Jun
02
2010

Stephanopoulos Hypes ACORN Hoaxers

ABC's Good Morning America got an "exclusive" with ACORN video hoaxters James O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart on June 1.

Here's how host George Stephanopoulos set up the segment:

James O'Keefe became a media sensation after he and a friend posed as a pimp and prostitute and secretly recoded ACORN workers giving them advice on how to cheat on their taxes.

As FAIR noted in an action alert to the New York Times, O'Keefe didn't "pose" as a pimp–he didn't wear his absurd "pimp" get-up when he went in to ACORN offices, and in almost every case he presented himself as a concerned boyfriend trying to get his girlfriend away from an abusive pimp. And he didn't get any advice on how to "cheat" on his taxes. (Brad Friedman did the most thorough debunkings of these videos, and was on the case after the ABC interview.)

What O'Keefe claimed happened during his visits to ACORN was not what actually happened–for instance, he videotaped himself wearing his garish "pimp" costume outside of ACORN offices in order to feed those misimpressions. But he never wore the get-up inside the ACORN facilities he targeted.

Stephanopoulos later alluded to "critics" who argue that O'Keefe "revised reality for political gain." The ABC host, on the other hand, said: "I have to give you credit for this, on ACORN, you did expose people doing things they shouldn't do."

Stephanopoulos was interrupted by Breitbart: "Is it legal to help set up a prostitution ring in every single office?"

That is also false.

But instead of challenging these inaccuracies, Stephanopoulos defended his own record: "I was one of the few, if not the only journalist, who actually asked President Obama about the ACORN case, so I hold no brief."

Letters from FAIR and others eventually convinced the New York Times that treating O'Keefe and Breitbart as if they were actual journalists whose work could be trusted was a mistake. The paper issued a half-hearted correction, but the paper's subsequent ACORN reporting was very different. Here's how they put it on May 27: "In at least one video, ACORN workers advised a conservative activist who was posing as a prostitute how to conceal her criminal activities in the course of trying to buy a house."

The Times had previously written about the case in much more inflammatory–and inaccurate–language: "Their travels in the gaudy guise of pimp and prostitute through various offices of ACORN, the national community organizing group, caught its low-level employees in five cities sounding eager to assist with tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution."

It took a long time for the Times to admit even some of its errors. Public editor Clark Hoyt explained that part of the problem was that when O'Keefe appeared on television wearing a pimp costume to promote his videos, the Fox News hosts interviewing him said that he had worn the same outfit to ACORN offices–a claim O'Keefe did not correct. In other words, O'Keefe's work should be fact-checked by O'Keefe.

O'Keefe's ACORN hoax lives on only because journalists like Stephanopoulos fail to challenge him.

See Extra!: "Falling for the ACORN Hoax: The Strange Journalism of James O'Keefe" (4/10) by Veronica Cassidy.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.