When conservative activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles released tapes last fall purporting to show ACORN employees advising them on how to set up a child prostitution ring, it resulted in widespread praise for their intrepid journalism and a Congressional defunding of the anti-poverty group. But it is now becoming clear to all but their most fervent supporters that the O'Keefe "expose" was deliberately misleading.
"If you were a member of Congress and you voted to defund ACORN because of the outrage portrayed in these tapes," MSNBC's Rachel Maddow proclaimed on Tuesday, "you were had."
Last week, California Attorney Gerneral Jerry Brown released some of O'Keefe's raw footage, which he obtained as part of an agreement not to prosecute O'Keefe for violating state privacy laws. Maddow reviewed several of the most severe distortions revealed by the footage, starting with O'Keefe's claim that he was wearing his outrageous pimp outfit when he visited the ACORN offices.
That claim, which Brad Friedman at Brad Blog has been debunking for months, was promoted heavily by Fox News and swallowed uncritically by most of the mainstream media. The unedited tape of O'Keefe's visit to the ACORN office in San Diego, however, includes a shot of his arm as he opens the door to leave, and he is clearly wearing a nicely pinstriped dress shirt.
The edited video released by O'Keefe also appears to show an ACORN employee advising him on how to smuggle underage girls into the United States. O'Keefe is heard off-camera saying, "What things do you need from me in terms of the shipment information," and the employee replies, "It's better if it's in Tijuana ... because I have a lot of contacts in Tijuana." O'Keefe then goes on to say, "There's twelve of them. ... Twelve girls, they're like 13 to 15 years old."
But as Maddow pointed out, in the previously unreleased portion of the video, the employee continues asking very detailed questions about O'Keefe's phone number and the exact time and location of the girls' arrival. "What's this ACORN guy going to do with all that information?" Maddow wondered. "Oh, he calls the police and reports what they've told him is going to be a crime."
According to Jerry Brown's report (pdf), "Immediately after the couple left, Vera telephoned his cousin, Detective Alejandro Hernandez, at the National City Police Department... [and said] that a self-admitted prostitute had been to the office and was discussing human smuggling."
"For that he ended up getting fired," Maddow noted wryly.
A final O'Keefe tape appeared to show a different ACORN employee reacting to the child prostitution scheme by saying enthusiastically, "You can do anything. ... Don't give up."
But the unedited tape reveals that the encouraging words came after O'Keefe had told the employee that he and his prostitute girlfriend were having trouble finding a house because she is "in a unique line of work." Her "never give up" meant to keep trying different banks until one said yes.
"This is not meant to excuse what ACORN has done wrong in the past," Maddow concluded. "But the huge tide of negative publicity ... was bullpucky. It was a dishonest political stunt that bears no resemblance to journalism and no resemblance to the actual facts. "
"But it worked," she added. "Who do you think is next on their list?"
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast April 6, 2010.