New York Times Publishes Lame Mea Culpa On ACORN "Sting" Reporting

Closes Barn Door After Horses Escape; "Oops, Our Bad", Sez Mealy-Mouthed Op-Ed

Clark Hoyt mumbles in the New York Times:
THE Times reported Saturday that Acorn, once considered the nation’s largest community organizing group for the poor and powerless, is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy. It has already ceased operating in many states, including Maryland, where two conservative activists pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute used a hidden camera and recorded Acorn employees advising them on how to conceal the source of illegal income and manage 14-year-old Salvadoran prostitutes in the country illegally: “Train them to keep their mouth shut.”

The Times was slow last fall to cover that sting in Baltimore, similar ones at Acorn offices in Brooklyn, Washington and other cities, and the resulting uproar, including criminal investigations and votes in Congress to cut off funds for the group. But the paper finally described how a succession of Acorn employees had advised the pair on obviously improper activities and how, as a result, many of the group’s allies had deserted it. Now Acorn and its supporters say The Times got the story wrong and, by failing to correct it, has played into the hands of a campaign that has pushed the group near extinction.

Since the story broke, Acorn’s contributions have dried up, its national staff has been cut by more than three-quarters, services for the poor have been suspended, and chapters have closed or reorganized under other names, even though a district attorney found that Acorn employees in Brooklyn did nothing illegal and a federal judge ruled that Congress acted unconstitutionally in cutting off funding as punishment.

Acorn’s defenders say it was all because of an unethical, even illegal prank that is now unraveling. “A groundswell of public indignation is gathering strength in calling for the retraction and correction of the reporting of this story by the NYT,” wrote Joseph Holder of Manteca, Calif., one of hundreds of readers I’ve heard from since liberal groups like FAIR — Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting — took up the cause. They argue that The Times was wrong when it said that James O’Keefe, who shot the videos, was in the “gaudy guise” of a pimp when he accompanied Hannah Giles, dressed as a streetwalker, into Acorn offices, and that the paper mischaracterized what happened in the offices. O’Keefe didn’t present himself as a pimp, the argument goes, but as a clean-cut young man, sometimes a college student, trying to rescue his girlfriend and under-age girls from an abusive pimp. The Times’s version of events, FAIR said, was “wildly misleading.”

With two associates, Michael McElroy and Rebecca Ruiz, I have reviewed the entire available public record, including the O’Keefe videos and what are represented on a conservative Web site as the full transcripts and audio of his visits to the Acorn offices. It is the same record from which FAIR and others are getting their alternative interpretation. I have talked with Andrew Breitbart, the conservative Web entrepreneur who arranged the release of the videos; Bertha Lewis, the chief executive of Acorn; and Scott Harshbarger, a former Massachusetts attorney general, and his associate, Amy Crafts, who were hired by Acorn last year to investigate what happened and to evaluate the group’s management.

Here is what I found: O’Keefe almost certainly did not go into the Acorn offices in the outlandish costume — fur coat, goggle-like sunglasses, walking stick and broad-brimmed hat — in which he appeared at the beginning and end of most of his videos. It is easy to see why The Times and other news organizations got a different impression. At one point, as the videos were being released, O’Keefe wore the get-up on Fox News, and a host said he was “dressed exactly in the same outfit he wore to these Acorn offices.” He did not argue... >more