How progressive bloggers pressured NYT public editor into addressing Acorn “pimp” hoax


Brad Friedman had heard from someone at Acorn that the New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt had scheduled a meeting with leaders of the anti-poverty organization, but Hoyt’s column that hit the web over the weekend still came as a surprise to the blogger. Friedman, who writes for the progressive Brad Blog, has just spent the last two months leading a movement pressuring the Times into correcting false claims that conservative activist James O’Keefe had dressed as a pimp before entering Acorn offices last year, a controversy that led to Congress attempting to defund the organization. But until Hoyt published his column the public editor had showed every intention of ignoring the issue. In an email exchange with Friedman that took place a month ago, Hoyt declined to recommend the Times issue a retraction, despite overwhelming evidence that the paper of record got many of the facts wrong in the story.

“Under the circumstances, I am recommending to Times editors that they avoid language that says or suggests that O’Keefe was dressed as a pimp when he captured the ACORN employees on camera,” Hoyt wrote in his email to Friedman. “I still don’t see that a correction is in order, because that would require conclusive evidence that The Times was wrong, which I haven’t seen.”

But sometime between writing that email and penning yesterday’s column, Hoyt had a change of heart. In the op ed itself, he specifically links to Friedman’s blog when acknowledging that he was “wrong in defending the paper’s phrasing.” After a careful investigation into the case, the public editor said he’d make a recommendation to issue a correction, but still seemed to assert that the Times got the gist of the story correct. He said that the audio of the video was mostly in context and quoted an official as saying, “They said what they said. There’s no way to make this look good.”

I spoke to Friedman, who, along with Media Matters and dozens of other bloggers, kept constant pressure on Hoyt and the Times to correct the record. He didn’t seemoverly enthused by the piece.

“I’m delighted to see him admit that he was wrong, at least in making excuses for the Times coverage and their cover-up for that coverage, frankly,” he told me. “They really tried to cover up for it and there has been no accountability and still no correction, no retraction, no apologies. The damage is by and large done and probably uncorrectable … [The column] is a step in the right direction and I’m glad to see that he admitted that the paper was wrong and that he was wrong on at least a couple of the points, but he said that, ‘well, we might have been hoaxed, but we more or less got this story right anyway,’ and then he bases his reasoning for that on [interviews with] the hoaxers that hoaxed them in the first place.”

It’s been two months since Friedman first began the drumbeat at the Times, and in those two months he said that the newspaper has published subsequent articles that have gotten parts of the story wrong, including mentions that O’Keefe “posed as a pimp” (others have claimed that even though O’Keefe didn’t wear a pimp outfit he still essentially “posed” as a pimp).

Still, even though the editor was slow to respond, it’d be safe to assume that if it hadn’t been for the constant pressure from bloggers, this matter may have gone longer without being addressed. I asked Friedman if this was a victory for the progressive blogosphere in policing the coverage of more traditional news outlets.

“It shows there’s an opportunity to police the mainstream corporate media failures,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we will actually do it. I can’t speak for the progressive blogosphere, I can speak for myself and a small handful of progressive bloggers who jumped into this. The lessons are not to be learned from me and Eric Boehlert at Media Matters [who also wrote extensively on the issue] and a few others. The lessons are to be learned from the right wingers, who, when they are done wrong, when someone reports a story that adversely affects the right wingers, they yell and scream and go to war, and frankly that’s what progressives need to do. That’s where you need to get your lessons from. ”

But would the column at least result in the Times being more cautious when reporting on O’Keefe in the future?

“I would like to believe that’s the case but I’m not yet convinced. I think it’s still early and I’m loathe to even call it a victory. There’s a lot of accountability to come, both at the New York Times and the scores of other media outlets that reported the same erroneous nonsense.”

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UPDATE: Patterico, a right-of-center blogger who has been a critic of Friedman’s and Media Matters’ reporting on this issue, wrote this in the comments section:

This post reinforces Friedman’s false claim that the manner of O’Keefe dress was central to the public’s reaction. Nonsense. The public’s reaction stemmed from videos that showed O’Keefe posing as a pimp for underage prostitutes, and receiving advice and help from ACORN on protecting that illicit business.

Friedman and his co-blogger have spent weeks constructing a false narrative, in which O’Keefe merely posed as Giles’s boyfriend, who was trying to save her from an abusive pimp.

While he did do that, Friedman and his guest blogger do not tell their readers that in office after office, O’Keefe said he wanted to set up a house for Giles and girls as young as 12-14 years old, who would turn tricks in the house and give the proceeds to O’Keefe for his Congressional campaign.

These facts are clear from the unedited audio and transcripts that have been available since the beginning from Big Government. On a radio show, Friedman admitted to me that he has not listened to the full unedited audio. Hoyt says he has.

That is probably why Hoyt has said Friedman’s characterization of what happened on the videos is “not credible” and motivated by a “partisan agenda.

Even Eric Boehlert, in his rare moments of (forced) honesty, admits that what ACORN employees said on the videos cannot be excused by the issue of O’Keefe’s clothing. Their inexcusable behavior Is why numerous employees were terminated and described themselves as contrite. It’s why Harshbarger admits that no context can explain away what the employees said. It’s why Friedman has to resort to fiction to portray the videos as innocent.