NY Times: We Got the ACORN Story Wrong, Considering Correction


New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt said in a column published online yesterday that it was “easy to see” why the Times described conservative merry prankster James O’Keefe going into the offices of ACORN “dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risqué high school play” — after all, “a host” on Fox said that pimp-styling O’Keefe was “dressed exactly in the same outfit he wore to these Acorn offices” and O’Keefe “did not argue.”

Now that ACORN faces bankruptcy, O’Keefe faces federal charges in another attempted sting, and Hoyt faces e-mails he attributes to “liberal groups,” Hoyt has revisited the situation, reviewed the publicly available material, and far below the fold, concludes that the Times was wrong.

Not, mind you, that Hoyt thinks that proves much of anything. Although he acknowledges that the videos were “heavily edited” and “[t]he sequence of some conversations was changed,” and no one has seen the raw video, Hoyt concludes that “the most damning words” supporting the more serious charge, that ACORN employees promoted prostitution, “do not seem out of context” when examining the transcripts and the audio of the heavily-edited and out-of-sequence conversations.

Multiple investigations have found otherwise. Hoyt’s article was the first mention in the Times of ACORN being cleared of wrongdoing by the Brooklyn District Attorney, and the first mention of a former Massachusetts AG hired by ACORN to investigate, who found “no pattern of illegal conduct.”

And of the sloppy job the Times did with the story?

…the Acorn/O’Keefe story became something of an orphan at the paper. At least 14 reporters, reporting to different sets of editors, have touched it since last fall. Nobody owns it. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said that, “sensing the story would not go away and would be part of a larger narrative,” the paper should have assigned one reporter to be responsible for it.

See, me, I thought just the title of their first story, “Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn,” would have suggested some sort of narrative. I guess I just assumed it was the same narrative being carried forward in the same week’s admiring profile of O’Keefe, “A Political Gadfly Lampoons the Left via YouTube,” which describes O’Keefe puckishly scamming the “credulous” and “clueless.”

Like, for instance, the Times.

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