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Fox News Punked By ACORN

Reported by Ellen - September 16, 2009 -

Fox News conservatives, along with Foxnews.com and Fox Nation (screen grabs after the jump) were agog over what Sean Hannity called “the most shocking undercover footage… captured to date” by those two conservative media darlings, Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe. Giles and O'Keefe, you may recall, have released a series of videos of their escapades posing as a pimp and a prostitute to entrap ACORN on film (and without a care that they likely broke the law while doing it). Although their previous efforts seem to have uncovered some genuine wrongdoing by some low-level ACORN staffers, their latest “expose” seems to have only exposed how shoddy their own journalistic instincts and ethics are, along with those of their benefactor, Andrew Breitbart, and Fox News. With video.

Predictably, Giles and O’Keefe’s latest video release was treated as major news on Fox News yesterday (9/15/09).


Glenn Beck devoted his entire show to it. Sean Hannity was full of credible enthusiasm as he announced that in San Bernardino, CA, the supersleuths uncovered “a much more serious crime.”

On Hannity, as on Beck, earlier, viewers were treated to ACORN’s Tresa Kaelke's story about how she used to work for an escort service, her tips for how Giles and O’Keefe might cover up their prostitution business in order to acquire a home for themselves and their underage girls from El Salvador, and the “explosive” news that Kaelka had killed her husband.

The only problem? It’s not true. As ACORN has stated in its press release,

“They were not believable", said Ms. Kaelke of the two actors. "Somewhat entertaining, but they weren't even good actors. I didn't know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me. Like Stephan Colbert does – saying the most outrageous things with a straightface." While her sense of humor might not be funny to many people, the fact is that she spun false scenario after false scenario and the videographer ate them up.

ACORN provided a copy of a San Bernardino police report of their investigation into the “homicide” of Kaelke’s husband. The police concluded, “the claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party’s known former husbands, who are alive and well.”

ACORN also points out that the fact that the filmmakers, Breitbart and Fox presented the video as truth, without any independent investigation, calls into question all of their journalistic standards. The organization also questioned why some footage that reflected well on ACORN had been edited out of the video.

Breitbart, who appeared with Giles on Hannity last night, repeatedly complained about the media’s lack of vetting of ACORN. “It’s not just a case of vetting… It’s about actually looking at a group like ACORN.” Now we know he committed the same sin he was accusing the rest of the media of committing. Referring to the other mainstream media, Breitbart said with a straight face, “to call it bias at this point, there has to be a stronger word. It’s duplicity.” He should know.

Breitbart went on to make the dubious claim that he was receiving so much email he’d need to hire “200 people to deal with the tentacles of ACORN.” Surely he could have spared just one to check on whether the video he and Giles were presenting was truthful.

As Giles looked dully on, Breitbart continued, “I think this is the perfect exposure of the Democrat media complex.”

Actually, it’s the perfect exposure of the Republican media complex. First, you have Giles and O’Keefe. Not quite the “independent filmmakers” they are presented as, each is a well-connected conservative activist. O'Keefe is an anti-choice zealot who specializes in using deceptive practices to trick his targets into embarrassing themselves. Giles is the daughter of Townhall.com founder Doug Giles. As Hannah Giles previously revealed on Hannity, she knew nothing about ACORN, other than that she didn’t’ like the organization, before she hatched her plan to dupe them. Breitbart soon proved he had not vetted Kaelke’s claim and didn’t care. Nor did Fox News, as Glenn Beck proved earlier. So do the screen grabs from Foxnews.com and Fox Nation below.

It was Hannity, of all people, who offered a modicum of ethics and independence.

“Did you ever check to see if in fact she (Kaelka) had a husband that was killed?” he asked Giles.

“We’re working on that,” Giles answered evasively. Funny, I thought journalists were supposed to finish their investigation before they issue their reports. And if nothing else, you’d think Giles or Breitbart, if he was so concerned about vetting stories, would have revealed up front that they didn’t know if Kaelke were really a murderess, instead of waiting for Hannity to ask, much later in the interview.

“You haven’t gotten to the details on that,” Hannity pressed.

Breitbart jumped in, “Look, there’s so much stuff coming in…” Just so much stuff he HAD to go on TV that night, instead of waiting another few days, and COULDN'T tell the viewers he had not vetted the material?

Hannity continued, “In fairness, she could have just been…”

He never got to finish because Breitbart interrupted – to deliberately push the conversation away from Hannity’s line of questioning - with a response that did not answer his question. “She certainly does exist and if you look on the internet, you can see that she’s also involved in the other side of ACORN… so she is a community organizer in the political sense.”

Giles added, “There is a criminal record also for her if you look her up on different things.” Giles never bothered to explain what Kaelke’s “criminal record” is.

“So you’re really investigating that now,” Hannity said.

“We’re working on that,” Giles said evasively again. The “we report, you decide” network’s audience might have wanted to know how far she had gotten in that “investigation” but, after presenting this as some kind of significant proof of ACORN wrongdoing, Giles was suddenly not interested in giving any further information about it.

“But we don’t know if it’s true yet,” Hannity said, about Kaelke’s confession of homicide.

“We don’t know if it’s true,” Giles finally admitted.

“You both are being threatened with a lawsuit along with James O’Keefe,” Hannity said. He forgot to mention that ACORN is also threatening to sue Fox News and that the State of Maryland is considering prosecuting Giles and O’Keefe for illegally recording the conversations with ACORN without their consent .

Breitbart dodged that question, too, by alleging that the Baltimore chapter of ACORN had let its charter lapse.