Clark Hoyt says in Sunday column 'editors considering correction'
Also concedes paper 'should have' covered former MA AG's early-December report finding no criminality in 'heavily edited' sting videos
By Brad Friedman on 3/20/2010, 11:20pm PT  

"The Times was wrong…and I have been wrong in defending the paper's phrasing."

Even as the New York Times once again misreported the ACORN "Pimp" Hoax on its pages in a report on the community organization's possible declaration of bankruptcy in Saturday's paper, their Public Editor (ombudsman) Clark Hoyt finally admits in his column tonight, for tomorrow's paper, that both he and the paper were "wrong" in their reports about rightwing dirty trickster James O'Keefe's "pimp" costume, adding that "editors say they are considering a correction."

Considering?! What exactly would be the hold up?

The paper and Hoyt, as The BRAD BLOG has been detailing for nearly two months now, were out and out wrong in their reports about O'Keefe, and what his highly-edited, heavily-overdubbed, secretly-taped videos misleadingly suggested to show, and in their failure to report exculpatory information, such as the refusal to release the unedited raw videos made by the rightwing propagandists, as well as the results of an investigation by MA's former Attorney General [PDF] finding no "pattern of illegal conduct" by ACORN employees as seen in the videos as published by the rightwing media mogul and fabulist Andrew Breitbart.

More than a month and a half after the paper's Senior Editor for Standards, Greg Brock, first attempted to defend the "paper of record's" reporting by pointing to Fox "News" and the accused felon O'Keefe himself in support of their inaccurate reports, as we exclusively detailed here, and more than a month and a half after Hoyt himself offered similar excuses and was shown that he was absolutely wrong, as we exclusively detailed here, the Public Editor offers his extremely reluctant mea culpa tonight in "The Acorn Sting Revisited" [emphasis added]:

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

The Times was wrong on this point, and I have been wrong in defending the paper's phrasing. Editors say they are considering a correction.

Hoyt also conceded in his long-overdue admission that the paper erred in failing to ever mention (until a story in today's paper finally!) the independent findings of former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger which were released on December 7th of last year....

The report by Harshbarger and Crafts was not covered by The Times. It should have been, but the Acorn/O'Keefe story became something of an orphan at the paper. At least 14 reporters, reporting to different sets of editors, have touched it since last fall. Nobody owns it. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said that, "sensing the story would not go away and would be part of a larger narrative," the paper should have assigned one reporter to be responsible for it.

Hoyt's hedged comment that "O'Keefe almost certainly did not go into the Acorn offices in the outlandish costume" is emblematic of his proclivity throughout the piece to continue supporting the Times deeply flawed reporting and their Senior Editor for Standards' inexcusable attempts to cover-up for same when he was first contacted about it.

There is no "almost certainly" about it. Hannah Giles, the pretend "prostitute", has now twice admitted (once on video tape) that O'Keefe never wore the pimp outfit in ACORN offices. "It was B-Roll," she said. Breitbart has also finally admitted the same, also on video. And if one watches the first video released closely, as I've previously pointed out to Hoyt, O'Keefe is actually seen, briefly, walking into the Baltimore office in normal slacks and shirt. Had the New York Times bothered to do a proper investigation, they'd have noted all of those points immediately.

And had they bothered to read or report on Harshbarger investigation and its finding, released on December 7th of last year but never, until today, reported by the NYTimes they would have found the clear, not "almost certain" statement: "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".

Following what Hoyt describes as letters from "hundreds of readers," a review of "the entire available public record" and interviews with several of the key players, including Breitbart (but not O'Keefe or his pretend girlfriend/prostitute in the videos, Hannah Giles, or any of the former ACORN employees stung on the tapes), Hoyt reluctantly admitted they'd gotten it wrong, but went on to spend much of his column defending what he believes the videos, which he now admits were "heavily edited," accurately portray.

Hoyt's original defense of the paper's repeated misreporting, as seen in an extraordinary chain of emails between him and me, included the defense that [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."

That jaw-dropping line brought calls for the Public Editor to step down, and his depiction "as a weasel" in a Tom Tomorrow comic strip, among other serious condemnations.

Since The BRAD BLOG's months-long exposé of the hoax, ACORN has launched a campaign demanding accountability from the Times and other media that similarly misreported the story, and last week the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) excoriated the paper and Hoyt for their coverage and their response to our reporting.

Last September, following pressure from rightwingers, Hoyt was quick to chide the paper in his column for being "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.

Yet it has now been six months since the "paper of record" first misreported the ACORN "Pimp" Hoax, and no such changes were announced for the paper in his column tonight.

That, even though their first misreport was followed the next day by a vote in the U.S. Congress to defund the organization. That legislation was recently overturned by a federal judge who found it to be an unconstitutional bill of attainder.

But the damage is already largely done. Other than Hoyt's too-little-too-late admissions tonight, there has been no real accountability for the Times' errors, or for the extraordinary irresponsible defense of those errors, as we highlighted in early February, by their Senior Editor for Standards, Greg Brock.

The damage done in the wake of the NYTimes journalist malpractice is detailed by Hoyt himself tonight:

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

In a statement sent to The BRAD BLOG tonight, Bertha Lewis, ACORN's CEO, said that "for ACORN as a national organization, our vindication on the facts doesn't necessarily pay the bills."

She went on to detail, again, the damage by the hoax that the New York Times was ultimately, knowingly or otherwise, complicit in: "ACORN has faced a series of well orchestrated, relentless, well funded right wing attacks that are unprecedented since the McCarthy era. Our effective work empowering African American and low income voters made us a target. The videos were a manufactured, sensational story that led to rush to judgment and an unconstitutional act by Congress."

Thanks in no small part to the failure by the New York Times, ACORN's 400,000 low-income member families in 75 different cities across the nation are now likely to find themselves without the services and support they needed most from the important community organization who often served as an indispensable life-line for many of those families in most need of those services.

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As noted, Hoyt spends much of his column still defending the rather indefensible failure by the paper. He reports that, though mistakes were made, he is still inclined to trust in the hoaxsters' own portrayal of inappropriate advice being offered by low-level ACORN workers in the edited videos ("The videos were heavily edited. The sequence of some conversations was changed," Hoyt now admits), and in the unauthenticated text transcripts and audio released by O'Keefe (who has long lied about the videos) and his employer Breitbart (who lied in his own Washington Times column about them as well, before being forced to change his story).

For example, Hoyt still believes that describing O'Keefe as Giles' "pimp" is an apt description. "If O’Keefe did not dress as a pimp," he writes tonight, "he clearly presented himself as one: a fellow trying to set up a woman — sometimes along with under-age girls — in a house where they would work as prostitutes."

But even a cursory examination of the text transcripts from the videos taped at the Brooklyn ACORN office --- originally reported as among the most damaging, even as it was recently found by the New York D.A. to reveal "no criminality" and to have been a "'highly edited' splice job," as reported by Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, if not the Times --- shows O'Keefe went out of his way to offer a different impression to those whose advice he was seeking in the videos.

O'Keefe represented himself, in all of the ACORN offices, as the conservatively dressed boyfriend of Giles hoping to help rescue her from an abusive pimp. Here, as you can see, are O'Keefe's only references to the word "pimp" in his own unauthenticated Brooklyn transcript [PDF]:

James: well the reason why we are rushing is because she was working for this pimp and he was very abusive
James: and that is why we were in a rush you know why I am excited and I know nothing about her business I am just trying to be here to be professional because ya know she walks in and but now we have this pimp discriminating against us
James: I know I have to worry about the pimp but he is illegal anyway he is not going to do anything to me who what do I have to be careful of?
James: Sonny is the pimp

Clearly, O'Keefe did not represent himself as "the pimp," as much as Hoyt still contends that he did. Even as Hoyt points to material in those unauthenticated transcripts which he believes suggests otherwise, reporting that O'Keefe "posed as a pimp" without noting the contradictory information is, again, journalistic malpractice. Hoyt fails to point this out.

The low-level workers --- no supervisory personnel or organizers are seen in the tapes --- may have failed to follow ACORN's written protocols, as the group conceded when the employees were released following the publication of the tapes. They may also have offered inappropriate advice while being misled to believe they were helping a young girl escape the clutches of an abusive pimp who had stalked and attempted to kill her.

Hoyt and his staff have clearly spent more time reporting on this story at this point than any of the paper's actual reporters have. While there remain plenty of points to quibble about in his column, and in his take on what happened in those ACORN offices, it's hard to imagine the paper spending as much time and energy, and filing as many reports, on a story that should have been so easily found to have been based on a lie. I suspect it would never have seen the light of day had it been proffered by a group of known political activists on the perceived Left.

A few minutes of skeptical reporting should have tipped off the Times immediately, as well as all the other media outlets that fell for it, that this story stank to high heaven.

Former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who was finally interviewed for the first time by Hoyt for tonight's column, is quoted this way:

[Harshbarger] also said the news media should have been far more skeptical, demanding the raw video from which the edited versions were produced. “It’s outrageous that this could have had this effect without being questioned more,” he said.

Nonetheless, Hoyt goes on to write, "Acorn’s supporters appear to hope that the whole story will fall apart over the issue of what O’Keefe wore: if that was wrong, everything else must be wrong. The record does not support them."

That "record" is one put forward still only by the hoaxsters O'Keefe, Giles, and Breitbart themselves. All three have now been shown to have out-and-out lied about this story from the very beginning. A close examination of that record and their story --- here is one that we did recently, and here is another, just by way of example --- quickly reveal their "record" to be full of lies in support of a hard rightwing partisan political agenda.

As the New York Daily News noted recently, but not the New York Times, quoting a law enforcement official involved in the Brooklyn D.A.'s investigation: "They edited the tape to meet their agenda." The NYTimes should have noted that "agenda" immediately, and taken precautions not to have been hoaxed by it. They didn't.

We don't "hope that the whole story will fall apart," as Hoyt suggests. What we hope is that our mainstream media will begin doing their job responsibly, by reporting facts skeptically, and independently verifying everything before they determine what constitutes "all the news that's fit to print," as the once-great New York Times' slogan used to claim. We also hope that when they are caught not having done so, they do the right thing by issuing an immediate and transparent correction, rather than making repeated and outrageous excuses for blatant and demonstrable misreporting.

Throughout all of this, the New York Times has failed to do the right thing. Until and unless the paper does, you can bet your bottom dollar it will make all of the same damaging mistakes again in the future.

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Finally, earlier today, as coincidence would have it, I had sent another note to Clark Hoyt and Sr. Editor for Standards Greg Brock after a story by Ian Urbina in today's paper had once again misreported the facts of the ACORN "Pimp" Hoax by again misleadingly describing O'Keefe as "posing as a...pimp" and inaccurately reporting that ACORN workers advised how to "avoid taxes."

Another reporter, Andy Newman, had done so in the paper recently as well, as I note in my email.

While I don't know Newman, I have had occasion to speak with Urbina over the years, and have found him to be a generally very good and responsible reporter. His editors should have caught his errors, particularly given the months-long hoopla about the paper's disastrous and controversial coverage of ACORN, but they didn't.

Urbina has not yet returned an email seeking comment on his story today. Neither Hoyt nor Brock have responded yet either to the note below, posted in full here, formatting and typos, etc. in the original...

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, March 20, 2010 1:24 PM
To: 'Public/NYT/NYTIMES' []
Cc: 'NYTimes, Senioreditor' []
Subject: CLARK - ACORN Followup

Clark -

I was disappointed to see the Times' Ian Urbina reporting today, inaccurately yet again, that O'Keefe was "posing as a…pimp" in the ACORN videos, particularly after you had written to me that you would be recommending 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 wasn't the only Times coverage which seems to have ignored your directive. On March 1, Andy Newman wrote in "Advice to Fake Pimp Was No Crime, Prosecutors Say": "Acorn employees in Brooklyn who were captured on a hidden camera seeming to offer conservative activists posing as a pimp and a prostitute" who would "funnel her earnings to her 'pimp.'"

Newman used the exact same language in a "City Room Blog" item earlier that day as well.

Moreover, Urbina's article today also misreports that ACORN workers advised to "avoid taxes," when they did just the opposite, in fact. All the workers seen on tape, according to the text transcripts, advised the "couple posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend" (as the AP has now correctly reported, in a story that was even reprinted at last week!) that they must declare their income and pay their taxes, even on ill-gotten gains!

I'm just flummoxed that the NYTimes continues to so grossly misreport this entire story, particularly as you had written to me that:

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.

Well surely you have now seen "conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong", since the "prostitute" Hannah Giles has now twice admitted (here and on video here) that the pimp footage was all fake, and even publisher Andrew Breitbart has admitted same (see Breitbart's admissions on video right here).

The only reason I can possibly fathom for this type of continued misreporting to be repeated yet again, after all this time, is a contention you made in one of your emails to me, which I thought I had already spoken to, alleging that "O'Keefe…clearly presented himself to the ACORN employees in a pimp relationship with Hannah Giles."

But he clearly didn't as any thorough analysis of O'Keefe/Breitbart's own text transcripts reveals as we detailed in our analyses of those transcripts here and here.

As I'm sure you even know by now, the Brooklyn DA's office has confirmed the hoax by concluding a 5-month investigation finding "no criminality", and telling media (as reported by the NYPost and NYDailyNews, but not the NYTimes, unfortunately!), that the pair "edited the tape to meet their agenda"; that it was "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"; and that "Many of the seemingly crime-encouraging answers were taken out of context so as to appear more sinister."

As I previously noted in one of our emails, it sounds as if you did NOT review the text transcripts published by O'Keefe and Breitbart. I don't know whether you have finally done so or not, as doing so --- or at least reviewing the analyses of them that I've linked above --- would likely inform what has been your apparent misperceptions about this entire fair. But given the Times continued misreporting, that even the AP has shown the correct journalistic practices by changing the language they used, it seems as though nothing has been learned here, and the Times is dead set on continuing to sully its reputation vis a vis continued journalistic malpractice.

I'm sure you've seen FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)'s coverage of your responses and of the Times' reporting by now, and I'm surprised you haven't finally clarified to all how things went terribly wrong at the "paper of record" by now.

I continue to hope, as I have from day one, that you will advise the paper to correct, retract, apologize and examine how they got the story so damagingly incorrect, so they can explain to readers how they will keep such disturbing errors from occurring in the future.


Brad Friedman
Publisher/Editor, The BRAD BLOG

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