In an op-ed column Sunday, the Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt said he has reviewed the available information and concluded that some key points of the right-wing video presentation were false or misleading, including the claim that right-wing media activist James O'Keefe showed up at ACORN offices dressed in a pimp costume before getting legal advice on setting up a brothel.
"O'Keefe almost certainly did not go into the Acorn offices in the outlandish costume - fur coat, goggle-like sunglasses, walking stick and broad-brimmed hat - in which he appeared at the beginning and end of most of his videos," Hoyt wrote, adding that the Times was considering a correction regarding its earlier reporting that had accepted this misleading point.
Hoyt also acknowledged that perhaps the most damning part of the ACORN sting story was wrong: ACORN staffers did not go along with a plan to use under-aged Salvadoran girls as prostitutes. Indeed, the staffers may have thought they were helping to protect the girls.
After reviewing transcripts provided by a conservative organization, Hoyt accepted a criticism of the Times made by the liberal media critics at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, that the Times' earlier reporting on the video gave the impression that O'Keefe and his supposed girlfriend were going to exploit the girls as prostitutes. FAIR said the fuller transcript suggests that the ACORN staffers thought the couple was trying "to buy a house to protect child prostitutes from an abusive pimp."
"That's right," Hoyt wrote, regarding FAIR's characterization of the child-prostitute point.
However, Hoyt, who earlier had chastised the Times for not jumping on the ACORN scandal faster, insisted that the ACORN employees still deserved criticism for not objecting to other apparent illegalities in O'Keefe's fictitious schemes. Hoyt said the ACORN workers should have protested any plans regarding a brothel, noting that one ACORN worker blithely warned, "Don't get caught, ‘cause it is against the law."
In other words, Hoyt isn't ready to admit that he joined the Times in a rush to judgment and thus helped destroy ACORN, which has seen its funding dry up, has shuttered many of its offices, and is expected to file for bankruptcy soon.
The ACORN case also underscores how vulnerable liberal and leftist groups are to the Right's enormous media power. One environmental activist told me recently that every progressive organization in Washington lives in fear that one mis-dotted "I"or one mis-crossed "T" could mean the end.
The massive right-wing media - stretching from magazines, newspapers and books to radio, TV and the Internet - also gives the Right the capability of stampeding the mainstream press against some disfavored politician or even against another media outlet that digs up unwelcomed information.