Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Debunking Some Emerging ACORN Liberal Myths

Debunking Some Emerging ACORN Liberal Myths

by Patterico on

This post debunks several liberal myths about ACORN that have emerged in recent weeks — many from Eric Boehlert of Media Matters and Brad Friedman.


Liberal Myth: James O'Keefe did not pretend to be a pimp inside ACORN. Instead, he merely presented himself as Hannah Giles's boyfriend, trying to help her escape from an abusive pimp.

Examples of the spreading of the myth:

Eric Boehlert:

O'Keefe pretended to be an aspiring pol, not pimp, in first ACORN vid.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon:

The video implies that the advice about the 13-year-olds was given with the intent of helping a pimp control them. This doesn't fit the circumstances. In fact, it appears that what happened was that employees were responding to requests on how to get young girls out of sex work, not keep them in.

Brad Friedman:

After not hearing from New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt for nearly a week — during which I'd sent him more and more indisputable evidence that Andrew Breitbart employee James O'Keefe never played his infamous "pimp" character in the offices of ACORN — he responded with a couple of blistering charges.

Brad Friedman again:

Though he can, perhaps, be forgiven there, given that Harshbarger's report had not yet come out confirming that O'Keefe neither dressed as a pimp, nor represented himself as such. Rather, O'Keefe told ACORN workers that he was a college student considering a run for Congress someday, and was hoping to help the prostitute actually escape from an abusive pimp.

(Bold is mine.)


[O'Keefe] had dressed like a nice, young, preppie fellow, just trying to help this unfortunate young white girl caught in a bad situation in order to gain the ACORN workers' trust and compassion. He used his stereotypical innocent, youthful, studiously upstanding looks to create a false impression with the ACORN workers and then turned around and filmed some bogus footage of him dressed in a ridiculous pimp costume to give a false impression to the mostly white audience. It was a very clever way to use racial stereotypes on both groups to get what he wanted.

Dave Johnson at the Huffington Post:

In fact, O'Keefe was NOT "dressed as a pimp." He represented himself as a candidate for Congress who was trying to help women who were being exploited. He then doctored the resulting videotapes to make it appear that ACORN acted improperly.

Fact: James O'Keefe posed as a pimp. He repeatedly told ACORN employees that he was setting up a house where Giles and underage girls would turn tricks, and give the proceeds to O'Keefe, who planned to use them for a future Congressional campaign.

Let's take the Baltimore transcript — which is the first ACORN video, and therefore the one where Boehlert denies that O'Keefe pretended to be a pimp. Among other things, we see this:

Tonja: so the type of business okay … the type of business of service you provide let me make sure there is a code for it okay O'Keefe: A code for prostitution? Tonja: Well, yeah I have to have a name and a code number.

and this:

Tonja: they under sixteen so you don't worry about that, but on the other part of the form you can use them as a dependents because they live in your house they are under 16 and they are living in your house. Well you live in a boat but because you are taking care of them so you can use them as a dependent O'Keefe: What if they are going to be making money because they are performing tricks too Tonja: but if they making money and they are underage then you shouldn't be letting anybody know anyway.


O'Keefe: we want to use a lot of the money that we are getting Shira: you don't want to use all of it O'Keefe: No I am saying we want to use a lot of the cash for my campaign.

Similarly, at ACORN D.C., O'Keefe and Giles talk about setting up a house for Giles and several El Salvadorean girls who will be working for him. Giles says she will take the money and give it to O'Keefe, who says he is running for a local election. The ACORN worker tells O'Keefe to distance himself from the house of women of the night that Giles will be running because he is in political stuff and the revelation will be bad for him if people learn about the house of prostitution. Here are some quotes from the transcript which (like all ACORN transcripts) is supported by unedited audio:

James: So, I can be the one who ah, I have documentation right? So, I can, I can be the one basically put up the house for it and she can perform tricks in the house.

Acorn 3: Yep.

James: Okay, and well all those girls too? All those, there's like 10 girls? There's ten El Salvadoreans. . . .

Acorn 4: If you buy the home, you have no knowledge of what's goin' on in that home. He's just [garble] the landlord.

Acorn 3: You have no knowledge of what's goin' on, you just the landlord.

Acorn 4: You have no knowledge of what's goin' on, I'm just keeping it real – your just the landlord.

James: I'm just the landlord.

Acorn 4: You're just the landlord.

James: But, but, but…

Acorn 3: We know she's your girl friend, but we're talking about your career. How far you trying to go?

James: I'm using the money that she's getting, you know what I mean?

Acorn 3: Okay. But you don't know where its coming from.

Hannah: It's cash.

James: I, I, I personally know where its coming from.

Acorn 3: Right, but when the police ask you – you don't know where its coming from – that's what we're trying to tell you.

James: All right.

Acorn 3: We're looking out for you. . . .

Hannah: And I want him to be successful and why I'm working so hard and bringing these girls in so when he does run for office he has unlimited funds.

San Bernardino:

O'Keefe: . . . we wanna set up sort of like a business to do this type of thing and –

Theresa (ACORN): A prostitution business?

O'Keefe: That's right. . . .

Hannah (Eden): um I'm kinda familiar with that in Miami, but I also the guy that I'm supposed to be working for here just got a shipment or 12 El Salvadorean girls.

Theresa (Acorn): Oh, really?

Hannah (Eden): They're between the ages of twelve years old and 15, and if I can, which I think I because I do have some sort of relationship with them.

Theresa (Acorn): Mmm hmm.

Hannah (Eden): in the brief time I've come in contact. Would like to take them away from him . . . and use them for me, for myself and also to keep so they don't have to be subjected to a man . . . who is abusive . . . .

James: So basically we want . . . a house to put them in and we have been trying to go through the other authorities but they have been unhelpful with us because of, you know . . . they just you know they don't wanna deal with these sex sex girls coming in performing sex they think we don't wanna have anything to do with that. . . .

O'Keefe: But, one of the things I was one of the things we also wanna do um one of my goals you asked you asked do you know how you wanna do this, I think one of the goals is not only can Eden protect some of these 13, 14, 15 year-old girls.

Theresa (ACORN) Yeah.

O'Keefe: coming over from El Salvador. In addition to protecting them and getting their feet on the ground so that they can you know perform the tricks and you know learn the how LA prostitution scene is I was also wanting to um use some of the this is very lucrative and potentially we can use a lot of the money we're getting from the underaged girls from El Salvador and use some of the money for campaign one day . . . .

O'Keefe: We're bringing these girls from overseas.

Hannah (Eden) Well, they're here.

O'Keefe: But, we are gonna take a part of the profit and I intend to use the profit.

Theresa (ACORN): Right.

O'Keefe: From the tricks the girls perform.

Theresa (ACORN): Right.

O'Keefe: To fund my political campaign.

Theresa (ACORN): Right.

The videos go on and on like that.

Friedman, Boehlert, and others have glommed on to the fact that O'Keefe did not wear his pimp outfit inside ACORN. Pointing to various ambiguous statements or failures to correct others, they have argued that Breitbart and O'Keefe deliberately tried to suggest otherwise. Friedman and Boehlert have yet to explain how O'Keefe supposedly sought to advance this misdirection by showing himself walking into ACORN in a shirt and slacks — in the first few seconds of the very first video released to the public.

I have challenged Boehlert to say clearly whether O'Keefe ever posed as a pimp at ACORN. The offer stands at $200 simply to take a clear and unequivocal position, one way or another. It would take only 10 words and he could collect $200. Yet he won't do it. Could it be that, if he admits O'Keefe posed as a pimp, he would no longer be able to insinuate that he didn't by focusing on O'Keefe's manner of dress?


Liberal Myth: An "independent report" by a former Attorney General from Massachusetts establishes that the videos have been doctored in a misleading fashion. O'Keefe overdubbed voices to make it appear that ACORN employees were responding to one question, when in fact they were responding to a very different question.

Examples of the spreading of the myth:

Brad Friedman:

You may also not have known that while both independent reports, the other one by the Co micsngressional Research Service [PDF], found no criminal wrong doing by ACORN, they did find that O'Keefe likely the broke the law in at least two states by secretly recording the videos which had voice-overs deceptively edited into them later, "in some cases substantially," according to Harshbarger's report, so that it was "difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding."

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon:

Boehlert and Brad Friedman have written exhaustively on how misleading the videos were, how they were heavily edited to make it look like employees were answering questions they weren't actually asked (it seems that a lot of the "tax evasion" stuff was created in editing—employees seem to be talking about strategies to escape an abusive pimp).

Dave Johnson at the Huffington Post:

The investigation offered conclusive evidence that the videos were doctored and that voiceovers were used to make it appear people were saying things they did not say.

Eric Boehlert:

Harshbarger also shed light on the controversial videos, noting that portions had been "substantially" edited, including some voice overdubbing. And because O'Keefe and Breitbart refuse to let any outside observers — including journalists — view the full collection of unedited tapes, it's impossible to tell just how significantly the tapes were manipulated prior to their release.

Fact: The report is by a paid ACORN consultant who did not allege misleading voiceovers, who did not interview the ACORN employees in the videos, who admits that his evidence is secondhand, and who never acknowledges the existence of unedited audio.

Harshbarger did not say the videos were doctored to make ACORN look bad. His report said there were edits and narrative voiceovers — just like in any documentary. It did not say those edits and narrative voiceovers were misleading. Here is the quote from paid ACORN consultant Harshbarger:

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

Several questions leap to mind. Isn't a "substitute voiceover" a standard documentary tactic? The narrator narrates while subjects are shown speaking.Read Harshbarger's quote again. Even though he is a shill, he is not claiming that O'Keefe substituted voiceovers in a deceptive manner to make it appear that people are saying things they didn't say. That is just made up by the liberal bloggers.

In addition, in every case where I have seen a voiceover by O'Keefe, the unedited audio backs up what he claims is being said.

It is not "impossible" to tell what questions ACORN workers are responding to, as Boehlert claims. (Or "difficult" as shill Harshbarger claims.) The full unedited audio is available at You can listen to the unedited audio, compare it to the videos, and hear for yourself that O'Keefe did not overdub voices in a deceptive or misleading way.

For some odd reason, Harshbarger declines to mention the fact that unedited audio is available as to each ACORN visit as to which there is a transcript. Listening to the unedited audio would make it VERY EASY to determine whether there was any misleading editing or overdubbing.

You know: if you actually cared. As opposed to being out to make cheap political points.

Indeed, they used two separate microphones, as this video reveals:

(Watch beginning at around 4:40). How did they match up two separate strands of audio, if they were doing clever edits?Friedman has flatly lied about this. In a letter to Clark Hoyt, he says: "While we can't know if the text transcripts O'Keefe released were accurate, since he refuses to release the audio tape . . ." Friedman knows the full audio is available, as I told him this on a radio show and we discussed it at length — before he wrote Hoyt.

Eric Boehlert has linked Friedman's post but did not lift a finger to correct Friedman. Remember: Boehlert has repeatedly claimed that O'Keefe "lied" or committed a "hoax" because he did not correct Steve Doocy's claim about his manner of dress at ACORN. By Boehlert's logic, Boehlert has himself engaged in a hoax, by endorsing Friedman's post but failing to correct Friedman's falsehood.

What's more, Harshbarger was hardly conducting an independent investigation. He was a consultant paid by ACORN — as independent as a researcher paid by a tobacco company who finds no link between cigarettes and lung cancer.

According to the New York Times, Harshbarger "comes from the liberal, Democratic side of the political divide."

And he didn't interview any of the ACORN employees that appeared in the tapes.

We did not interview the employees captured on video, since we were satisfied there was no question that the visits occurred and the comments were made. . . . Hence, all our knowledge about the videos is largely circumstantial and secondhand.

Oh, well, then. You're paid by ACORN and you didn't interview the primary people. You want to raise questions about possibly deceptive editing — yet justify your failure to interview the principals by saying you are "satisfied there was no question that the visits occurred and the comments were made."

Yup, no credibility issue there!


Liberal Myth: ACORN employees never advised O'Keefe and Giles to avoid paying taxes. They simply tried to help the two pay their taxes.

Examples of the spreading of the myth:

Brad Friedman:

None of the workers they spoke with who had tried to help them had advised "evading taxes" as the wingnut crew would have you believe .. .

Friedman, in a letter to Clark Hoyt:

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 fact, in every ACORN office seen in the Breitbart/O'Keefe vidoes [sic] — as understood only by reviewing the text transcripts, since the videos are so purposely misleading on this point — ACORN employees advised that Giles must pay taxes, even if the income was gained through illegal prostitution. No ACORN employee ever advised the pair to "avoid paying taxes" as so many who fell for the hoax have described.


*Correction: I originally wrote that ACORN workers provided advice on how a prostitute could avoid paying her taxes. That's incorrect, and I regret the error.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon:

Boehlert and Brad Friedman have written exhaustively on how misleading the videos were, how they were heavily edited to make it look like employees were answering questions they weren't actually asked (it seems that a lot of the "tax evasion" stuff was created in editing—employees seem to be talking about strategies to escape an abusive pimp).

Fact: ACORN employees advised Giles and O'Keefe on strategies to evade taxes.

Let's go to the Baltimore transcript again:

Tonja: No you have to pay taxes on the money you make

O'Keefe: Is there any way around that though

Tonja: Yeah don't file them and you continue doing cash

Or San Bernardino:

James: What about the money situation like the eh if I wanna use some of this money for my political campaign. How can, how can I start thinking about this long term so that I don't get caught with the Feds or something like that?

Theresa (ACORN): Okay. I think- in my business it it was mostly cash.

James: Okay.

Theresa (ACORN): All right. It's a cash business.

Hannah (Eden): That's what we're doing.

Theresa (ACORN): So you only claim enough to you you can't . . .

Theresa (ACORN): do you? Yea yea well and and we at that time I made 15 grand and they made ten and thats a lot of money for a week, well for six days,

Hannah (Eden): no kidding

Theresa (ACORN): and that was paid up front in cash

James: did you declare it all?

Theresa (ACORN): I didn't declare a dime no—It's cash


Liberal Myth: Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe did not represent Giles as a prostitute in Philadelphia.

Examples of the spreading of the myth:

Brad Friedman:

In the video (seen at right), Russell explains what happened when O'Keefe and his partner Hannah Giles — seen dressed similarly to a prostitute in the edited videos from other cities where O'Keefe carried out his campaign — came in for an interview in her office. "They never said that she [Giles] was a prostitute, and he was not dressed in any usually flashy manner," Russell explains.

Fact: A video shows that Giles was identified as a prostitute.Indeed, the released video shows that ACORN worker Katherine Conway Rcssell went on TV and lied about a) whether prostitution had been mentioned; b) whether Giles and O'Keefe were kicked out; and c) whether she gave any help to Giles and O'Keefe.

Friedman is aware of this. I told him about it on a radio show hosted by Larry O'Connor. He has failed to correct the falsehood.

These are just some of the myths, and just some of the evidence. I spend the time compiling it because I am sick of seeing history rewritten.

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