James O'Keefe, the rightwing political operative made famous by masquerading as an investigative journalist while producing bogus videos using hidden cameras, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a suit brought by a former employee of the now defunct community organizing group ACORN.
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was founded in the 1970's to help organize low-income communities. Focusing on issues of economic justice and voter access, at its peak the group counted over 500,000 members in more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the U.S.
But in 2009, O'Keefe and his associate, Hannah Giles, released a fraudulent video which purported to show ACORN employees offering encouraging advice to a pimp and his young prostitute. Specific to the deception, however, was selective editing of the final video which showed O'Keefe and Giles dressed in stereotypical 70's-style "pimp and prostitute garb" while in reality they entered the offices wearing contemporary and modest clothing.
Though details soon surfaced that the videos were largely fabricated, the damage to ACORN was already done.
Following the media debacle that ignored the ample evidence showing the deceptive nature of the stunt, ACORN was eviscerated when a pliant Congress stripped the organization of key status and funding, leaving it unable to continue its work.
Or, as the Wonkette, which first broke news of the settlement, colorfully describes the story:
ACORN was a community organizing group that became the locus of phantasmically baroque conspiracy theorizing in the build-up to the 2008 presidential election, first by the usual sad idiots, but inevitably by the seemingly rational journalists who must cover the sad idiots to pay their mortgages. ACORN attracted this negative attention, in part, because of its large and effective voter registration drives, which enfranchised record numbers of minority and low-income voters, who are demographically likely to vote for Democratic Party candidates. The sad idiots believed there was a collusion scheme between ACORN and a former employee of the group, who happened to be that year’s Democratic Presidential candidate.
And as John Atlas and Peter Dreier explained at Common Dreams at the time:
The stories planted during and after the  election season yielded a bountiful crop of misinformation The mainstream news media was unwittingly complicit in the conservative campaign to frame ACORN. For example, a study of media coverage of ACORN found that over half (55%) of the all stories about ACORN during 2007 and 2008 focused on "voter fraud," while few stories reported on its grassroots organizing work. Moreover, 80 percent of the print and broadcast stories about ACORN's alleged voter fraud (and 63 percent of the Times' stories) failed to mention that ACORN itself was reporting voter-registration irregularities to authorities, as required by law. The Times' coverage of ACORN was almost entirely negative; 56 percent of its stories focused on voter fraud and embezzlement.
Similarly, attacks against ACORN as a "criminal" organization have been a consistent mantra of the right and its business allies, who despise ACORN for its success at challenging the anti-consumer practices of banks and low-wage employers as well as its effective efforts to expand voting among the poor. But the fact that Rep. Darrel Issa and other ACORN opponents persistently claim that ACORN is criminal doesn't make it so -- a distinction that gets lost in the Times reporting. This attack line gained prominence when two conservative activists, Hanah Giles (claiming she was a prostitute) and James O'Keefe (claiming he was her friend), visited 10 ACORN offices with a hidden video camera and tried to trap the group's housing counseling staff into giving them advice about buying a home to use for their prostitution ring.
This week, however, one of the ACORN employees depicted in the O'Keefe video, Juan Carlos Vera, was given partial justice after O'Keefe agreed to pay a settlement and issue an apology for the 2009 episode.
As The Los Angeles Times reports:
As part of the settlement, O'Keefe says he "regrets any pain" suffered by Juan Carlos Vera, who was interviewed by O'Keefe and an associate in ACORN's office in National City, near the U.S.-Mexico border, on Aug. 18, 2009.
The video, aired repeatedly on television, appears to show that Vera was willing to help O'Keefe smuggle underage girls into the U.S. to act as prostitutes. O'Keefe and his associate, Hannah Giles, had gone to the ACORN office without an invitation.
In the settlement, O'Keefe says that before the video was shown on TV or posted on the Web, he was unaware of Vera's assertion that he had called the police to report O'Keefe and Giles for proposing an illegal act.