Reporting on Andrew Breitbart's latest bit of deceit–using a selectively edited video to paint a low-level USDA official Shirley Sherrod as a racist–has given the media a chance to resurrect one of their favorite myths: Breitbart's triumphant takedown of the community-organizing group ACORN.
In September 2009, Breitbart's website BigGovernment.com posted videos, made by conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, supposedly showing ACORN employees counseling the pair–ostensibly pretending to be a prostitute and a pimp–on how to avoid paying taxes and other illegal activities. The videos were later found to be completely misleading. Among other things, it was revealed that O'Keefe never dressed as a pimp in ACORN's offices, and in many cases he pretended to be Giles concerned boyfriend protecting her from abuse.
In covering the Shirley Sherrod story, many outlets have mentioned the videos–not as an example of Breitbart's established incredibility, but rather as a vindication of his heroic muckraking track record.
Answering for viewers the question, "Just who is Andrew Breitbart?," CNN American Morning anchors Kiran Chetry and John Roberts (7/21/10) said Breitbart "built a brand around his 'big' websites, and that includes BigGovernment.com, the site that first posted the video of Sherrod. There is also BigHollywood.com, BigJournalism.com, BigPeace.com." Roberts then reminded viewers that BigGovernment.com "was also the first site to post those undercover ACORN videos featuring the pimp and prostitute."
In their initial report on the Sherrod story, AP's Ben Evans and Mary Clare Jalonick (7/20/10) applauded BigGovernment.com as the site that "gained fame after releasing video of workers for the community organizing group ACORN counseling actors posing as a pimp and prostitute." Later versions of the story were changed to read "prostitute and her boyfriend." However, in a more recent article (7/21/10), Evans and Jalonick reverted to the less accurate "prostitute and her pimp."
Slate (7/22/10) even saw Breitbart's latest smear as reason to "recycle" Christopher Beam's fawning profile of Breitbart, where he praises him as the one who posted "the now-famous videos that showed two young conservatives, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, entering several offices of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, posing as a pimp and a prostitute looking to open a brothel for underage, illegal immigrant girls." This statement is made even stranger by the fact that, much further down in the profile, Beam quietly relents that O'Keefe was actually wearing "business casual" clothing. Beam also repeats the lie that Giles and O'Keefe "had been instructed to, among other things, bury their sex money in a tin in their back yard."
Again, O'Keefe never wore his ludicrous "pimp" out fit in the ACORN offices. Most times he was asking employees how to protect his girlfriend from an abusive pimp. The "tin in the backyard" suggestion was in response to a question from Giles on how to hide her money from the same fictitious pimp. Also, it is now clear the videos were heavily edited to make employees appear to be answering questions in more sinister ways. In fact, Juan Carlos Vera, a San Diego ACORN employee who was fired as a result of the videos, was found to have called his cousin, a police detective, after the pair left to report their activities. Furthermore, ACORN has now been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by three separate independent investigations.
All of this has been noted numerous times by FAIR (Action Alert, 3/11/10) and others (Brad Blog, 3/3/10). But considering the pervasiveness of this myth within the corporate media, it apparently needs to be pointed out again.