The truth behind the hoax was 'hiding' in plain sight, if only the media and Congress had bothered to seek it out...
By Ernest A. Canning on 3/10/2010, 6:05am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” - Mark Twain

"All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke

In a society increasingly dominated by dictatorial and corrupt corporate wealth and power, a collection of community organizations, The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), steps forward to become the voice of the most vulnerable of our citizens --- the poor and lower-middle class. It is a national coalition which not only strives to insure that these otherwise atomized and powerless masses retain and exercise their equal right to vote, but a caring organization which seeks a living wage for all citizens; that tries to protect them from predatory lenders and phony foreclosure assistance scams.

At a time when the heartless and uncaring Bush/Cheney cabal left thousands of our fellow citizens to sink or swim in a toxic soup of petrochemicals, flood waters and decaying bodies, ACORN, according to the Congressional Research Service [PDF], stepped forward to assist "in the clean-up of 1,850 homes and" organized "10,000 hurricane survivors into the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association."

So it comes as no surprise that ACORN has become the target of a years-long relentless right-wing assault, most recently spearheaded by the likes of accused federal felon James O'Keefe and his serial dissembling employer and publisher, Andrew Breitbart. Neither is it a surprise that the phony pimp's video hit pieces emerged on Rupert Murdoch's own Fox "News" Channel, which Robert Greenwald so forcefully demonstrated was but the propaganda arm of the GOP in Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism.

It is, however, slightly more surprising, and certainly most noteworthy, that now that they've been exposed as hoaxes, even Murdoch's own New York Post was forced to describe the doctored tapes as a "'heavily edited' splice job that only made it appear as though the organization's workers were advising a pimp and prostitute on how to get a mortgage...[with] many of the seemingly crime-encouraging answers...taken out of context so as to appear more sinister."

What is truly disturbing, however, is that this concocted tale would be unquestioningly accepted as legitimate by the corporate media and by Congress, which, in their rush to mollify the noisy hard-right, displayed a profound ignorance of basic concepts of fundamental fairness and due process of law.

ACORN was prematurely and inappropriately tried and convicted in the press and in Congress, without so much as a single hearing, vis a vis a grotesque and shameful word-of-mouth propaganda lynch job unseen since the days of Joseph McCarthy, the disgraced, right-wing demagogue who misused his powerful perch in the U.S. Senate to smear "loyal Americans as disloyal" and who falsely "charged that the government was being undermined from within"...

Tried and convicted by partisan hoax

ACORN was tried and convicted in the press and in Congress based on propaganda videos which a former MA Attorney General exposed months ago as a heavily edited hoax. Yet without waiting on a single investigation, or holding a single hearing, U.S. House and Senate Resolutions were passed in an attempt to strip a presumed guilty ACORN of federal funding. Fortunately, those measures were found by a federal judge to be, in all likelihood, unconstitutional bills of attainder. But the finding comes too late for the group which depends on private funders for the vast majority of its work, many of whom have withheld their support following the Republican operatives' extremely successful smear job.

Had Congress looked before leaping, they would have found that an independent analysis [PDF], furnished by former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, disabuses much of the misinformation that has been propagated about the entire ACORN "pimp" hoax. While the analysis was commissioned by ACORN as an external review, and returned some rather harsh condemnations for some of the groups organizational procedures, Harshbarger found no pattern of illegalities by the organization itself, or any of those low-level employees ensnared by the O'Keefe/Breitbart set up.

Though the so-called "paper of record", the New York Times, misreported on the O'Keefe/Breitbart hoax time and again, both before and after the release of the Harshbarger report, Harshbarger's analysis was never so much as mentioned in their pages. They have also refused, time and again, to correct their misreporting, offering one extraordinary excuse after another for not doing the correct, journalistic thing.

As Brad Friedman recently reported, an ACORN spokesperson noted that the New York Times failed to even send a reporter to the telephonic press conference that was held by Harshbarger when his report was released on December 7th of last year --- a Dec. 7 that, in terms of the integrity of American journalism, should live in infamy.*

An examination of Harshbarger's independent analysis helps to unravel the web of deceit spun by these GOP con-artists masquerading as "journalists."

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*The same New York Times which ran with the O'Keefe/Breitbart scurrilous ACORN "pimp" lie, chose to ignore the sworn affidavits of former Blackwater/Xe insiders which not only alleged that Blackwater had engaged in murder, destruction of evidence, weapons smuggling, and corruption but specifically alleged that Blackwater operated a wife-swapping sex ring here in the US, and that, in Iraq, Blackwater had "young girls provide oral sex to Enterprise members in the 'Blackwater Man Camp' in exchange for one American dollar."

Don't look to the New York Times, either, if you are interested in learning about Sibel Edmonds' credible sworn testimony implicating members and former members of Congress in corruption and espionage which includes even allegations of nuclear secrets sold to foreign countries on the black market.
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46 federal, state and local investigations find no ACORN-related 'voter fraud'

According to yet another official report on the matter from the Congressional Research Service [PDF] released late last year, as commissioned by U.S. House Judiciary Committee, as of October 2009, there have been 46 reported federal, state, and local investigations concerning ACORN; 11 still pending. None have established a single instance in which an individual, improperly registered by ACORN or its employees, has then attempted "to vote at the polls." The study reveals that ACORN themselves is often the initiator of official complaints against employees who defraud them, when they turn in fraudulent registrations.

Nonetheless, the GOP propaganda campaign, aided and abetted by the incurious corporate media, has helped lead the right-wing faithful to believe ACORN is in the "voter fraud" business, despite the complete lack of evidence to support the theory. A recent survey by the non-partisan Research 2000 found that one in five (21%) of self-identified Republicans believe ACORN stole the 2008 Presidential election for Barack Obama. Another 55% are "not sure" if they did or not.

Yet, as Brad Friedman so forcefully argues in the documentary film Murder, Spies & Voting Lies, our greatest concerns --- as even the Bush Justice Department found --- are not with the rather infrequent problem of "voter fraud", certainly not at the polls as charged by the right-wing propagandists hoping to disenfranchise millions of legal, largely Democratic-leaning voters with photo ID restrictions. The far greater concern is "election fraud" which can be accomplished by a single insider using electronic voting systems, both paper-based optical scan and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) systems which can be corrupted in a few seconds' time in such a way that the wholesale manipulation of an election result would likely never be discovered.

Doctored videotapes are not 'evidence'

I don't expect all reporters to possess the same level of legal knowledge as those of us who have practiced law for many years. However, I don't think it too much to expect that major corporate media, with corporate legal departments at their disposal, possess at least the rudiments of concepts embodied in the 5th, 6th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution entailing fundamental fairness, due process of law and the right of the accused to confront his or her accuser.

That didn't happen in the case of the doctored ACORN videos. O'Keefe, Hannah Giles and Breitbart produced what purported to be a set of videotapes that, per Scott Shane of the New York Times, depicted O'Keefe and Giles, dressed as pimp and prostitute, "visit[ing] Acorn offices in Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Bernardino, Calif., [where they] candidly describ[ed] their illicit business and ask[ed] the advice of Acorn workers." CNN's Abbie Boudreau said, the tapes appeared to show "two ACORN workers...caught on tape allegedly offering advice on how to set up a prostitution ring and evade the IRS" to the disguised pimp and prostitute, while Scott Olshan of the New York Post reported that employees at ACORN's Brooklyn office were "caught on video helping supposed ladies of the night get loans for their dream houses of ill repute."

By contrast, former AG Harshbarger reported after carefully reviewing the edited videos:

The unedited videos have never been made public. The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms.Giles’s comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions. To date, the videographers have declined or ignored our interview request.

Harshbarger stated that the "released videos offer no evidence of a pattern of illegal conduct by ACORN employees" and that there was "no evidence that any action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by ACORN employees on behalf of" O'Keefe and Giles.

Last week, Brooklyn prosecutors, who investigated the matter over a span of five months, came to a nearly identical conclusion, adding that O'Keefe and Giles "edited the tapes to meet their agenda."

As the New York Post noted in describing the DA offices' comments on their finding of "no criminality", O'Keefe and Breitbart's published Brooklyn ACORN video represented a "'heavily edited' splice job" where the comments by ACORN employees were "taken out of context so as to appear more sinister."

Three of the six videos were from offices where ACORN had no control

Harshbarger reveals what one cannot possibly learn by simply watching the doctored videos. "Three of the six videos --- Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. --- involved only ACORN Housing employees, over which ACORN has no control." ACORN Housing is "a separately incorporated organization (not a subsidiary or affiliate) with which ACORN contracts for home buyer and foreclosure programs."

O'Keefe and Giles met not with ACORN employees at the Washington office, for example, but with two employees of the separate ACORN Housing and with an independent real estate broker --- a fact rarely, if ever, noted in media mis-reports of the video tapes.

Thus, whatever occurred inside those three offices; whatever was said by the employees of ACORN Housing, has no bearing whatsoever on ACORN's alleged responsibility. Avoiding that point has been very useful for the right-wing propagandists, but it is a point of what James O'Keefe might otherwise refer to as "journalistic malpractice".

Harshbarger refutes not only the "dressed as a pimp" canard but demolishes media claims on substantive interactions.

In an appendix, Harsbarger states:

Although Mr. O’Keefe appeared in all videos dressed as a pimp, in fact, when he appeared at each and every office, he was dressed like a college student – in slacks and a button down shirt.

Hannah Giles, O'Keefe's co-conspirator in this concocted partisan "sting," has now admitted (once even on video) that O'Keefe never went into any of the offices dressed as a pimp, despite his own purposely-misleading representations and publisher Breitbart's own written claims that he did.

According to Harshbarger, when they entered the Baltimore office, they first told a part-time receptionist that "Ms. Giles was a dancer and Mr. O’Keefe was a college student trying to help her." --- Doesn't exactly fit with The New York Times description that the pair "candidly described their illicit business," does it?

In fact, where the video is replete with O'Keefe voice-overs that imply that the Baltimore ACORN employees readily came up with ways to conceal "prostitution," O'Keefe and Breitbart's own published unauthenticated text-transcripts reveal the lengths to which both O'Keefe and Giles sought to initially hide Giles' supposed line of work, until after they had obtained some useful sound-bites to be used later out of context:

ACORN tax lady: They pay you with cash. And they are reporting this to the government?

Giles: No who?

O’Keefe: The clients.

Giles: My clients.

Tax lady: No the person that’s paying you.

O'Keefe: The clients.

Tax lady: The job that’s paying you.

Giles: Well people pay me different things every day.

Tax lady: Well there’s a difference between having a job and having your own business. Okay, so tell me.

Giles: Well before I guess it was a job. There was this guy that people would give me money and I would give money to him. But now…I am trying to get away from that guy.

O’Keefe: I am trying to help her out; maybe give her a place to go where she can perform her work, maybe a house where she doesn’t have to get targeted by this other guy. You know what I am saying?

Tax lady: …Does the business have an ID number?

O’Keefe: No.

Tax lady: Okay. So there is no taxes and nothing being put to government so the government really knows nothing about this business?

Giles: No. They don’t know about me --- hopefully.

Tax lady: So you are just starting the business."

When this is placed in the context of their initial representation that Giles was a "dancer," you begin to understand why the ACORN tax lady is having so much trouble making head or tails about just what "business" Giles is actually in.

The transcript captures O'Keefe and Giles, whispering to one another, on how best to entrap this part-time ACORN employee into giving advice on write-offs, etc. Fourteen pages into the transcript, after these slick hustlers secure a statement that the part-time tax employee is looking for the appropriate code for Giles's theretofore undefined "business," O'Keefe blurts out, "There's a code for prostitution?" --- a word they had, until then, adroitly avoided.

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Note: Where O'Keefe and Breitbart claim this is the complete transcript, it contains conversations with only two ACORN employees. Harshbarger interviewed numerous ACORN employees who were not captured on the audiotapes. He identified a third; a receptionist. From Harshbarger's description of interactions with other offices, it appears likely that either Giles or O'Keefe called in advance to make an appointment, which is likely the time when the "dancer" representation Harshbarger refers to was made.

In this first person description from Philadelphia's ACORN Housing employee, who met with O'Keefe and Giles --- and who filed a police report after they left --- it's clear the pair did not represent themselves as either "prostitute" or "pimp" when misrepresenting the intent of their interviews. "Mr. O'Keefe lied to get his appointment. He was not dressed like he is on the Internet. And when we got suspicious about the questions he was asking at the Philadelphia ACORN Housing office, we called the police and filed this report," the employee, Katherine Conway Russell states on tape.
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According to the unauthenticated text transcript, O'Keefe and Giles elicited tax advice on the young girls coming from El Salvador by telling the part-time employee in Baltimore that they were trying to provide them with shelter. O'Keefe waits until after the employee discusses the possibility of claiming some of the girls as dependents before vaguely slipping in the word "tricks" with the ambiguous "they," to which the part-time ACORN employee responds not with tax advice but with you shouldn't be telling me that.

It is not entirely clear that the part-time ACORN employee actually understood that Giles was considering putting these underage girls to work as prostitutes. It is clear that, at that point, she should have thrown both of these clowns out of the office. She did not, and, as a result, ACORN management terminated her employment the moment it learned what occurred. As the organization has noted, their own written protocols appear to have been violated by several of the low-level employees, none of whom were either organizers or supervisory level workers.

Where the New York Post initially reported that ACORN employees were "caught on video helping supposed ladies of the night get loans for their dream houses of ill repute," Harshbarger reveals (1) that these were employees of ACORN Housing, the separate entity; that (2) the employee complained about Giles' inappropriate attire; told her to go home and change; that (3) Giles said she couldn't return to change because she would be beat up by her pimp (who was not O'Keefe, but rather the abusive man O'Keefe was purporting to help her escape from), and that (4) when Giles said she wanted to buy a house to protect the 13-year old girls her pimp was said to be recruiting into prostitution, the ACORN Housing tax-counselor told her "she could not buy a house because her income derived from illegal activities."

Harshbarger reports that in the San Diego office, O'Keefe and Giles took advantage of an employee who was barely conversant in English and whose participation amounted to little more than nods and saying, "okay." In the San Bernardino office, the ACORN employee, fearing for her own safety, gave O'Keefe and Giles her own line of B.S., stating, Harshbarger reports, "she had killed her husband and had previously run an escort service. In fact, her former husbands are alive." As soon as she was rid of them, the employee locked the door.

Though Breitbart's BigGovernment.com published the video on September 15th, 2009, in yet another remarkable example of Breitbart and O'Keefe's blatant "journalistic malpractice", they have failed to add notice that the county sheriff's office quickly disabused the public of the notion that the worker had murdered her husband. To this day, the video as originally published on Breitbart's site is posted without notice that the information offered by the ACORN worker seen in it was completely bogus.

That tape, similarly to the others, is reprehensibly titled "ACORN San Bernardino Child Prostitution Investigation".

Also, as Harshbarger notes, while the videotapes depicted the outside of the ACORN office in Philadelphia, O'Keefe took care not to reveal that the Philadelphia ACORN Legislative Director was onto his scam from the moment he called to set up an appointment; that O'Keefe and Giles had to make a quick departure before the police arrived.

These are just a few examples of how O'Keefe and Giles grossly misrepresented and misreported what they captured on their secret recordings and edited video tape releases. Brad Friedman recently highlighted yet another sharp example.

America's "paper of record," having amplified the O'Keefe/Giles/Breitbart scam by irresponsibly repeating their lies without bothering to independently validate them first, has not simply ignored the Harshbarger findings --- and those which can be quickly discovered with even a bare minimum of actual, responsible fact-checking --- but they have also out-and-out refused to retract their demonstrably erroneous articles, even after being directly confronted with the conclusive evidence showing that they were simply wrong.

The broader context: a totalitarian nightmare

Suppose you did your banking at Bank of America. When you went to make a deposit at your bank, you handed cash and a deposit slip to the teller, who pretended to make the deposit, but pocketed your money. If the bank, upon discovery of the embezzlement, fired the teller, turned the teller over to the authorities and restored your money, would the Bank of America itself be considered guilty of a crime?

Or consider the recent stories that have emerged in which female members of the U.S. armed forces have been raped by fellow soldiers. Are we to then assume that the U.S. military itself is little more than a criminal band of rapists and cut-off all further funding to that "criminal organization?"

ACORN consists of some "400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in about 75 cities across the country." Harshbarger reports that O'Keefe and Giles conducted their subterfuge at only 3 ACORN offices; that there were "extenuating circumstances in two of them;" that the "ACORN employees captured on video were members or part-time staff. They were not organizers or supervisory level employees;" that ACORN promptly dismissed those part-time employees. How is that any different from the bank or US military scenarios--except that, unlike the soldier/rapists, ACORN's part-time employees have not been found to have violated any laws?

Renowned political scientist Hanna Arendt is said to have defined "totalitarianism as the triumph of politics over truth." Arendt believed that "propaganda or the systematic attempt to conceal the truth was the fundamental ploy of totalitarian politics."

The ease with which the deceptive ACORN 'pimp' hoax was propagated as "truth", once again demonstrates that our once-thriving democracy is dangerously close to devolving into the depths of a totalitarian nightmare.

Restated: The ease with which these illogical, deceptive, relentless and vicious assaults on a benevolent, if imperfect, community organization succeeded in the press and in Congress; the triumph of hard-right politics over truth, coupled with the post-9/11 erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law, the increasing domination of mass communications by corporate wealth and power, Orwellian elections in which votes disappear inside the black holes of e-voting systems whose secret, unobservable source-code is allowed to determine the winner of elections without a verifiable count, and brownshirt-like tactics of easily misled "tea-baggers," suggests that our once thriving democracy is dangerously close to devolving into the depths of a totalitarian nightmare.

With the corporate sector of the media having abandoned its fourth-estate responsibility of protecting the public against cynical assaults and the despicable corruption of our very democracy, it has been left to alternative media, such as The BRAD BLOG, whose coverage of this entire sham over the last many weeks --- even the last many years --- has helped to expose these democracy-destroying lies.

Oh, I do realize that this blog does not have the reach of The New York Times or of Fox "News". But truth does not need to be amplified to be heard. Its essence speaks volumes.

Without the light of truth piercing the darkness wrought by right-wing propaganda that is designed to destroy organized opposition to totalitarian corporate societal control, like the citizens of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina's wrath, each of us, every man, woman and child, will be left to fend for ourselves against the harsh realities of a greed-driven, corporate security state whose heartless and corrupt leaders could care less whether we sink or swim. We, at The BRAD BLOG, are determined to see that this does not happen.

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If the above has depressed you, as much as it depresses me, take heart momentarily with one bright outcome of all of this --- perhaps one of the funniest Stephen Colbert bits ever, as aired on 3/4/10, on the heels of a world finally becoming aware, thanks in no small part to this blog, that the O'Keefe/Breitbart ACORN "pimp" hoax was exactly that...

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And now that you've had a good laugh, here's an 03/08/10 clip in which Rachel Maddow debunks the "deather" lie, one of the latest examples of right-wing, democracy endangering propaganda, or what Joseph Goebbels called "The Big Lie" technique...



Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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And, finally, to understand how close we are to emulating the last days of the Weimar Republic, another segment from the 3/8/10 Rachel Maddow Show in which you can see the brownshirt-like tactics of the wing-nuts, shutting down one of the oldest forms of democracy, the town hall meeting...



Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).