do anything wrong. To these people I ask: What more will it take? [Big Government, 02/01/11]

But Planned Parenthood Actually Reported The “Potential Sex Trafficking” To Law Enforcement Officials. On January 24, Planned Parenthood released the following statement, titled “Planned Parenthood Informs Federal Authorities of Potential Sex Trafficking”:

Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) alerted federal authorities to a potential multistate sex trafficking ring. Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring. Subsequent to alerting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Planned Parenthood learned the identify of one of those involved and believes these visits are likely a hoax by opponents of legal abortion seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, which delivers preventive health care and abortion services to three million women each year.

Men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, have visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame. During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally. These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing.

“When Planned Parenthood learns of an operation that exploits young women, we vigilantly work with law enforcement authorities to uncover and stop this abhorrent activity,” said Stuart Schear, PPFA vice president for communications. “Planned Parenthood's top priority is the health and safety of our patients and the health and well-being of women and teens across the country, and we have been in contact with federal and local authorities to identify the persons involved in these visits.”

One of the men involved in these visits has now been identified, and he appears to be associated with or influenced by Live Action, an anti-Planned Parenthood organization that uses surreptitious videotaping and manipulative editing for media and political campaigns. The pattern of these visits and the highly unusual nature of the information being shared with staff lends credibility to the possibility that these multistate visits are part of this organization's ongoing effort to “bring down” Planned Parenthood, a nearly 100-year-old organization with more than 800 health centers from coast to coast. Live Action is associated with James O'Keefe, the conservative activist who was arrested for attempting to wiretap the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

In recent years Planned Parenthood has been the target of activists attempting to portray the organization negatively by secretly videotaping inside health centers and publicizing heavily edited versions of those tapes to the media. Recent incidents are the first time that such visitors have told Planned Parenthood staff that they are involved in sex trafficking of minor girls.

“If a multistate sex trafficking operation is in place, those responsible must be pursued to stop the exploitation of girls and young women,” said Schear. “If these visits are part of a 'dirty tricks' campaign, they must be condemned. Falsely claiming sex trafficking to health professionals to advance a political agenda is an astoundingly cynical form of political activity.”

All Planned Parenthood staff have been alerted to the suspicious visits, and Planned Parenthood is working with FBI investigators and local authorities. [Planned Parenthood, 1/24/11, emphasis in original]

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. In 2009, Breitbart promoted heavily edited tapes that he falsely claimed showed systematic corruption at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now related to child prostitution and sex trafficking. From a September 24, 2009, Washington Independent article about Breitbart's release of tapes:

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.” [Washington Independent, 9/24/09, emphasis added]

Breitbart And O'Keefe Withheld Exculpatory Los Angeles ACORN Video For Two Months. In a video released November 16, 2009 -- more than two months after Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com website began posting videos that they claimed showed O'Keefe and Giles posing 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.” Breitbart and O'Keefe, along with their collaborators, had repeatedly denied that any ACORN employees had refused to help them. [Big Government, 11/16/09, via Media Matters]

Breitbart And O'Keefe Repeatedly Misrepresented ACORN Tapes In Substance...

O'Keefe Falsely Claimed That The Video Campaign Was “A Nationwide ACORN Child Prostitution Investigation” Implicating Many ACORN Employees. From a November 16, 2009, BigGovernment.com post by O'Keefe:

Although Mr. Felix D. Harris of Los Angeles ACORN told us he didn't care about our prostitution business in regards to a housing loan, he drew the line when we spoke about the underage girls. Although he did not kick us out, he was the only employee in our nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation who would not assist us. [Big Government, 11/16/09, via Media Matters]

O'Keefe Falsely Claimed Only One ACORN Employee “Would Not Assist Us.” In a November 16, 2009, BigGovernment.com 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. [Big Government, 11/16/09, Media Matters, 1/27/10]

Most Of The ACORN Videos Did Not Clearly Show That O'Keefe And Giles Were Engaging In Child Prostitution. In fact, 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. [Media Matters, 12/8/09]

...And Dressing Up In Costumes Not Used In Filming

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. [Washington Times, 9/21/09]

O'Keefe Appeared On Fox & Friends Dressed As A Pimp. 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. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/14/09]

O'Keefe Was Not Dressed As A Pimp During His Visits To ACORN Offices. While the “title sequences” of the videos Breitbart promoted show O'Keefe dressed as a pimp, he was not dressed as a pimp during his actual visits to ACORN offices. [Media Matters, 3/2/10]

Breitbart And O'Keefe's ACORN Scam Exposed No Criminality

California Attorney General: "[N]o Violation Of Criminal Laws." On April 1, 2009, 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.” [California Department Of Justice, 4/1/10, via Media Matters]

Brooklyn DA Cleared ACORN Of “Criminality” After Tape Probe. Politico reported that Kings County, New York, district attorney Joe Hynes cleared ACORN of wrongdoing stemming from claims inspired by O'Keefe and Giles' taping at ACORN's Brooklyn office, stating: “That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found.” [Politico, 3/1/10, via Media Matters]

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. [Independent Governance Assessment of ACORN, 12/7/09]

Breitbart Backtracked On ACORN “Criminality.” After Brooklyn prosecutors cleared ACORN, Breitbart wrote in a March 2 Twitter 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. [Twitter, 3/2/10, via Media Matters]

Breitbart And O'Keefe Have Been 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:

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.” [California State Department Of Justice, 4/1/10, via Media Matters]

Law Enforcement Sources Criticize O'Keefe And Giles For 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.” [New York Daily News, 3/1/10, NY Post, 3/2/10]

O'Keefe: “We Muted The Audio Of The ACORN Employees On The Video Released Today Due To ACORN's Legal Attack Upon Us.” O'Keefe wrote on Big Government:

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? [Big Government, 10/21/09]

O'Keefe Falsely Claimed 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. [Big Government, 9/11/09, Media Matters, 1/28/10]

O'Keefe Falsely Labeled 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. [YouTube.com, 09/13/09; YouTube.com, 09/13/09]

O'Keefe's Video Methods Slammed By Former Employer, Friend

Leadership Institute's Sutton Says O'Keefe's Tactics Are “Not Something That We Teach Here.” Politico reports:

“There is a responsible way to creatively generate a story or an incident which challenges the left in an ethical, yet aggressive way,” said Steven Sutton, who heads campus journalism outreach at the conservative non-profit Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va., where O'Keefe worked in 2006 and early 2007 training right-leaning students on how to start and run publications. Sutton supervised O'Keefe at the institute until O'Keefe was asked to leave because his investigative work could interfere with the Institute's Internal Revenue Service standing.

But Sutton said that what O'Keefe, 25, 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.” [Politico, 1/28/10]

Friend Of O'Keefe Reportedly Objected To Past Transcript Distortion. The New York Times reported:

Liz Farkas, a Rutgers student who called Mr. O'Keefe “a nice guy and a loyal friend,” said she grew disillusioned after he asked her to help edit the script of a Planned Parenthood sting.

“It was snippets to make the Planned Parenthood nurse look bad,” Ms. Farkas said. “I said: 'It has no context. You're just cherry-picking the nurse's answers.' He said, 'Okay' -- and then he just ran it.” [The New York Times, 9/18/09]

Breitbart Posted Heavily Edited Video To Smear Shirley Sherrod

Breitbart Posted “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism” By Sherrod. Breitbart posted heavily edited video of Sherrod speaking at an NAACP function and falsely suggested that Sherrod discriminated against a white farmer in her capacity as the Agriculture Department's Georgia Director of Rural Development:

We are in possession of a video from in which Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaks at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her meandering speech to what appears to be an all-black audience, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn't do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from “one of his own kind”. She refers him to a white lawyer.

Sherrod's racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups' racial tolerance. [Big Government, 07/19/10]

Full Video From NAACP Exonerated Sherrod From Accusations Of Racism. On the evening of July 20, the NAACP posted the full video of Sherrod's speech, proving Breitbart's accusation of racism false:

The video of Shirley Sherrod released by Andrew Brietbart's Big Government Blog on July 19 didn't tell the full story. It was selectively edited to cast her in a negative light. Here is the video, shot by the local NAACP unit that hosted Ms. Sherrod. Watch the video, and judge for yourself. [NAACP, 07/20/10]

Breitbart On Why He Did Not Post Full Video: “I Don't Have It.” In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Breitbart confirmed that he never had the full video of Sherrod's remarks:

The crux of the Shirley Sherrod controversy is what she said outside of the two-minute video clip posted by Big Government -- whether she was, as she claims, telling a story about how she overcame racial prejudice while helping poor farmers in Georgia, or whether the clip is a good encapsulation of her views. So we asked Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Big Government, why he hasn't posted the full video.

“I don't have it,” Breitbart told TPMmuckraker in an interview. Breitbart said his source sent him just the edited clips at first, but is in the process of sending the full video. [Talking Points Memo, 07/20/10]

Breitbart On Whether The “Edited” Sherrod Video He Posted Was “Out Of Context”: “Well, Yes.” In an interview with Daniel Stone of Newsweek, Breitbart did not object to Stone's characterization of the Sherrod video as “edited” and admitted that he “took things out of context”:

Stone: But do you agree that the edited video took things out of context?

Well, yes. But I put up what I had. It granted a great portion of her redemptive tale, but not all of it. If I could do it all over again, I should have waited for the full video to get to me. [Newsweek, 07/30/10]