Despite repeated confirmation that the 'paper of record' was wrong, Clark Hoyt declines to recommend retractions
Describes O'Keefe as 'journalistically unethical,' but recommends only that editors avoid 'dressed as pimp' language in future coverage...
By Brad Friedman on 2/23/2010, 5:35am PT  

The New York Times' independent Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, after sending me an email originally standing by the paper's misreporting of the James O'Keefe ACORN 'pimp' story, now describes the rightwing activist's misrepresentation of his highly-edited and heavily-overdubbed hit videos as "journalistically unethical."

O'Keefe's deceptive editing of those infamous tapes implied that he had presented himself in ACORN offices as a 70's-era blaxploitation "pimp." It was the eye-popping, media-friendly, marquee headline that news outlets, including the Times, latched onto and ate up. Except that it never happened. The tapes were purposely manipulated in order to give the appearance that ACORN workers were so dumb they didn't even recognize that skinny little white kid as a phony pimp. And that's exactly how O'Keefe, and his employer Andrew Breitbart who published the misleading tapes on his websites, wanted them to be perceived.

We've spent the last several weeks here reporting and demonstrating how the O'Keefe/Breitbart ACORN video hoax was exactly that --- a political partisan scam that was publicized uncritically by the New York Times, and dozens of otherwise reputable outlets.

Despite the Times' repeatedly misreporting that O'Keefe was dressed or posed as a "pimp" while meeting with ACORN employees in those videos, and even after being shown in no uncertain terms that he did not, the Times' Public Editor has declined to recommend the paper retract its reporting on this story. The coverage at the "paper of record" undoubtedly helped lead to Congressional passage of federal legislation attempting to defund the community organization, and helped to bring on a subsequently crippling decline in other funding sources for the non-profit group which serves to provide support for low- and middle-income American families.

At the end of the remarkable email exchange between Hoyt and myself (published in full at the end of this article), he says he recommended only that "Times editors ...avoid language that says or suggests that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp when he captured the ACORN employees on camera."

That, even though...

  • former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, whose investigation [PDF] of the edited versions of the videos found no illegal conduct by ACORN staff and observed that "at each and every" ACORN office visited by O'Keefe with his partner Hannah Giles (who was dressed as a "prostitute") he was "dressed like a college student - in slacks and a button down shirt," and;
  • ACORN has stated on the record, based on interviews with their employees, that [emphasis in original] "O'Keefe was not wearing that absurd costume when he visited our offices," and;
  • Giles herself has now twice admitted on the record (once on video tape), that O'Keefe never wore his 70's-era blaxploitation pimp costume in those offices, and;
  • O'Keefe and Giles' benefactor, Andrew Breitbart, who published and promoted the videos (and misrepresented them himself in his own Washington Times column) also finally acknowledged the pimp outfit was only used as a marketing gimmick, and;
  • while the Times' Scott Shane first reported on September 15th of last year that O'Keefe "visited Acorn offices...dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risqué high school play" and, on September 18th, as traveling in "the gaudy guise of pimp and prostitute through various offices of Acorn," and;
  • the paper had reported similarly time after time since then (without noting the existence of Harshbarger's report even once), and;
  • even though I directly debunked several pieces of "evidence" that Hoyt originally proffered for his original assessment that he "would not recommend a correction, based on the available evidence," and offered him much more corroborated evidence along with it, and;
  • even though he acknowledges his original evidence was, indeed, inaccurate, and;
  • even though Congress voted to defund ACORN just days after the New York Times' first inaccurate report;

...Hoyt nonetheless wrote in his final communication to me: "I still don't see that a correction is in order, because that would require conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong, which I haven't seen."

But of course by now, he has seen, or at least he has been sent, "conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong." Yet he has still declined to recommend any retractions by the "paper of record."

I am as utterly gobsmacked now as I was when Times' Senior Editor of Standards Greg Brock originally cited an appearance by James O'Keefe wearing his pimp costume on Fox "News," during which host Steve Doocy said the rightwing activist was "dressed exactly in the same outfit that he wore in these ACORN offices up and down the Eastern Seaboard," as evidence to support their reporting.

Brock wrote, in a remarkable email exchange posted by The BRAD BLOG on February 8th, that "If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."

When the details from Harshbarger's report were used to counter Brock's use of O'Keefe and Fox as credible sources, he followed up with some vague information in support of standing by their reporting: a video said to reveal "at one point, the camera...turned in such a way to catch part of the 'costume' he was wearing. And ACORN employees who saw him described his costume." Brock refused to offer specifics on what video he was referencing, or where the information could be found of "employees" said to have described O'Keefe's costume.

In my email exchange with Hoyt, which came about as a result of the emails with Brock, he at least offered specifics for the references which Brock would not. In each case, however, I was able to demonstrate to Hoyt how the supposed "evidence" in support of O'Keefe having dressed as a pimp in those offices, was completely inaccurate and without basis in fact.

In Hoyt's initial email to me --- a week or so after I and others began emailing him at Public@NYTimes.com to request he review the matter --- he originally offered three reasons "The Times believes that on at least a couple of occasions O'Keefe did dress in his pimp outfit at an Acorn office." Therefore, he wrote, he stood by the paper's reporting and "would not recommend a correction, based on the available evidence."

Here are the three reasons that Hoyt gave for not recommending a correction, and a summary of the information that I shared with him in reply:

1) The Meaning of the Word 'And'

The most recent article in dispute, a January 30th feature article by Jim Rutenberg and Campbell Robertson, following on O'Keefe's recent federal felony arrest for allegedly attempted to "maliciously interfere" with the phone system of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), described O'Keefe as having "made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group Acorn."

Hoyt appears to have looked at only that one article initially, and stood behind it because, as he wrote [emphasis his]: "The story says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time."

While trying to give every benefit of the doubt, I responded that even if one accepts the notion that that wording was simply exceedingly misleading, there was no way to similarly justify Shane's earlier reports, as linked above.

2) The Woman Who Wasn't There

"Isemene Speliotis, who supervised the Acorn employees in the New York videos, told Rutenberg that she was especially disappointed that they gave advice to O'Keefe and Hannah Giles because the pair looked so ridiculous they could not possibly have been for real," Hoyt wrote.

Having not recognized the name Isemene Speliotis --- she appeared in none of O'Keefe's videos --- I checked with ACORN who put me in touch with her that very Saturday. As it turns out, Speliotis is the Executive Director at NY ACORN Housing Co. (for those who don't know, ACORN and ACORN Housing are two entirely different organizations) and while she remembered speaking to Rutenberg "about six months ago," she explained that she wasn't even in the office when O'Keefe and Giles came in!

During our phone conversation Speliotis explained she was told by her staff what had happened, but never witnessed the pair herself, and was not told that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp.

"I was at a meeting that day," she told me. "I didn't hear about this until later. The only time I ever saw these folks was from the video. "

"I spoke to my staff and they said that she was dressed inappropriately, and that he said he was a banker," she said. "I don't think he was wearing a jacket, because it was summer, but that he was in a regular shirt and pants."

I also heard from another senior official in the New York office, who asked not to be identified publicly given the harassment that ACORN employees have received since O'Keefe's videos were released. That supervisor confirmed that Speliotis "did not see them."

"I was in the office and did not see the pimp outfit," the NY ACORN official wrote via email on the same day. "Everyone in the office was more focuses [sic] on her clothes and those that more directly paid attentuon [sic] said what we all knew to be true...only one was dressed weirdly."

While Brock had originally referenced "employees" (plural) said to have "described his costume," Hoyt offered only Rutenberg's reference to Speliotis to support the claim. Moreover, ACORN's communications director Kevin Whelan confirmed again to me that they were aware of no employees having described O'Keefe as dressed, or even representing himself as a pimp.

3) The Video Tape

Hoyt offered specifics on the video tape that Brock referred to, but refused to specifically cite.

Hoyt referenced "the 6:12 mark" of Part 2 of the D.C. video, the one which O'Keefe and Breitbart's website deceptively describes to this day as a "Child Prostitution Investigation."

"As O'Keefe is leaving the DC Acorn office," Hoyt wrote, "you will see his reflection in a plate glass window. You have to look closely, but it appears he is wearing the hat that is part of the outfit, and it appears to me that he is wearing other parts of the outfit. The brim of the hat appears briefly in the frame just seconds later, as the camera is jostled leaving the premises."

So I downloaded the video Hoyt referenced and went to the 6:12 mark and indeed could see a reflection in the plate glass window, purported to have been taped as the pair walked out of the office.

But the reflection, as you'll see in the screen grab I sent to Hoyt (included in the emails below), appears to be of someone in a long-sleeve white shirt. I was able to see no black jacket, black fedora, or fur cape as he is seen wearing in very the next shot, seconds later, as the video cuts away to show a two-shot of O'Keefe and Giles, dressed as "pimp" and "prostitute," walking down the street.

Next, I did a frame-by-frame screen-grab analysis of every frame in that second or two as the "camera is jostled." As you'll see --- and as I shared with him in the emails --- there is no "brim of the hat" and no "parts of the costume" in any of those 24 frames. The only thing seen appearing in the frame, is what appears to be the elbow of O'Keefe's white sleeve, and then his hand, presumably reaching up to turn off the camera.

Furthermore, I offered Hoyt the D.C. weather report for July 25, 2009, the day O'Keefe says in his voice-over that he visited the D.C. office. The report says that it was 90 to 93 degrees in Washington that day --- the day that he's seen being introduced on tape --- to one of the workers by the receptionist --- as a "law student at Georgetown." Neither employee batted an eye at that introduction, despite the fact that O'Keefe, according to the New York Times, would have been wearing a black jacket, tie, black fedora, and fur cape in the middle of a 90 degree afternoon in July, in Washington D.C., as he was introduced as a Georgetown law student inside the ACORN office.

As I wrote to Hoyt, after spending hours putting together the photographic analysis and other evidence:

This is all, admittedly, a ridiculous length to go to, of course, to make the point that the information the Times seems to have relied on when filing report after report after report suggesting, or outright saying, that he was dressed as that infamous pimp character that everyone has now seen him in, and believe that he wore in front of those "stupid" ACORN employees (no wonder they need to have all their funding removed and be put out of business!) is incredibly thin for the "paper of record", even with every benefit of the doubt.
...
It's a ridiculous length to make this point, but all of this matters. Big time. Among the two largest reasons: A) Because he's now facing federal felony charges and his past credibility is important to the future proceedings and B) Because these videos, and the Times reports on them, resulted in the U.S. CONGRESS(!) passing legislation to deny them federal funding based on what appears to be an entirely phony premise which both O'Keefe and Breitbart knowingly misrepresented publicly, and that the Times went along with, in error, time and again.

Several days later, after sharing all of the above, Hoyt wrote back to say that he hadn't looked at the videos in "quite a long time ago, before this question of dress arose," so he "decided it would be good to get a fresh pair of eyes on the case."

He asked his assistant, Michael McElroy, to review all of the videos. He says that McElroy told him "there is no video that clearly shows James O'Keefe in his pimp garb inside an ACORN office."

Therefore, Hoyt wrote, "Under the circumstances, I am recommending to Times editors that they avoid language that says or suggests that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp when he captured the ACORN employees on camera."

"I still don't see that a correction is in order," he continued amazingly, "because that would require conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong, which I haven't seen. The Times could seek out all the employees, but I don't think that's a realistic prospect worth the investment of effort."

So they reported all of this, time and again, with ZERO evidence that the Times was right, but now find no need to issue a retraction because, as Hoyt says, there is not "conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong."

Moreover, as I noted in reply, the effort of checking with the four different ACORN offices --- Baltimore, NY, D.C., and Santa Barbara, CA, where videos had been published by O'Keefe and Breitbart by the time Shane first described O'Keefe's "outlandish" and "gaudy guise" --- would most certainly be well "worth the investment of effort" to those least fortunate of low-income Americans for whom ACORN is often the only hope for certain services, like being able to put a roof over their heads.

I would also argue that it would be "well worth the investment" if only to try and restore the New York Times' utterly shattered credibility at this point. But Hoyt never responded in kind --- even after I sent him subsequent confirmation from Giles and Breitbart, admitting that O'Keefe was never dressed that way, which certainly amounted to "conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong."

Hoyt had a bit more to say, as you can read in the full emails below, arguing, essentially, that even if that aspect of the Times' reporting was wrong, the videos still appear to show some sort of wrong-doing by employees. As I wrote in reply:

Your contentions are clearly (and understandably) biased by the videos which offer a very different picture from what actually happened in those offices, according to the transcripts. I'll not continue this already long email by detailing specifics of how, except to say that, contrary to what I read as your impressions, in every office the workers advised the pair that they must legally pay their taxes (not hide the income as you suggest), no matter where it comes from. In every office the workers were told a house was needed to escape an abusive pimp who had been abusing and stalking the girl. In each and every office, workers, in various ways, advised the girl (and O'Keefe, her "boyfriend" trying to help her escape) to rethink what they were doing, and frequently offered her help, womens shelters etc.

But none of that makes any difference whatsoever here when it comes to the New York Times reporting the story accurately as it is "fit to print".

I appreciate that you may not care for ACORN, for whatever reason, and you may even be offended by what the doctored-videos appear to show about the low-level employees (no supervisors nor senior staffers) who violated ACORN's written protocols in various instances, and were fired immediately for having done so. But your paper's failure to follow appropriate journalistic protocols for vetting information before reporting it, and then failing to correct it when all evidence shows that it was blatantly wrong --- where no evidence, none, exists to show that they were correct --- is a sorry state for the "paper of record" to be in.

Whatever the employees of ACORN did or didn't do, does not exonerate the New York Times for having reported the story inaccurately, time and time again.

The Breitbart/O'Keefe hoax, unfortunately, had very serious, real-world consequences. ACORN receives approximately $3.5 million per year in federal funds (not the "billions" that Breitbart/O'Keefe still misreport to this day). But while a judge has found the Congressional legislation unconstitutional, ACORN reports that funding has dropped off dramatically after all of this. And the political assault on ACORN is a direct assault on democracy in the United States, given that the group legally helps register millions of low- and middle-income voters so that they may legally exercise their right to vote. That is, of course, what is at the heart of the entire, years-long GOP smear campaign against the group.

Last September, in his own column, Hoyt took the Times to task following criticism from rightwingers. He chided the paper for having been "slow off the mark" by waiting "nearly a week" after O'Keefe's first video was released before reporting on it. The paper took measures, thereafter, to improve on its "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio," as Hoyt wrote at the time.

It's been at least three weeks since we first called on the Times to correct this matter, and nearly six months since their original, damaging, and inaccurate reports. So it's remarkable that Hoyt has so-far failed to recommend appropriate corrections, retractions, apologies and an investigation to find out how this could have happened, and what the Times plans to do to ensure that it doesn't happen again. So, of course, it will.

To this day, O'Keefe and Breitbart have outright refused to release the full, unedited video tapes publicly. We now know, based on the parts of the text transcripts they were willing to release, that the edited versions of the videos were exceedingly deceptive and misleading. The transcripts show something very different than what was represented in those highly-doctored and heavily-overdubbed tapes.

Yet Breitbart and O'Keefe won't release the unedited footage for some odd reason, and the Times is still standing by their demonstrably inaccurate stories, even as there is every reason to believe the unedited tapes might reveal even more of the despicable political hoax that O'Keefe, Breitbart and, yes, the New York Times, have pulled on the American people.

* * *

The entire email thread between me and New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt --- following on the email exchange he was CC'd into with Senior Editor for Standards, Greg Brock --- follows in full below. Hoyt can be reached at Public@NYTimes.com...

All emphasis --- and typos, etc. --- are from the original emails...

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Monday, February 08, 2010 10:29 PM
To: 'public@nytimes.com'
Subject: CLARK: Following Up on Bizarre emails with Greg Brock

Clark -

I hope you had the time to review the thread between Times' Sr. Editor/Standards Greg Brock, myself, and a reader who sent him a query.

After CC'ing you into the thread, Greg continued to follow up, but only with me, as he stopped CC'ing his notes to the reader and to you.

The entire thread, which got even more bizarre, is now posted in full, along with a story to go with it, right here:

Exclusive: New York Times Editor 'Stands Behind' Contested 'Pimp' Reporting on James O'Keefe
Times Sr. Editor for Standards cites Fox News, accused felon as sources for paper's ACORN report; refuses to back up additional claims made in contradiction of former state Attorney General
'No comment', assertions of privacy, bizarre obfuscation, backtracking offered when asked by The BRAD BLOG to share alleged evidence...

I hope you will review this matter carefully, as I must say it's one of the most troubling incidents I've ever had with the otherwise good folks at the Times.

I continue to be absolutely gobsmacked by virtually every that Mr. Brock asserted in his emails. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. As mentioned, ALL of the emails in the thread are now included at the bottom of the above linked article. I hope NYTimes will do the right thing here and issue a VERY LOUD correction.

Best,
Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

Brad Friedman
Publisher/Editor, The BRAD BLOG
http://www.BradBlog.com
Twitter: @TheBradBlog.com

From: Public/NYT/NYTIMES [mailto:public@nytimes.com]
Sent: Friday, February 12, 2010 8:25 PM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: Re: CLARK: Following Up on Bizarre emails with Greg Brock

Brad,

You asked me to review Greg Brock's correspondence with Bob F. [last name redacted for privacy] and you over The Times's Jan. 30 front-page story on James O'Keefe. I decided to take a look at the fundamental issue: whether a correction is warranted.

First, I have to say that I think Mr. F. [redacted] mischaracterized what the article said. Here is what he wrote: "In your Sunday article on James O'Keefe, you stated that he went into Acorn offices dressed as a pimp." Here is the exact language in the article by James Rutenberg and Campbell Robertson: "Mr. O'Keefe made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group Acorn - eliciting advice on financing a brothel on videos that would threaten to become Acorn's undoing."

The story says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time. There is no question, looking at the videos, that O'Keefe dressed as a pimp in front of his camera, and there is no question in my mind, after watching the videos, that regardless of what he was wearing in the offices, he presented himself to Acorn staffers as a pimp, unless, of course, you believe that virtually all the sound on the videos was faked, something for which I have seen no evidence. The same report commissioned by Acorn that you cite says, "there is no question that the visits occurred and the comments were made."

The Times believes that on at least a couple of occasions O'Keefe did dress in his pimp outfit at an Acorn office. Isemene Speliotis, who supervised the Acorn employees in the New York videos, told Rutenberg that she was especially disappointed that they gave advice to O'Keefe and Hannah Giles because the pair looked so ridiculous they could not possibly have been for real. Separately, take a look at this link and go to the 6:12 mark. As O'Keefe is leaving the DC Acorn office, you will see his reflection in a plate glass window. You have to look closely, but it appears he is wearing the hat that is part of the outfit, and it appears to me that he is wearing other parts of the outfit. The brim of the hat appears briefly in the frame just seconds later, as the camera is jostled leaving the premises. Is this conclusive proof? No. Is the admittedly hearsay evidence in Acorn's internal report conclusive proof that O'Keefe dressed as a college student at each and every Acorn office? No.

In the end, I see no need for The Times to correct something it did not say. And even if Mr. F's [name of BRAD BLOG reader who original requested correction from Times redacted for privacy] interpretation were accurate, I still would not recommend a correction, based on the available evidence.

Best,

Clark Hoyt
Public Editor
The New York Times

Note: The public editor's opinions are his own and do not represent those of The New York Times.

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, February 13, 2010 4:28 AM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: RE: CLARK: Following Up on Bizarre emails with Greg Brock

Mr. Hoyt -

First, thank you very much for taking the time to review this matter. You write that after review you "would not recommend a correction, based on the available evidence."

Please allow me to offer several points of available evidence, including responses to the two assertions you offered said to back up the Times multiple mis-reporting on this matter. I have review your points very closely, including a frame-by-frame analysis of the video you pointed to, which does not appear to back up your belief of what you thought you might have seen, as well as additional evidence to underscore that it is next to impossible that O'Keefe was wearing the pimp outfit in the offices of ACORN as you suggested, as Greg Brock suggested, and as the Times has reported again and again month after month.

I've been working on this story for some time, and on the larger ACORN matter for several years --- though I have no business or personal relationship with them --- tracking consistent misreporting by media and purposeful misrepresentation by their foes for years. To that end, I hope you will review my response in full below.

You wrote: "The story says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time."

For a start, that seems an extraordinarily semantic benefit of the doubt to offer the Times there, as I should think any reader would read the copy from James Rutenberg and Campbell Robertson's Jan 31 article, as you quoted:

Mr. O'Keefe made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group Acorn - eliciting advice on financing a brothel on videos that would threaten to become Acorn's undoing.

…to make the presumption that O'Keefe was "dressed up as a pimp" while he "trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors". A point which is iffy at very best, and far more likely, wholly untrue, given the amount of checking I've done into this matter, as based on my reporting which included reviewing all of the publicly released video tapes, text transcripts, the two independent reports, speaking to ACORN themselves and even to Breitbart cursorily via Twitter (he refused to answer my repeated direct questions about this, for a reason I'd suspect.) All of that reporting points in the same direction: He never wore the costume in the office.

Beyond that, while the syntax could mean what you're suggesting, in trying to offer every benefit of the doubt to the Times, it nonetheless seems to strain credulity to presume that's either what the reporters meant, or that it would be perceived by a regular reader as being two separate events (1. He was "dressed up as a pimp" at one point, and 2. He trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors" at another). The amazed reactions I've received since reporting that O'Keefe did NOT dress as a pimp in those offices, underscores that the vast majority of people familiar with this story in the slightest, have presumed he was dressed like that. The Times reporting does nothing to dissuade that, despite the lack of evidence for it, and worse, actually underscores the false premise that helped make this story so popular.

That's all particularly true, given a great deal of the other reporting that has appeared in the Times (and other places, of course) on the same matter. Eg. Scott Shane, in the Times, Sept. 15, 2009 wrote:

it took amateur actors, posing as a prostitute and a pimp and recorded on hidden cameras in visits to Acorn offices

The undercover videos showed a scantily dressed young woman, Hannah Giles, posing as a prostitute, while a young man, James O'Keefe, played her pimp. They visited Acorn offices in Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Bernardino, Calif., candidly describing their illicit business and asking the advice of Acorn workers. Among other questions, they asked how to buy a house to use as a brothel employing under-age girls from El Salvador. Mr. O'Keefe, 25, a filmmaker and conservative activist, was dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risque high school play.

The reporting above clearly indicates O'Keefe was "dressed…outlandishly" when he "visited Acorn offices". But there is no evidence that I have been able to find that he was. None.

And again on Sept. 18, 2009, Scott Shane wrote:

But never has his work had anything like the impact of the Acorn exposé, conducted by Mr. O'Keefe and a friend he met through Facebook, 20-year-old Hannah Giles. Their travels in the gaudy guise of pimp and prostitute through various offices of Acorn

By the time Shane's first report above was published on Sept. 15 last year, referring to him "dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risque high school play" only the videos from 4 cities had yet been publicly released (Baltimore 9/9/09, DC 9/11/09, NY 9/13/09 and San Bernardino 9/15/09, --- all of those are linked here.)

So any such "outlandish" and "gaudy guise", if it was visible on tape, would presumably be visible in one or more of the tapes from one or more of the cities seen in those four videos. Yet, contrary to the Times reporting, I was unable to see him wearing any such guise in any of the offices, in any of the videos in those four cities. Including the one you cited, but more on that in a moment.

As you know, that same opinion is expressed on the record --- though it wasn't available by Sept 15th or 18th when Shane filed his reports above --- by AG Scott Harshbarger's 12/7/09 report [PDF]:

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

…By ACORN's own posted 12/7/09 analysis of O'Keefe's released transcripts [PDF]:

While their press releases claim they were posing as a "prostitute and a pimp," the transcripts show that O'Keefe consistently introduced himself as Giles' boyfriend trying to protect her. 3 While we have seen videos of O'Keefe's ridiculous "pimp" get-up, with Chinchilla cape, hat, and walking cane, these are all outdoor visuals. In the actual videos in the offices, every view of O'Keefe shows him dressed in normal casual business attire.

…And once again by ACORN Communication Director Kevin Whelan via email, and reported by The BRAD BLOG on 2/10/10 [emphasis his]:

O'Keefe was not wearing that absurd costume when he visited our offices. We know this from speaking to staff and from the videos posted online by O'Keefe himself which, when you can see any part of his outfit, show a regular dress shirt and slacks.

Still, while both Harshbarger's specific and very direct findings and ACORN's own specific and very direct position certainly should have been --- at the very least --- noted in Rutenberg and Campbell's Jan 31st Times article, at the very least for fairness and balance, Shane likely had none of those official statements when he reported, without qualification last September, on the "outlandish" and "gaudy" costumes that both O'Keefe and Giles were "dressed" in as "they visited Acorn offices in" those four cities.

While that reporting now appears to be wrong, it's fair that Shane might not have realized that just days after the videos were released when he filed his initial reports. But they now appear to be wrong nonetheless, and should be investigated for accuracy, and corrected prominently if they are found not to be, as I believe you will find.

There is, however, no excuse for the, at least, eight times that the NY Times has reported him as "dressed" or "posing" as a pimp since Harshbarger's Dec. 7th 2009 report was released, without even noting that mitigating official finding in the Times reporting. Especially as all of the reporting, and the analyses of the transcripts, shows that he described himself as her boyfriend trying to help her escape from an abusive pimp.

Even in O'Keefe's own voiceover, for example, in the 9/15/09 San Bernardino tape, he intros it by saying "I posed as the local up and coming politician who wanted to use illicit sex money from the underaged girls to fund my future congressional campaign". So how effective could his posing as a "local up and coming politician" be if he was wearing a fur cape, a fedora, gaudy sunglasses and a walking stick? Credulity strained, at best.

But most disturbing on these point, the Times, to my knowledge, has never even reported on the Harshbarger report --- ACORN says they didn't even send a reporter to the telephone press conference when it was released - while the paper has reported time and again, even since the report was released on Dec. 7th, on O'Keefe and the videos themselves, and the various fallout from them.

Of course, if the Times has information not available to the naked eye, or to those above who reviewed the transcripts and videos, etc., it's still possible, as Greg Brock suggested, that he was wearing that outfit in one of the four cities mentioned. But your paper has offered no evidence for it, and I have not been able to find any anywhere.

To that end, you offer two specific assertions in order to support the Times body of reporting on this, both of which you admit do not offer us "conclusive proof" and seem remarkably thin, even on close examination, to support something as important as this. And it is important for reasons I'll mention in a second. But I thank you, at least, for offering specifics where Greg refused to.

On the first asserted piece of evidence, you write:

The Times believes that on at least a couple of occasions O'Keefe did dress in his pimp outfit at an Acorn office. Isemene Speliotis, who supervised the Acorn employees in the New York videos, told Rutenberg that she was especially disappointed that they gave advice to O'Keefe and Hannah Giles because the pair looked so ridiculous they could not possibly have been for real.

I'm not familiar with the name Isemene Speliotis off-hand, and she doesn't appear in O'Keefe's NY videos to my knowledge, nor is she named in O'Keefe's released transcript, nor does she appear, unlike the others in that video, on the list of staffers that O'Keefe shows himself in the video, as seen here…

So I have sent a query to ACORN to find out who she is, and if they know if she actually saw O'Keefe and Giles in the office first hand, and if her references to "the pair look[ing] so ridiculous they could not possibly have been for real" was based on her first hand knowledge seeing an actual "pimp costume" on O'Keefe in the NY office, or if, instead, she was referring to what she may have seen on Fox News or even read about in the NY Times instead.

From your description, it doesn't sound like she described a pimp outfit --- and, indeed, we see a conservative white oxford shirt cuff at the beginning of the video (important in a moment, concerning your second assertion). But we'll leave Isemene's comments aside for now, until I can get more info about who she is and what she actually saw first hand. As noted, ACORN has previously confirmed to me that they believe "O'Keefe was not wearing that absurd costume when he visited our offices," and they "know this from speaking to staff." But we'll see if I can get more specifics on the person you mention.

[Ed note: I did get more specifics the next day, as you'll see in my next note to Hoyt. It turns out that Speliotis, the Executive Director of NY's ACORN Housing was not even in the office on the day that O'Keefe and Giles came in for the interview. She told me, among other things, the next day that, "The only time I ever saw these folks was from the video." More details in my next note to Hoyt. - BF]

On the second assertion, the only visual evidence you point me towards, or that I'm aware exists anywhere, to directly support the Times reporting on this, you wrote, "take a look at this link and go to the 6:12 mark…etc." But it looks as if you forgot to include the link you referenced. So, I'm going to presume you're referring to Part II of the DC video (since u mention DC later in the graf) as released by O'Keefe and Brietbart on 9/9/09 right here. If you are referring to another video, of course, one that was not released publicly as part of Breitbart's releases via BigGovernment.com, please let me know. Particularly as Greg was unwilling to offer the video which he wrote about via email to say: "At one point, the camera was turned in such a way to catch part of the 'costume' he was wearing".

There is a shot, represented as the pair leaving the DC office, at the 6:12 mark in that DC video, so that's what I presume you're looking at, unless informed otherwise. [Ed note: Hoyt's assistant Michael followed up to confirm that this is the video Hoyt meant to link to. - BF]

Here's what is at that 6:12 mark on that video:

You wrote about that frame and what follows it:

As O'Keefe is leaving the DC Acorn office, you will see his reflection in a plate glass window. You have to look closely, but it appears he is wearing the hat that is part of the outfit, and it appears to me that he is wearing other parts of the outfit. The brim of the hat appears briefly in the frame just seconds later, as the camera is jostled leaving the premises.

The shot above does seems to show a reflection of someone, but in a white long sleeve shirt with the cuffs unbuttoned or rolled up, and dark pants. I see no black fedora-like hat that is a part of his pimp outfit. And then the camera jostles, as you describe, for appx 24 frames before we see this shot of O'Keefe in that black fedora, black jacket and tie, and fur cape, at 6:18:

In the intervening frames, you say you're able to make out "The brim of the hat appears briefly in the frame just seconds later, as the camera is jostled leaving the premises".

Those 24 frames, examined frame-by-frame as I have posted for you here, in order, do not appear to show a "hat that is part of the outfit" or any other "parts of the outfit" as you suggest. Not to my eyes anyway.

However, something white (not black, like the hat he is seen wearing above in the following shot) is seen as the frame-by-frame analysis reveals a hand, and then what appears to most likely be O'Keefe's sleeve at the elbow in a white oxford shirt (consistent with the reflection you noticed), then his hand again, reaching up to presumably turn off the hidden camera.

As mentioned, I've posted every video frame for you, in order, from that sequence, so you can confirm if this is what you were referring to, right here: http://www.bradblog.com/?page_id=7698

Here are just a few of those 24 frames that I believe you're referring to, in order, before the shot switches to a cut-away, shot separately, featuring O'Keefe in his outlandish black jacket, tie, gaudy fur cape and black hat:















There is no evidence of any other part of what he is wearing in those shots that I can see, other than the white sleeve, but please let me know if you see anything I may have missed.

Moreover, at the beginning of that DC video (Part I), just after O'Keefe is heard telling the receptionist "My girlfriend's a prostitute", the office worker then introduces him to the two workers featured in the bulk of the tape by saying "This gentleman is a law student at Georgetown."

From your description of what you say you're able to see in the window reflection above --- the only publicly released visual evidence that anybody has so far claimed that they are able to see of O'Keefe dressed as a pimp almost inside an office to my knowledge --- she has just introduced the guy seen in the last frame above, in the outlandish fur cape, black fedora hat, etc. with a straight face, as "a law student at Georgetown".

Funny looking outfit to introduce him merely as a Georgetown law student, but okay.

She did this on July 25, 2009, according to O'Keefe's voiceover on the tape --- mid-summer in July in D.C., when the Washington Post reported temperatures that day were from 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit. So we must accept that with 90 degree weather, this "law student at Georgetown" was wearing a fur cape over a dark jacket and tie, even though the reflection seems to be of someone in a long sleeve white shirt with the cuffs rolled up or open. And yet nobody on the tape has said a word about the ridiculous outfit or even blinked an eye. Nobody.

This is all, admittedly, a ridiculous length to go to, of course, to make the point that the information the Times seems to have relied on when filing report after report after report suggesting, or outright saying, that he was dressed as that infamous pimp character that everyone has now seen him in, and believe that he wore in front of those "stupid" ACORN employees (no wonder they need to have all their funding removed and be put out of business!) is incredibly thin for the "paper of record", even with every benefit of the doubt.

From last September's reported "outlandish" and "gaudy guise" that so many have now seen on TV --- but never in any ACORN office --- all the way through December, after Harshbarger's unmentioned-in-the-Times report, and all the way through the end of January when he was described as "dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group Acorn" as Rutenberg and Robertson reported on Jan. 30, 2010.

It's a ridiculous length to make this point, but all of this matters. Big time. Among the two largest reasons: A) Because he's now facing federal felony charges and his past credibility is important to the future proceedings and B) Because these videos, and the Times reports on them, resulted in the U.S. CONGRESS(!) passing legislation to deny them federal funding based on what appears to be an entirely phony premise which both O'Keefe and Breitbart knowingly misrepresented publicly, and that the Times went along with, in error, time and again. All of this while the Times, I know for a fact, is very well aware of the years-long rightwing attack on this group, where one falsehood after another has been alleged as based on a partisan political agenda to put these guys --- who legally register millions of low and middle-income citizens (who vote overwhelmingly Democratic) to legally vote --- out of business. The Times has been very good on reporting that part of the GOP/ACORN story. But horrible on this aspect, I'm sorry to say.

Finally, though I do a great deal of investigative reporting for a number of other media outlets, most of my work is on my own blog. Yet, I would be laughed outta "the business" if I even tried to support my reporting with a reason resembling the one first offered for all of this by your Senior Editor for Standards, Greg Brock, when he, incredibly, asserted:

Our article included that description because Mr. O'Keefe himself explained how he was dressed --- and appeared on a live Fox show wearing what HE said was the same exact costume he wore to ACORN's offices.

If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct.

Fox News? "We believe him"? Those are now the standards for supporting the reporting at the "paper of record"?! Without an even "as he said", or "according to Fox News"?

Do you suppose Andrew Breitbart or the other folks on the Right would accept reporting as fact, based on sourcing such as "Nancy Pelosi said so on MSNBC, so we believe her" when all available evidence pointed to the fact that Pelosi was lying and MSNBC was out and out flat wrong? They would demand a retraction or correction, they'd be right to do so, and the Times would most likely offer it.

When O'Keefe was on that live Fox show that Greg Brock referenced (and linked to in his email), Fox's Steve Doocy introduced him, as he sat on the couch in that pimp outfit, by saying, "He's dressed exactly in the same outfit that he wore to these ACORN offices up and down the Eastern Seaboard." O'Keefe didn't say a word in disagreement.

Yet we know, if only from the shots of his white cuffs in the NY video, and from what appears to be his white shirt sleeves in DC, that that is not true. Nonetheless, Greg says the NYTimes included that description, because of that appearance.

Later, when called on that, Greg asserted new reasons --- remarkable in and of itself for the Sr. Editor of Standards who by his own 2007 assertion is the Times' "senior editor who oversees corrections". The new reasons mirror the same ones you mentioned, and which I examined above:

"At one point, the camera was turned in such a way to catch part of the 'costume' he was wearing. And ACORN employees who saw him described his costume. … We stand by our reporting."

Yet he then refused to offer evidence for either of those two claims. In the first instance suggesting the video was not publicly released (you suggest otherwise), and in the second, asserting that someone else --- not the Times or Rutenberg, as you suggest --- had carried out interviews with employees (plural) who "described the costume".

Short of the ACORN employee you mention offering some kind of confirmation to the specifics of the "outlandish" and "gaudy guise" the paper has reported he wore, or some other instance of some ACORN worker somewhere describing the costume, it seems very clear that the NYTimes has been presumably-unknowingly reporting a purposely forwarded fiction, a hoax, meant to enhance a political hit-job story with a spectacular, if phony, visual exclamation mark. It seems they have done so with virtually zero evidence to back up that reporting.

I don't meant to suggest anything nefarious having been done by the paper. But I do mean to highlight what, by all available evidence, seems to be a massive fail, for whatever reason, particular for what is still the "paper of record".

"If there is a correction to be made," Times Senior Editor for Standards Greg Brock wrote in those emails, "it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."

Mr. Hoyt, as the Public Editor, you are the only hope the public has for seeing accountability and accuracy at the world's most important newspaper in situations like this. I urge you to re-examine this matter very carefully, to call me anytime --- I work all weekend, all day, all night --- to further discuss any questions you may have here on any of these points or any others. But I urge you to review all of the above carefully and thoughtfully, along with its copious supporting evidence, and ask yourself if the apparently wholly un-supported marquee claim-to-fame for O'Keefe's blockbuster videos which had very serious real-world consequences reaching all the way to the desk of the President of the United States, was supported by enough evidence to merit unqualified reporting in the pages of the Times, over and again, as part of "all the news that's fit to print".

Unfortunately, the claim doesn't seem "fit to print" in the slightest.

Respectfully,
Brad Friedman
[phone number redacted for privacy]

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, February 13, 2010 3:50 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: RE: CLARK: Following Up on Bizarre emails with Greg Brock

Clark -

Hopefully you received my detailed response to yours last night. As promised, I said I'd follow up on the assertion you offered vis a vis Rutenberg that Ismene Speliotis, a supervisor at the NY office, confirmed the reporting of O'Keefe having worn his pimp costume in that office. I have now spoken directly to Speliotis, the Executive Dir at NY ACORN Housing Co., and though says she didn't remembering saying what you have attributed Rutenberg as telling you about their conversation, she fervently noted that she was not in the office that day, and did not see the pair. She says that what she must have been describing to Rutenberg when they spoke "six months ago", was what she "was told by my staff [had] happened".

She adds: "The only time I ever saw these folks was from the video."

Specifically, you wrote:

Isemene Speliotis, who supervised the Acorn employees in the New York videos, told Rutenberg that she was especially disappointed that they gave advice to O'Keefe and Hannah Giles because the pair looked so ridiculous they could not possibly have been for real.

All of which both Speliotis, as well as another senior official in the NY office who was there, and who says did see the pair, fervently and directly dispute.

Said Speliotis when I spoke to her today by phone:

"I was at a meeting that day. I didn't hear about this until later. The only time I ever saw these folks was from the video. "

"I spoke to my staff and they said that she was dressed inappropriately, and that he said he was a banker, I don't think he was wearing a jacket, because it was summer, but that he was in a regular shirt and pants."

(As to Hoyt's quote from Rutenberg): "I don't remember saying this. It's a strange thing to say. It was six months ago, but I didn't see these folks, I was told by my staff what happened."

"When we (Rutenberg and I) were talking, it was a lot more to do with the regular employees and how we conduct our business, because I wasn't there that day."

"It's a large office, and there are a lot of people in that office, and they could tell you what they were wearing. There are a lot of people, like 50 people there."

So one of the two reasons for NYTimes standing behind their reporting of O'Keefe dressed as a pimp in ACORN offices seems to be completely false, from my reporting.

(The other point you offered, that "O'Keefe is [seen] leaving the DC Acorn office" in the publicly released video, where you suggested "you will see his reflection in a plate glass window [and] it appears he is wearing the hat that is part of the outfit, and it appears to me that he is wearing other parts of the outfit. The brim of the hat appears briefly in the frame just seconds later, as the camera is jostled leaving the premises" is an assertion that I spoke to in detail last night as also appearing to be completely incorrect. That, based on both the frame-by-frame screen-grab analysis of the moment you mention in that video, as well as the other information and evidence I offered to underscore the great likelihood that O'Keefe was not wearing that "outlandish" and "gaudy" guise in the DC office, as reported by the Times. The paper, of course, has presented zero evidence that he was dressed that way, to my knowledge. Yet I'm forced to report on a negative here.)

Moreover, another senior ACORN official (who has asked not to be named publicly) was at the NY office that day, and confirms that Speliotis was not in that office that day, and that O'Keefe was not dressed as the pimp character in the office where Rutenberg suggests Speliotis suggested that he was.

Specifically, this ACORN official writes via email today:

"[Speliotis] did not see them; I was in the office and did not see the pimp outfit"

"Everyone in the office was more focuses [sic] on her clothes and those that more directly paid attentuon [sic] said what we all knew to be true...only one was dressed weirdly"

I hope to have still more in the future, for publication soon, to underscore the impossible-to-avoid point that the Times simply blew it here.

But again. It seems remarkable to me, as a journalist, that what's been shared so far to support the Times repeated reporting on this matter, versus the mountain of material suggesting the complete opposite (none of which has ever been even mentioned by the Times to my knowledge!) would be enough for the Times to go with. It wouldn't be enough for me to use to support a story at a blog, much less the "paper of record" in multiple instances on something as key and important as this.

Again I request that you seriously re-review this matter, beginning with Scott Shane's inaccurate and direct reporting in mid-September, and I hope that you will recommend not only a correction, but:

  • an examination of where the Times fell down here;
  • how the most Senior Editor for Standards, "who oversees corrections" at the paper could fail so wildly and so fervently and be so easily duped as to rely on Fox News' second hand reporting and an accused felon's failure to correct them;
  • how the paper will avoid these sorts of errors in the future;
  • a recommendation that the paper publish a story detailing what REALLY happened with those ACORN tapes, how the Times blew it, and what they intend to do to get it right instead in the future.

Best,
Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 3:49 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: CLARK: Follow-up on O'Keefe/Pimp issue?

Clark -

As others are about to jump in on this issue, concerning the misreports by the Times (and others), I wanted to touch base quickly you.

I've been waiting to post your initial response to my initial query publicly, along with my two responses to it (which I'll assume you've received by now?) until you had time to review them, in case you wished to change your initial assessment that you "would not recommend a correction, based on the available evidence", given the additional evidence I've now sent you.

Do you intend to respond to those two responses? Don't wish to sandbag you (or anybody), by posting those until and unless you had the opportunity to respond to them.

Please let me know, as folks have been asking if I've heard back from you, and I haven't wanted to mention anything until you had time to assess the additional evidence I'd sent you in return.

Best,
Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

From: Public/NYT/NYTIMES [mailto:public@nytimes.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:48 PM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: Re: CLARK: Follow-up on O'Keefe/Pimp issue?

Brad,

I have received your two responses and undertook a more complete review of this whole matter as a result. I'll explain it to you. I haven't had a chance to give you a full reply, but will do so as quickly as I can.

Best,

Clark

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 11:05 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: RE: CLARK: Follow-up on O'Keefe/Pimp issue?

Thanks, Clark. Just finishing up with 2 hours w/ Breitbart on the air, in which he's now claimed he never said O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp in those offices. Rather incredible, actually. (Happy to share the audio if you want it, feel you can stomach it :-)

That, despite his own Sep 21, 2009 Washington Times column after the first tape came out, in which he said: "When filmmaker and provocateur James O'Keefe came to my office to show me the video of him and his friend, Hannah Giles, going to the Baltimore offices of ACORN - the nation's foremost "community organizers" - dressed as a pimp and a prostitute and asking for - and getting - help for various illegal activities, he sought my advice."

Baltimore Sun wrote: "A young man and woman, dressed as caricatures of a pimp and prostitute, walk into the Baltimore office of ACORN"

Many others as well.

Obviously, that's the way the story was sold. To everyone. NYTimes was not the only one who bought it, because they were purposely hoodwinked by O'Keefe. Not trying to suggest Times did anything nefarious, as I previously noted. Just that they were wrong, got suckered, and owe a correction and explanation to the American people. I thought that would have happened once the matter was pointed out to Greg Brock, and was taken aback that, instead, he tried to justify it with Fox News & O'Keefe: "We believe him." Etc.

I will look forward to your thoughts. And will hold release of any of our emails until after you get that chance to reply.

Brad

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 1:16 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: CLARK: More evidence O'Keefe NOT dressed as pimp

Clark -

An article from the New Orleans investigative site "The Lens", published on Jan 27, after O'Keefe's arrest in NOLA, details how he was dressed and/or represented himself in each video:
"O'Keefe: Neither pimp nor journalist"
http://thelensnola.org/archives/3666

Today's column by Eric Boehlert at Media Matters details not only the Times coverage, and their refusal to correct and reasons for that refusal, but also quotes one media outlet after another who took the same bait following O'Keefe's media appearances as the "pimp" on Fox, and Breitbart's own Sept 21, 2009 Washington Times column which made the same, spectactular, though inaccurate claim:
"James O'Keefe and the myth of the ACORN pimp"
http://mediamatters.org/columns/201002170008

Hope those are helpful. Look forward to hearing from you, and let me know if I can help with any additional information.

Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

From: Public/NYT/NYTIMES [mailto:public@nytimes.com]
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:32 PM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: Full Response from Clark Hoyt

Dear Brad,

Sorry to be so long getting back to you with a full response. As I mentioned, after your detailed reply, I asked my assistant, Michael McElroy, to look at all the available ACORN videos, which he has done. I looked at them quite a long time ago, before this question of dress arose, and I decided it would be good to get a fresh pair of eyes on the case.

Michael said there is no video that clearly shows James O'Keefe in his pimp garb inside an ACORN office. In most of them, as you know, you don't see him in the office at all, presumably because he's the one with the hidden camera. Michael found at least one video showing O'Keefe entering an office in a button-down shirt. He does not think that the reflection in the window that I pointed out to you shows O'Keefe in his pimp costume. I'm prepared to accept that judgment, because I found it hard to tell what is in that reflection.

Unless something more surfaces, I don't see visual evidence to support O'Keefe's claim to Fox News about what he wore. At the same time, I don't find the report commissioned by ACORN to be conclusive in the other direction. The report acknowledges that it relied on "hearsay" evidence, because the investigators did not interview the employees caught on O'Keefe's hidden camera.

Under the circumstances, I am recommending to Times editors that they avoid language that says or suggests that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp when he captured the ACORN employees on camera. I still don't see that a correction is in order, because that would require conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong, which I haven't seen. The Times could seek out all the employees, but I don't think that's a realistic prospect worth the investment of effort.

That's especially true because, at the end of the day, whatever O'Keefe wore, he clearly presented himself to the ACORN employees in a pimp relationship with Hannah Giles. Unless you are prepared to contend that all of his comments captured on the tapes were dubbed in later, I think you have to acknowledge that he and the employees were talking about hiding money from prostitution, smuggling in under-age girls from abroad and even financing a political campaign with her earnings. The notion that the ACORN workers were somehow hoodwinked into believing that he was a college student trying to save his girlfriend from a life of prostitution --- and that they were reacting out of sympathy --- strikes me as a literally incredible effort to rewrite the obvious record.

What O'Keefe did was journalistically unethical, in my view, and perhaps even illegal in at least one state. But what his camera captured caused even ACORN to fire and discipline some of its employees.

I hope this is helpful,

Best,

Clark

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2010 11:16 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: RE: Full Response from Clark Hoyt

Clark -

Thank you for the full reply. I cannot tell from the response whether you actually read all of mine, or your assistant Michael did, but I presented a good deal of additional evidence to show that, in fact, O'Keefe was NOT wearing his pimp outfit in the offices claimed by the New York Times incorrectly on numerous occasions, including in the two different Scott Shane articles I previously quoted to you.

When Shane described O'Keefe as having "visited Acorn offices in Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Bernardino, Calif. … dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risque high school play." (9/15/10) and then as in "the gaudy guise of pimp and prostitute through various offices of Acorn" (9/18/09), the paper was simply, and indisputably wrong. In a very best case scenario, the paper had absolutely no actual evidence to support those contentions at the time they made them.

And yet, on 9/17/09, just after Shane's first article in the New York Times, both the House and Senate began legislation that would be passed and signed by the President of the United State to deprive ACORN of millions of dollars used to help the poorest among us.

The Times has never corrected the error or noted that they had no evidence for the claim, even now, six months later. Yet, you chided the paper, in your own column, for being "slow off the mark" for having waited "nearly a week after the first video was posted" for not covering the story quickly enough. A special editor was then even assigned, based on your recommendations, to devote attention to "issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio" thereafter.

And yet, six months later, and despite all the available evidence showing the Times was simply out-and-out wrong, and the U.S. Congress and President of the United States having acted following the incorrect coverage, and after the Times Senior Editor for Standards(!) could source only Fox News and O'Keefe himself along with other non-existent "evidence" to support their reporting, all of which I directly and specifically refuted to you, with actual reporting, you "still don't see that a correction is in order".

You'll pardon me, but that is extraordinary.

You go on to write that Harshbarger's report "relied on 'hearsay'" evidence, which is true because both O'Keefe and Giles refused to be interviewed or to supply the unedited video for some reason (which O'Keefe and Breitbart still refuse to release today for some reason), and because the ACORN employees in question had understandable legal concerns.

Nonetheless, the New York Times failed to even report on the report itself, either when it was released, or even by mentioning it in subsequent reports on the O'Keefe "pimp" story in multiple stories that followed its release.

You write: "I still don't see that a correction is in order, because that would require conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong, which I haven't seen."

So if I understand this correctly: No evidence, none, zero exists to show that the Times was correct in their multiple reports of O'Keefe dressed as a pimp, but "conclusive evidence" is required to show the reports were wrong?!

That, even though conclusive evidence has been given to you to show that there is NO evidence that he was dressed that way, other than his own agreement with a Fox News anchor on TV?!

With all due respect, I continue to be gobsmacked here.

You wrote: "The Times could seek out all the employees, but I don't think that's a realistic prospect worth the investment of effort."

Yes, the Times could and the Times should. We are talking about a total of four offices, since, in the case of Shane's first inaccurate report, there were only tapes from four offices released (Baltimore, D.C., NY and San Bernardino, CA) before he described O'Keefe as being "dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risque high school play" and before Congress voted to defund the organization of millions of dollars.

I have already given you the testimony of two such employees from the New York office in my previous email. That leaves employees from just three offices for the Times reporters seek out, in order to confirm what the video tape evidence says, what the former MA Attorney General says, what ACORN themselves say as based on their interviews with their own employees --- and what you admit in your own responses to be what all indications show.

Given that the Times' incorrect by-all-assessments reports have undoubtedly helped in the loss of millions of dollars to a community group often serves as the only ones willing to help the least fortunate citizens in this country, with some of the most basic needs, I believe it is well "worth the investment of efforts" to set the story straight, especially for those who have had to pay a serious price following the Times inaccurate reports.

I am happy to make those contacts and report them to you myself, But it would certainly be more credible if your own reporters did so first hand --- since they were the ones who reported the unsubstantiated claims --- and then reported back to the readers on what they found. I am confident in what they will learn after a few phone calls. "Conclusive evidence" that their reports were wrong.

But if my making those calls is the only option, I'd hope that if I give you direct quotes from the other three offices, with names to go with them, that you would THEN recommend a correction, retraction, apologies, investigation and explanation for all of this very serious case of "journalistic malpractice" as James O'Keefe himself likes to describe it.

As to your contentions concerning what you believe the highly-doctored and heavily-overdubbed videos show, it seems clear that you haven't bothered to read any of the actual text transcripts that were released with them.

While we can't know if the text transcripts O'Keefe released were accurate, since he refuses to release the audio tape, what they do show is a starkly different picture than what is on the video tapes. If you have any doubt, I suggest you actually read them.

Your contentions are clearly (and understandably) biased by the videos which offer a very different picture from what actually happened in those offices, according to the transcripts. I'll not continue this already long email by detailing specifics of how, except to say that, contrary to what I read as your impressions, in every office the workers advised the pair that they must legally pay their taxes (not hide the income as you suggest), no matter where it comes from. In every office the workers were told a house was needed to escape an abusive pimp who had been abusing and stalking the girl. In each and every office, workers, in various ways, advised the girl (and O'Keefe, her "boyfriend" trying to help her escape) to rethink what they were doing, and frequently offered her help, women's shelters etc.

But none of that makes any difference whatsoever here when it comes to the New York Times reporting the story accurately as it is "fit to print".

I appreciate that you may not care for ACORN, for whatever reason, and you may even be offended by what the doctored-videos appear to show about the low-level employees (no supervisors nor senior staffers) who violated ACORN's written protocols in various instances, and were fired immediately for having done so. But your paper's failure to follow appropriate journalistic protocols for vetting information before reporting it, and then failing to correct it when all evidence shows that it was blatantly wrong --- where no evidence, none, exists to show that they were correct --- is a sorry state for the "paper of record" to be in.

Whatever the employees of ACORN did or didn't do, does not exonerate the New York Times for having reported the story inaccurately, time and time again.

It seems as if your view of this matter has been to go about finding ways to not recommend transparent, corrective action for the paper, rather than do what is obviously appropriate here.

That is a tremendous disappointment, to say the least, and one that, again, I hope you will take the time consider carefully.

With all due respect here, Clark, you and Greg Brock are just dead wrong. I've shown you as much over and again. In the bargain, I'd suggest the damage done, to ACORN --- to the hundreds of thousands of families they serve --- and to the journalistic profession itself are, indeed, well "worth the investment of effort" that would be required to undo.

I believe any honest, sober assessment of the facts --- including the evidence I've sent you already, and more that I can keep sending --- bears that out.

Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

[On the following morning, after sending the above, Washington Indepedent reporter David Weigel interviewed Hannah Giles, the purported "prostitute" in the ACORN videos, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in D.C.. She confirmed to him, as The BRAD BLOG reported later that day, that, in fact, O'Keefe never wore the pimp costume in ACORN offices! This is the note I dashed off to Hoyt as that news was breaking.]

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Friday, February 19, 2010 11:52 AM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: CLARK: Giles admits O'Keefe never dressed as Pimp!

Clark -

Following up on last night's note, I hope Hannah Giles comments today at CPAC, as reported by David Weigel finally meet the "conclusive evidence" bar to prove that the NYTimes was repeatedly wrong, even as there seems to be no bar whatsoever, to follow your logic, for evidence needed to prove that they were right.

Weigel at Washington Independent today:

I asked Giles about a criticism that's often been leveled against them - that they hyped up the video by wearing outrageous clothes in promotional materials and the videos' introductions that they didn't wear in the actual stings.

"We never claimed that he went in with a pimp costume," said Giles. "That was b-roll. It was purely b-roll. He was a pimp, I was a prostitute, and we were walking in front of government buildings to show how the government was whoring out the American people."

Brad

Brad Friedman
Publisher/Editor, The BRAD BLOG
http://www.BradBlog.com
Twitter: @TheBradBlog.com

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, February 20, 2010 1:28 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: Breitbart now also CONFIRMS pimp story was fake

Clark -

Again today, via David Weigel at Washington Examiner. A sarcastic, but yet another confirm that Breitbart and O'Keefe lied, and the NYTimes was fooled by it. This time from Breitbart himself now that Giles has given him no choice:

The liberal news watchdog group [Media Matters] has been demanding retractions from anyone who reported that James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles wore outlandish outfits inside of ACORN offices. They dressed more demurely during the sting than in b-roll and publicity shots which, Giles told me, were meant to illustrate how the government was whoring out the American people. After Giles introduced Breitbart ("my boss"), the founder of Big Government, he aimed and fired at the people who'd been trying to knock down his story with that argument.

"I have to apologize to the nation because the pimp in the pimp and prostitute video apparently wasn't dressed like a flamboyant pimp," said Breitbart, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'm so sorry to this nation. I don't know what to say."

[Audio of Breitbart here.]

Do you intend to revisit your previous assessments at this point concerning retractions, corrections and investigations by the Times as to how they got this story so terribly wrong, and at such a costly price to so many?

Brad

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Monday, February 22, 2010 3:52 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES'
Subject: Last Chance for Reconsider: Breitbart & Giles (Again) Confrim Pimp Scam

Clark -

Have been holding off posting your emails, still, in hopes that you'd re-consider your previous positions, particularly in light of the Breitbart --- and now Hannah Giles confirmation (this time on video) --- that O'Keefe never wore his pimp costume into ACORN offices, where he instead represented himself as a conservatively dressed college student trying to save her from an evil pimp. All in direct contradiction to multiple reporting by the NYTimes.

Here are two more confirmation stories since I last contacted you:

Will be running your emails on Wednesday, unless I otherwise hear from you that you plan to change what has become an untenable position for the paper and for its Public Editor, in my opinion.

Best,
Brad

UPDATE 2/24/10: Hoyt responds to our latest email and this article, accusing The BRAD BLOG of having a "political agenda" on par with O'Keefe and Breitbart. Also, blogosphere issues blistering responses, petition, call for Hoyt to step down. Full details, Hoyt's email response, right here...

UPDATE 3/1/10: Exclusive Video: Breitbart offers manic admissions about O'Keefe ACORN hoax, says he "had no idea" O'Keefe not dressed as pimp, compares it to Borat. Details...

UPDATE 3/1/10: Brooklyn D.A. ends 5-month ACORN probe, finds "no criminality" in tapes, calls them "highly edited splice job". Full details...

UPDATE 3/2/10: NYT Public Editor Hoyt depicted "as weasel" in political cartoon for comments made to The BRAD BLOG. Details...

UPDATE 3/10/10: Another legal victory for ACORN. Federal judge rules Congressional funding ban 'unconstitutional'. Details...

UPDATE 3/11/10: Media watchdog FAIR slams 'wildly misleading' coverage by NYT. Details...

UPDATE 3/12/10: 'The Times Botched Story' says author, President of National Housing Inst. on Democracy Now!. Details, video...

UPDATE 3/20/10: NYT PUBLIC EDITOR FINALLY ADMITS ACORN 'PIMP' HOAX REPORTING FAILURE: 'TIMES WAS WRONG, I HAVE BEEN WRONG DEFENDING PAPER' ... Clark Hoyt says in Sunday column 'editors considering correction'. Full details here...

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