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Questions About ACORN Videos Raise Even Bigger Questions About Fox News

Reported by Ellen - March 3, 2010 -

On Monday (3/1/10), the Brooklyn District Attorney cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing after a four-month investigation triggered by the now-infamous undercover “prostitute sting” videos. As The Daily News reported, while the videos “seemed to show three ACORN workers advising a prostitute how to hide ill-gotten gains, the unedited version was not as clear, according to a law enforcement source. ‘They edited the tape to meet their agenda,’ said the source.” This is at least the third investigation to clear ACORN since the supposedly damning videos – in edited form, only – were relentlessly played and hyped on Fox News. But it is also the third investigation to raise doubts about the integrity of the videos. Yet despite Fox News’ almost endless appetite for airing the (edited) videos and for hosting the young videographers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, and their mentor/employer/publisher Andrew Breitbart as guests, and despite the “fair and balanced” network’s hissy fit that the rest of the media did not give the “exposé” the coverage it warranted, Fox has turned a curiously deaf ear and a blind eye to a number of blaring questions, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods that have accompanied the videos from the beginning, including the ironic likelihood that O’Keefe and Giles were the only actual lawbreakers in the whole affair.

Recently, several liberal bloggers have pointed out that Fox News and other media have erroneously reported that O’Keefe and Giles presented themselves to ACORN dressed as a pimp and prostitute. This was not just a media error but a deception aided and abetted by O’Keefe who dressed as a pimp in “b-roll" footage of the videos and appeared on Fox News in the same get up in a deliberate attempt to advance that impression. An ACORN representative told me that In every interview they had with staff who interacted with O'Keefe and in all the transcripts O'Keefe never presented himself as a pimp at all but, rather, as the boyfriend trying to help his girlfriend and some kids escape prostitution. When Breitbart was confronted about O'Keefe's charade by blogger Mike Stark, he claimed he had not known what was in the video when he released it. Note: The transcripts I read confirm ACORN's claim.

But that was far from the only deception put forward by Team Breitbart. As we reported almost as soon as the video aired, an un-duped ACORN worker punk’d the videographers in San Bernardino, California when she told them, in mock solidarity, that she had murdered her abusive husband. ACORN produced a copy of the police report about the “homicide” to prove the hoax. But the video of the encounter in San Bernadino was presented on Fox as though it were true. Fox News posted its video with the title, “’I shot him.’ ACORN worker reveals dark past.”

Sean Hannity, obviously incredulous, showed a modicum of journalistic scruples when he aired the San Bernadino video on September 15, 2009. “Did you ever check to see if in fact she (ACORN worker) had a husband that was killed?” Hannity asked Giles.

“We’re working on that,” Giles answered evasively.

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

Breitbart jumped in, “Look, there’s so much stuff coming in…”

In other words, Breitbart and Giles had no problem going on the air with what Hannity called the “explosive” accusation that an ACORN worker was a murderer before confirming whether or not it was true. Even worse, they didn’t mind allowing that impression to hang in the air until Hannity happened to ask about it. Presumably, it would never have come up at all if he had not.

Although Hannity deserves some small props here, he never challenged Breitbart et al's outrageous lapse in journalistic integrity, never followed up on that inquiry and, as far as I know, never mentioned it again, even though Giles and Breitbart were on the air with him the next night.

Instead, Giles and Breitbart told more blatant falsehoods. This time, a newly but temporarily skeptical Hannity asked, Were there any cities you went to where you … didn’t get any videotape not worthy to air?”

Giles evaded the question. “We’re airing it. It’s pretty worthy.”

Hannity pressed. “In other words, you didn’t go into one office and they said, ‘We’re not gonna help you do anything like that.'”

“No,” Giles said.

Hannity repeated, “Every place you went they… helped you or were willing to help you, either not report you for an underage prostitution ring, evade taxes…”

Breitbart jumped in again. “It is interesting. There’s no places ACORN tried to state that, kicked them out based upon the premise that they were, that they were doing something nefarious.”

Not quite. The Philadelphia office of ACORN Housing Corp. refused to help, threw them out and filed a police report. The director of the office there has since filed a federal lawsuit against O’Keefe and Giles for violating state law and recording her conversation with them without her permission.

Once again, Hannity may have been dubious but he accepted his guests’ evasive, unpersuasive and false answers and never followed up. I have yet to see a discussion anywhere on Fox News exploring what happened in Philadelphia.

Just two months later, in November, Giles and O'Keefe flatly contradicted those answers when they presented another video on Hannity in which an ACORN employee was seen refusing to help the pair - exactly what Giles had recently told Hannity had never happened. Hannity never mentioned that this directly undercut Giles’ previous claim to the contrary.

In December, two major investigations cleared ACORN of legal wrongdoing. One, commissioned by ACORN, conducted by the former Attorney General of Massachusetts, was somewhat critical of ACORN’s conduct as shown in the videos. But the report noted that the videos “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." The other investigation, conducted by the Congressional Research Service, found that ACORN had not "violated the terms of federal funding in the last five years." It did say that the filmmakers may have violated the law in Maryland and California by recording their encounters without getting the permission of all participants.

So to recap, three out of three investigations since the videos were released have cleared ACORN and raised issues with the videos. Other questions arose from dubious and false statements told by Giles, Breitbart and O’Keefe on Fox. Yet there has been little follow up on Fox, little to no scrutiny of the veracity of the videos or Team Breitbart. Instead, Fox & Friends went out of its way to cast doubt on the CRS report. Host Alisyn Camerota repeated the Breitbart party line by saying, “Of course, this flies in the face of everything that we’ve seen with our own eyes about ACORN, which is when a documentarian posing as a pimp and a prostitute go in, the ACORN workers helped them set up a brothel for underage girls.” (This is another falsehood. As three investigations have concluded, nobody at ACORN was caught engaging in illegal activity. Some workers seemed willing to support Giles’ purported illegal activity.)

But wait, there’s more. In January, O’Keefe was arrested by the FBI for using “false and fraudulent pretense” to enter Senator Mary Landrieu’s office for the purpose of “willfully and maliciously interfering” with her telephone system. Not even THAT prompted Fox News to question the filmmakers' integrity. In fact, in an ensuing interview with O'Keefe, Hannity failed to challenge most of O'Keefe's (new) dubious assertions. In a later interview with Giles, Megyn Kelly accepted O'Keefe's not-very-credible claims as her own and gushed so hard over Giles that I half-expected Kelly to put through a phone call right then and there to the Nobel Prize Committee and demand an immediate award for the two.

I have seen no discussion of the results of the Brooklyn investigation on either of the two shows that have particularly focused on ACORN, Glenn Beck and Hannity.

Media Matters has demanded that the unedited videos be released. But despite their great interest in the edited videos, and despite the repeated questions about their veracity, Fox has shown little to no interest in the unedited videos. I have not even seen any discussion that raises the issue. How could they pay such little attention to such a major component of their own major story?

The one thing Team Breitbart has seemed honest about is its anti-ACORN agenda. Giles has publicly owned up to being anti-ACORN before she started the undercover videos. In fact, she has admitted to being anti-ACORN before she even knew anything about ACORN. Breitbart and O’Keefe seem to have been pretty up front about their anti-ACORN mindset also. Fox News, on the other hand, continues to hold itself up as a “fair and balanced” news operation with opinion shows. So why haven't their own so-called news shows investigated the blaring holes of one of their most ballyhooed stories of the fall? If Fox does not want to come out and admit its anti-ACORN activist agenda, then what on earth is their excuse for acting exactly as if they had one?