NYT Admits Getting Duped on ACORN

The New York Times admits, sort of,
that it got duped by right-wing propagandists who appear to have
succeeded in a plot to destroy ACORN, an organization that has aided
and defended the poor and powerless across the United States for four
decades.

In an
op-ed column
Sunday, the Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt said he
has reviewed the available information and concluded that some key
points of the right-wing video presentation were false or misleading,
including the claim that right-wing media activist James O'Keefe showed
up at ACORN offices dressed in a pimp costume before getting legal
advice on setting up a brothel.

"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," Hoyt
wrote, adding that the Times was considering a correction regarding its
earlier reporting that had accepted this misleading point.

Hoyt also acknowledged
that perhaps the most damning part of the ACORN sting story was wrong:
ACORN staffers did not go along with a plan to use under-aged
Salvadoran girls as prostitutes. Indeed, the staffers may have thought
they were helping to protect the girls.

After reviewing
transcripts provided by a conservative organization, Hoyt accepted a
criticism of the Times made by the liberal media critics at Fairness
and Accuracy in Reporting, that the Times' earlier reporting on the
video gave the impression that O'Keefe and his supposed girlfriend were
going to exploit the girls as prostitutes. FAIR said the fuller
transcript suggests that the ACORN staffers thought the couple was
trying "to buy a house to protect child prostitutes from an abusive
pimp."

"That's right," Hoyt wrote,
regarding FAIR's characterization of the child-prostitute point.

However, Hoyt, who
earlier had chastised the Times for not jumping on the ACORN scandal
faster, insisted that the ACORN employees still deserved criticism
for not objecting to other apparent illegalities in O'Keefe's
fictitious schemes. Hoyt said the ACORN workers should have protested
any plans regarding a brothel, noting that one ACORN worker blithely
warned, "Don't get caught, 'cause it is against the law."

In other words, Hoyt
isn't ready to admit that he joined the Times in a rush to judgment
and thus helped destroy ACORN, which has seen its funding dry up, has
shuttered many of its offices, and is expected to file for bankruptcy
soon.

Liberal Fears

The ACORN case also
underscores how vulnerable liberal and leftist groups are to the
Right's enormous media power. One environmental activist told me
recently that every progressive organization in Washington lives in
fear that one mis-dotted "I"or one mis-crossed "T" could mean the end.

The massive right-wing
media - stretching from magazines, newspapers and books to radio, TV
and the Internet - also gives the Right the capability of stampeding
the mainstream press against some disfavored politician or even
against another media outlet that digs up unwelcomed information.

Think back, for instance,
to 2004 and how a few right-wing operatives smeared Sen. John Kerry
over his Vietnam War service, as CNN and other key mainstream outlets
bought into the tales.

Or how right-wing
bloggers put in play a claim that CBS's "60 Minutes -2" had published
bogus memos about George W. Bush blowing off his Vietnam-era National
Guard duty. The right-wing claim was that IBM Selectric typewriters in
the early 1970s couldn't do superscripts for the "th" or "st" after a
number, when, in fact, they could.

Even though the Selectric
claim proved false - and despite the fact that the content of the
purported memos was true - CBS succumbed to furious complaints from
Bush's media defenders. Four producers were fired; longtime anchor Dan
Rather was forced out; and the program was shut down.

So, from the point of
view of mainstream journalists, it's clear that the smart career path
is to run with the right-wing stampedes - and never to get caught in
the way.

Yet, the American Left
continues to downplay or ignore the need to support independent media
that could resist or counter the Right's pressures.

That means that virtually
all the meaningful pressure on the mainstream media comes from the
Right. The most that progressives can hope for is something like the
tepid commentary from Hoyt, in which a few points are accepted and the
Times is portrayed more as a victim than as part of a journalistic
lynch mob that dragged ACORN to its demise.

Regarding the point that
ACORN employees did not give helpful advice to some guy in a "pimp"
costume - since O'Keefe wasn't wearing the costume - Hoyt wrote: "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."

Even Andrew Breitbart,
the person who promoted the damaging video, conceded that the pimp
costume was a hoax. "I am under the impression that at no time was he
[O'Keefe] ever dressed as an elaborate pimp" in the ACORN offices,
Breitbart said.

Instead, O'Keefe
apparently was dressed quite respectably, wearing a blue shirt and
chinos. Hoyt said he could not reach O'Keefe - who was arrested
recently over another undercover video attempt which led to a criminal
charge for allegedly tampering with Sen. Mary Landrieu's office phones.

Regarding O'Keefe's pimp
costume, Hoyt concluded that "I am satisfied that The Times was wrong
on this point, and I have been wrong in defending the paper's
phrasing" of its stories, which included reference to O'Keefe's "gaudy
guise" as a pimp.

Hoyt also acknowledged
that the devastating charge that ACORN employees acquiesced to the use
of child prostitutes was misleading.

Defending the Times

Yet, despite those
admissions, Hoyt defended the overall negative tenor of the stories
about ACORN.

"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," Hoyt wrote.
"The record does not support them."

Hoyt argued that ACORN
employees still should have objected strenuously when O'Keefe and his
"prostitute" girl friend outlined illegal acts. Hoyt noted that even
ACORN officials have conceded that some low-level staffers were not
adequately trained in responding to such situations.

For its part, FAIR has
tried to push the onus onto the Times and other mainstream news outlets
that bought into the video uncritically. According to FAIR, the Times'
version of events was "wildly misleading."

In an "action alert,"
FAIR maintained that Hoyt and the Times failed to vet Breitbart's
online video to determine whether it was cut and spliced to make the
ACORN workers look bad. FAIR's complaint could apply to the rest of the
major U.S. news media, too.

This line of argument
has similarities to the Right's complaint about CBS using the
questioned National Guard memos about Bush in 2004. Even though those
memos were never shown to be fabrications, the producers were
nevertheless fired for not going the extra mile in authenticating them.

It is sure bet, however,
that no one at the Times will be fired for failing to fully check out
the anti-ACORN videos. At most, ACORN and its defenders might get a
mealy-mouthed "correction" from the Times that won't admit much and
may use the opportunity to reprise the attacks on ACORN.

While this media double
standard may be outrageous, it is what the American Left can expect
until it gets serious about investing in media.