Media

New York Times 'Stands Behind' Its Contested Reporting on the ACORN 'Pimp'

The Times maintains its claim that James O'Keefe wore a pimp suit into ACORN offices -- despite an attorney general's report that says otherwise, and no corroborating evidence.

"There is nothing for us to correct ... We stand by our reporting."

That was the innocuous enough position from Greg Brock, New York Times "Senior Editor/Standards," in reply to a Letter to the Editor sent to the Times by a reader of The BRAD BLOG requesting a correction to recent reportage from the "paper of record" concerning right-wing activist James O'Keefe, on the heels of his federal felony arrest late last month. O'Keefe was arrested in New Orleans as an alleged ringleader in a conspiracy with three others, attempting to gain access, for reasons still unknown, to the phone system of Louisiana's Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.

Incredibly, Brock originally cited claims by Fox News and O'Keefe himself as sources for why the New York Times stood by its apparently unverified and apparently incorrect report. "We believe him," Brock wrote, because he said as much on Fox News, apparently.

The matter went from the absurd to the ridiculous in fairly short order, as Brock then seemed to contradict himself by claiming the Times' source wasn't actually Fox or O'Keefe, but that the Times stood by its reporting because of a mysterious, unpublished video said to back up the claim, along with testimony from ACORN employees.

Though both the video and statements from ACORN employees were cited as evidence their story was right, Brock refused to share evidence for either of the claims. That, even after an independent report from the former Attorney General of Massachusetts -- released in early December, but never mentioned in the Times' recent report (or any report in the paper to my knowledge) -- directly contradicts their reportage.

In short, the Times suggested in an article a week ago Sunday -- and at least seven others prior to it, all published after the release of the former MA Attorney General's report -- that O'Keefe was wearing his infamous pimp outfit inside the offices of ACORN while speaking to employees in his now-infamous hit videos. In actuality, according to the December 7 report by AG Scott Harshbarger, in direct contradiction to the Times reporting, he was not.

As Harshbarger writes:

Although Mr. O'Keefe appeared in all videos dressed as a pimp, in fact, when he appeared at each and every office, he was dressed like a college student -- in slacks and a button-down shirt.

Instead of acknowledging the Times' error, and the fact that the "paper of record" never seems to have even reported the findings of the Harshbarger report at all, the remarkable email thread with Brock, published in full below, devolves into absurdity. He went on to suggest he didn't actually speak for the Times; that his comments on its behalf in reply to a Letter to the Editor should not be published publicly; and that the video he claims to have seen that backs up the Times' reporting was never actually released publicly and couldn't be shared with me. Also, he explained, the interviews with ACORN employees, which he said described the pimp outfit O'Keefe was wearing, were run elsewhere, not by the Times, though he was unable to cite exactly where it was those comments were run.

The entire matter, after I eventually jumped into it in hopes of making sense of it all, would eventually include a request to the Times Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, to examine the puzzling "standards" applied by Brock, "Senior Editor/Standards," in the entire bizarre affair.

That bizarre affair is likely best illustrated by the actual emails themselves, posted below, in order, in full. But first, the background as to what happened here, and why this particular original request from a reader, for an important correction from the "paper of record," is no small matter, particularly as the investigations move forward on O'Keefe's right-wing dirty tricks and several alleged state and federal crimes. The country and the bulk of the corporate media relies in no small part -- and apparently, at their own peril -- on the New York Times to get these sorts of stories right. If this incident is any indication, the country is in big trouble.

The Background

The original Letter to the Editor of the Times, from BRAD BLOG reader Bob F. (he has requested we do not use his full name) sought a correction to a rather fawning Sunday, January 31 feature article in the Times on O'Keefe and his cohorts. The story, once again, conveyed the impression that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp in his infamous, secretly -- and apparently illegally -- taped video interviews filmed inside ACORN offices around the country last year.

The BRAD BLOG discussed the Times' somewhat embarrassing 2,250-word report, which seemed to make folk heroes out of the accused felons and right-wing operatives, following another report in which we detailed how horribly the media had misreported O'Keefe's original ACORN video scam.

As noted in those two articles, O'Keefe's heavily edited hit videos showed ACORN employees appearing to behave stupidly, though not illegally, as clarified in two separate official, independent reports, one by the Congressional Research Service [PDF] released on December 22, 2009, and the other by AG Harshbarger [PDF], released several on December 7, 2009.

In Harshbarger's report, "An Independent Governance Assessment of ACORN: The Path to Meaningful Reform" -- commissioned by ACORN as an external review of alleged wrong-doing seemingly revealed by those video tapes -- he notes quite specifically that O'Keefe was never actually dressed as a pimp in the ACORN offices, despite the tapes, as released on Republican activist Andrew Breitbart's Web sites and played heavily on Fox News, showing him dressed as such in video cutaways outside of the offices.

Harshbarger noted clearly in his December 7, 2009 report, which concluded that no crimes appear to have been committed by ACORN employees: "Although Mr. O'Keefe appeared in all videos dressed as a pimp, in fact, when he appeared at each and every office, he was dressed like a college student -- in slacks and a button down shirt."

Harshbarger also notes that the videos were "in some cases substantially" edited, including the use of over-dubbing and voiceovers such that it was "difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding."

Of course, one of the many ginned-up criticisms of ACORN that unfairly poured forth following the release of those videos included the underlying notion of how dumb those stupid federally subsidized ACORN employees must have been to have believed for even a second that this skinny little white kid was actually a pimp. Couldn't these idiots tell he wasn't -- just by looking at his ridiculous get-up?

Of course not. Because he wasn't dressed in that get-up, despite giving that impression in both the videos themselves, and his appearances on Fox News and elsewhere thereafter.

In fact, the New York Times helped create that false perception itself long ago. In a September 19, 2009 report by Scott Shane, for example, O'Keefe is directly quoted telling the paper: "I'm a skinny nerd, the least convincing pimp in the world."

Following the release of the videos, and the ginned-up outrage over them -- helped in no small part by their purposeful misrepresentation by O'Keefe, Breitbart, and media outlets like Fox, New York Times, and many others that misreported them -- Congress passed legislation to deny federal funding to the non-profit community organization. That legislation was subsequently found to be an unconstitutional "bill of attainder" by a federal judge, but the damage was done to the anti-poverty group whose "crimes" were little more than having the temerity to legally register millions of low- and middle-income (and thus, largely Democratic-leaning) voters so they could legally participate in their own democracy.

But the tapes were, in no small part, a scam. They were, for example, misrepresented as an "ACORN child prostitution investigation" by O'Keefe and Breitbart to this day. They were anything but that. And they never, to either my knowledge or Harshbarger's, included shots of O'Keefe actually dressed as a pimp in any of the offices. O'Keefe's partner in the videos, Hannah Giles, was dressed as a fairly conservative looking prostitute, and was represented as such to ACORN employees. But O'Keefe represented himself to the ACORN employees as her college boyfriend who was considering a Congressional run someday, and who was now trying to help rescue Giles from an abusive pimp.

And yet, the Times' "Senior Editor/Standards" Greg Brock first claimed in his original email to Bob F. that the Times stands by its reporting that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp because -- get this -- "Mr. O'Keefe himself explained how he was dressed -- and appeared on a live Fox show wearing what HE said was the same exact costume he wore to ACORN's offices."

For evidence, Brock then went on to link to a video clip of O'Keefe's live appearance on Fox where he sat on the couch, dressed in his pimp get-up, and was introduced by Fox's Steve Doocy as being "dressed exactly in the same outfit he wore in these ACORN offices up and down the Eastern Seaboard." O'Keefe confirmed Doocy's inaccurate introduction, and that was apparently good enough for the Times.

Brock then told Bob F. that if he had any further concerns, he should take them up with Fox News if he believed "they doctored his imagine in this television interview" or "check with Mr. O'Keefe and ask him if he was lying when he went on this live Fox show and told the anchors that he was dressed on the show exactly the way he was dressed when he went into the ACORN offices."

In other words, as Brock confirmed in concluding his very first note, he was taking Fox and O'Keefe's word for it, even though it's clear that O'Keefe was lying, at least according to both the report from the former MA Attorney General, and the publicly released videos that also show otherwise.

But the New York Times apparently believes Fox and O'Keefe instead, according to Brock!

"If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him," Brock incredibly asserted. "Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."

But things got quickly even worse, as Brock seemed to dig himself deeper and deeper into the hole with new, unsupported assertions in each note following Bob F.'s follow-up which pointed to the quote from Harshbarger's report. It then got worse still, after I eventually jumped into the conversation myself following Brock's assertion -- seemingly pulled out of thin air -- that:

At one point, the camera was turned in such a way to catch part of the "costume" he was wearing. And ACORN employees who saw him described his costume. … We stand by our reporting.

It was then, with Bob F.'s permission, after he'd shared the full email exchange to date with me, that I jumped in to politely request a link to the video Brock alluded to in the comment above, and to the report which he said quoted "ACORN employees who...described [O'Keefe's] costume."

At that point, things went even farther down the rabbit hole with Brock first telling me he would have no comment to me, then asserting he didn't speak for the Times, even though every email was sent from his Times email address, [email protected], and originally signed as "Greg Brock, Senior Editor/Standards."

The thread continued to devolve, as I grew increasingly gobsmacked by Brock's unsupported assertions, and as he was clearly unable and/or unwilling to provide any of the requested cites to either the video he specifically mentioned as evidence that supported the Times' reporting, or the comments from ACORN employees which allegedly did the same.

With each new note, new, puzzling explanations and apparent backtracking emerged for Brock's unwillingness to offer actual support for his contentions. E.g.:

  • "My response wasn't addressed to the public and wasn't a statement on behalf of The Times."
  • "...just because I send an email response to one reader does not mean that the content of that email is THE official statement to the public and all media outlets on behalf of The Times."
  • "Perhaps ... you read more into my note to Mr. F. [full name redacted for privacy] than was there. I said our statement was based on a video. I did not say that we saw the video online or that it ever was online. ... Many of our reporters have done a great deal of reporting on Acorn over a good period of time. And through that reporting --- whether it was watching videos, interviewing sources (who would not always go on the record) or doing other research --- we feel we have confirmed the information we reported. Just because I am not willing to give you a link --- or don't even have a link --- doesn't mean our reporting is in error."
  • "On my reference to comments by ACORN employees, I made that point to Mr. F. [full name redacted] based on my having read ad naseum [sic] about this case for months on end. I was not saying that the specific comment about "dressed as a pimp" was from our interviews with ACORN employees. But others have reported such comments."

And near the end of our exchange, in one of the final notes, Brock finally asserted this extraordinary claim in reference to his very first note to Bob F: "Please re-read that reference to Fox and Mr. O'Keefe. I did not cite that as our source."

Yet, in his very first reference to Fox and O'Keefe, again, who Brock says he "did not cite ... as our source" was this very first sentence he ever wrote to Bob F.:

Our article included that description because Mr. O'Keefe himself explained how he was dressed --- and appeared on a live Fox show wearing what HE said was the same exact costume he wore to ACORN's offices.

...And that very first note then concluded with:

If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct.

At this point, I'll refer you to the emails with Brock in full, as posted below, to fully appreciate it all. Also, in hopes that you may be able to help me understand what I may be missing here -- including any information about the supposed evidence that Brock asserts actually exists somewhere to back up the Times' reporting, even though he still refuses to do so himself and continues to stand by their reporting nonetheless.

The willingness of O'Keefe and Breitbart to allow this sort of massive misrepresentation of their ACORN scam -- considered to be a successful one -- is a very important point. It should be accurately reported and kept in mind when examining their current claims concerning the more recent scam which resulted in the felony arrests of O'Keefe and his buddies, one of them the son of the acting US Attorney in Louisiana, inside a U.S. Senator's office, attempting to gain access to her phone system!

If O'Keefe, and Breitbart, who still employs him, were that willing to out-and-out lie about the ACORN scam, seen as a successful one, just how far would the two GOP operatives be willing to go to get off the hook for what appears to be a very serious federal felony?

As O'Keefe quickly published a statement explaining his version of what he was doing in Landrieu's office, and as that explanation just as quickly was shot full of holes, his past willingness to lie is very much a matter to keep in mind at present as the federal criminal prosecution in Louisiana moves forward.

That's the background, as we wait to hear if the Times' Public Editor Clark Hoyt wishes to jump in and help sort out this disturbing matter at the same "paper of record" which somehow managed to bring us a full year of Judith Miller's horrific and inaccurate front page reports concerning "evidence" of Saddam Hussein's non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Those reports, of course, eventually helped lead the nation into an unnecessary, seemingly endless, trillion-dollar war and an uncountable death toll of U.S. and others' troops, private contractors, and Iraqi citizens alike.

Where I used to scratch my head in wonder as to how that could have happened at the once-great newspaper, I now look at the exchange below, and the paper's failures -- by their most senior editors -- seem to begin to make a lot more sense.

The emails with Brock follow below, right after a few quick examples of...

The Times' Ongoing Misreporting on O'Keefe "Posing" as a Pimp...

For the record, it was not just the Times' 2,250-word January 31st feature story headlined "High Jinks to Handcuffs for Landreiu Provocateur" on O'Keefe and his alleged co-conspirators which clearly suggested O'Keefe was wearing his pimp outfit when seeking advice from secretly video-taped ACORN employees. The paper consistently misreported as much, time and again, in at least eight different instances since the release of Harshbarger's December 7th report which directly contradicts that point.

The Times, from my quick search of its website, apparently never bothered to report, even once, the findings of that report or those from the Congressional Research Service. Both reports determined that ACORN staffers committed no crimes. Nonetheless, the paper has filed one story after another on the O'Keefe/Breitbart ACORN videos, including these which misreport the O'Keefe's pimp costume, even after Harshbarger's December 7th report:

After Arrest, Provocateur's Tactics Questioned
Campbell Robertson and Liz Robbins, Published: January 27, 2010:
"Mr. O'Keefe is a conservative activist who gained fame last year by posing as a pimp and secretly recording members of the community group Acorn giving him advice on how to set up a brothel."

High Jinks to Handcuffs for Landrieu Provocateur
Jim Rutenberg and Campbell Robertson, Published: January 31, 2010:
"Mr. O'Keefe made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group Acorn - eliciting advice on financing a brothel on videos that would threaten to become Acorn's undoing."

O'Keefe Talks to Fox About His Landrieu-Office Arrest
Kate Phillips, Published: February 2, 2010:
"James O'Keefe, the young videographer who caused an uproar last year by surreptitiously recording himself and an associate, posing as a pimp and prostitute, getting business advice from workers at Acorn..."

The Times website also published a number of reports from wire services such as Reuters and Associated Press which forwarded the same inaccurate assertions:

Activist Accused Of Tampering With Senator's Phone
By REUTERS, Published: January 26, 2010:
"...among those arrested on Monday was James O'Keefe, who, posing as a pimp and accompanied by a woman pretending to be a prostitute, filmed workers with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN..."

4 Men Accused of Scheme With La. Senator's Phones
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Published: January 26, 2010:
"A hero of conservatives who bruised the liberal group ACORN by posing as a pimp on hidden camera..."

Phone-Tampering Case: Prank or Political Spying?
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Published: January 27, 2010:
"Last year, O'Keefe, a 25-year-old self-described investigative journalist, posed as a pimp in the hidden-camera videos that embarrassed the community organizing group ACORN."

Activist Touted 'Project' Before Phone Tamper Case
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press, Published: January 27, 2010:
"Last year, O'Keefe, a 25-year-old self-described investigative journalist, posed as a pimp in the hidden-camera videos that embarrassed the community organizing group ACORN."

[The above article was replaced on the Times site by the next one for some reason. The old link is still there when searching NYTimes.com, but it now goes to the following story instead]

Lawyer: Phone Scheme Meant to Embarrass Senator
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Published: January 28, 2010:
"...activist James O'Keefe, known for posing as a pimp and using a hidden camera to target the community-organizing group ACORN..."

* * *

Complete Email Thread with Greg Brock, New York Times, Senior Editor/Standards...

With the Times have firmly established to their readers, over and again, in at least eight reports under their own masthead, that O'Keefe "posed" as a pimp, in the period following former MA AG Harshbarger's report finding that "at each and every office, [O'Keefe] was dressed like a college student - in slacks and a button down shirt", here is the complete, extraordinary email exchange with Greg Brock, Times "Senior Editor/Standards"...

From: Bob F. [full name/email address redacted for privacy]
Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 7:22 AM
To: Letters, NYT
Subject: James O'Keefe

Dear Times,
In your Sunday article on James O'Keefe, you stated that he went into Acorn offices dressed as a pimp.

Are going to run a correction - someplace where readers will actually see it?

He did NOT enter those offices dressed as a pimp. That was only video he shot on the street.
In the offices, he dressed conservatively as the boyfriend trying to rescue the girl from her abusive pimp.
The videos were also doctored and overdubbed.

When will you run a major article on this?

Thanks.

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 9:58 AM
To: [Bob F. email address redacted for privacy]
Subject: FW: James O'Keefe

Dear Mr. F. [full name retracted for privacy]:

Our article included that description because Mr. O'Keefe himself explained how he was dressed --- and appeared on a live Fox show wearing what HE said was the same exact costume he wore to ACORN's offices.

Here is a clip from Fox New which Mr. O'Keefe is being interviewed, wearing the costume.
//www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL68WFEw2Gk

If you feel the other ACORN videos have been doctored, then perhaps you will want to contact Fox news and ask them how and why they doctored his image in this television interview. Was Mr. O'Keefe dressed in normal street clothes on their show and they somehow manipulated the image while he was on live TV? Or you might want to check with Mr. O'Keefe and ask him if he was lying when he went on this live Fox show and told the anchors that he was dressed on the show exactly the way he was dressed when he went into the ACORN offices.

If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct.

Best regards,

Greg Brock
Senior Editor/Standards

From: Bob F. [full name/email address redacted for privacy]
Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 10:50 PM
To: NYTimes, Senioreditor
Subject: RE: James O'Keefe

Dear Mr. Brock,

Thank you very much for your response, but I was somewhat confused by your email. I got my information from an independent report found here (Pg. 42 / Appendix D - Video Narratives):
www.proskauer.com/files/uploads/report2.pdf

"Although Mr. O'Keefe appeared in all videos dressed as a pimp, in fact, when he appeared at each and every office, he was dressed like a college student - in slacks and a button down shirt."

Now, I understand you could claim this report provides no PROOF he did not wear his pimp costume into those offices.
Similarly, there is no proof whatsoever that he did.

Is there a reason (especially given his recent actions) I should trust the word of James O'Keefe and not this independent report?
At minimum, there should have been some kind of qualifier to NYT's blind repetition of his claims.

Again, will you be issuing a correction / article on this?

I really do want to be able to trust the Times as a news source.
Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Bob F. [full name redacted for privacy]

[NOTE: The bolding and underlining in the following were in the original message sent by Brock to Bob F.]

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, February 03, 2010 7:24 AM
To: Bob F.
Subject: RE: James O'Keefe

As I said, we see nothing to correct. It is not merely a matter of accepting his version. He was videotaping some of the action, including when he left some of the offices. At one point, the camera was turned in such a way to catch part of the "costume" he was wearing. And ACORN employees who saw him described his costume.

The report you cite acknowledges that the employees were not interviewed and that much of this report concerning the videos are based on "hearsay." We stand by our reporting.

We did not speak directly with those employees who were captured on video in part because we were satisfied there was no question that the visits occurred and the comments were made. In addition, we could not offer them - or our own notes - confidentiality or privileged communications status. We also did not have the opportunity to speak with the videographers. In fact, they either declined or ignored our requests.

Therefore, while we have formed opinions about the videos, and have offered our findings and comments to the extent we felt it appropriate to do so, the following narratives (except for the Philadelphia office) are based on hearsay alone - albeit reflecting the perspective of the ACORN employees and volunteers, and their supervisors

At this point, after Bob F. shared all of the above with me, I jumped in with my own note to Brock in order to request the specific cites to which he was referring. After 24 hours or so without a reply, I resent the message to him in case he missed it. That message is below, and includes the original email. [Emphasis was mine, as included in the original note to him].

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Friday, February 05, 2010 7:51 PM
To: NYTimes, Senioreditor
Cc: 'Bob F. [full name redacted for privacy]'
Subject: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

Greg - Resending the below in case you missed it previously today. Was sent late last night. - BF
______________________________________________________________

Greg -

Bob F. [full name redacted for privacy] shared some of your comments in response to his emailed concerns asking the Times about the assertion that James O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp inside the ACORN offices in his videos, and whether a correction would be appropriate despite former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger's assertion that:

Although Mr. O'Keefe appeared in all videos dressed as a pimp, in fact, when he appeared at each and every office, he was dressed like a college student - in slacks and a button down shirt.

Apparently you wrote Bob back in reply and said:

At one point, the camera was turned in such a way to catch part of the "costume" he was wearing. And ACORN employees who saw him described his costume. … We stand by our reporting.

I'm working on a story on the Times (and others) reporting here. Do you have the link to the video where you say we "catch part of the 'costume' he was wearing"? I've not been able to find that video.

As well, if you have a cite to the "employees who saw him [who] described his costume" it would be much appreciated as well, as I haven't been able to find that either.

Thanks. As you may imagine, working on deadline here, so your prompt reply would be much appreciated.

Best,
Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

---
Brad Friedman
Publisher/Editor, The BRAD BLOG
//www.BradBlog.com

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 4:15 AM
To: Brad Friedman
Cc: 'Bob F. [full name redacted for privacy]'
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

I don't have any comment on our coverage. My previous comments were addressed to Mr. F. [full name redacted] and intended for him.

thanks,
Greg

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 3:29 PM
To: NYTimes, Senioreditor
Cc: 'Bob F. [full named redacted for privacy]'
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

As the Senior Editor at NYTimes, responding to a reader in that role, with very specific information, given as the reason you stand by your reporting, I'd think you'd be able to support that information with cites that back it up, no?

What does that mean that your "previous comments were addressed to Mr. F. [full name redacted] and intended for him". Are you responding on behalf of the New York Times as Senior Editor or not??

You asserted, very specifically, that: "At one point, the camera was turned in such a way to catch part of the 'costume' he was wearing. And ACORN employees who saw him described his costume. … We stand by our reporting."

So I'm simply asking for the link to the video which supports your claim, and a cite to the reportage concerning the "ACORN employees who saw him [who] described his costume".

Isn't that public information and part of your public defense of the story?? I'm confused, but have no interest in being unfair. You make the assertions in order to "stand by" your own reporting, so why would you not be willing to provide that information to anybody who asked for it??

Brad

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 3:25 PM
To: Brad Friedman
Cc: 'Bob F. [full name redacted for privacy]'
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

I was answering Mr. F's [full name redacted] question. My response wasn't addressed to the public and wasn't a statement on behalf of The Times. I respond to readers' individual questions about coverage in The Times. I don't release statements on behalf of the newspaper or the company. Had Mr. F. [full name redacted] told me he was seeking a public comment that he could pass along or use or for publication --- as you did in identifying yourself --- I would have told him the same as I told you. That I had no public comment. He certainly has the right to tell you or anyone his position on an issue or what questions he has asked The Times or anyone else. But I never share with anyone else an email that a reader sends me; I would never post it without that reader's permission and it would never be published as a Letter to the Editor without that reader's permission. I expect the same courtesy. That is why I said my response was intended for him.

Anytime a question is raised about an article, we check the information, talk to editors or reporters or whatever is necessary. If we were wrong, we correct it; if we are confident of our reporting, we say we stand behind it and the content of the story.

Best regards,
Greg

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 4:26 PM
To: 'NYTimes, Senioreditor'; '[email protected]'
Cc: 'Bob F. [full name redacted for privacy]'
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

Allow me to get this straight, Greg: You reply to a reader who sent an emailed query/concern about a Times story, to a public Times email address ([email protected]); you send the reply from that public Times email address; "sign" the note "Greg Brock Senior Editor/Standards"; reply again several times to follow-ups to the same reader, from that same NYTimes address; make assertions about a story/reportage on behalf of the Times that "We stand by our reporting" and include with that several specific reasons for standing behind it based, based on alleged evidence that, when asked to provide it, you then say that you say you "don't have any comment on our coverage"; and then when called on that by me, you are now saying that your emails from the NYTimes address, on behalf of the Times, as the "Senior Editor/Standards" is not a "statement on behalf of the newspaper or the company" and suggest that your emails and/or the comments within it should not be posted without your permission????

Really?

Of course, posting a private citizen's email without their permission is one thing. But you are a public newspaper, writing from a newspaper address, speaking on behalf of the newspaper in reply to a private citizen who has given their permission to share their email publicly.

I'm astounded on several levels here, Greg. Would you offer that same courtesy to a public official whose emails you obtained? Or, let's say, to some climate scientists who actually were writing private emails with the expectation that their emails would not be published in the New York Times? Or anybody whose emails revealed a news worthy story, as yours clearly do?

And, beyond that, while your emails have not (yet) been made public, you still refuse to back up, with any evidence at all, the very specific assertions you made to a reader, from a Times email address, on behalf of the Times, signed by the "Senior Editor/Standards" of the Times, concerning reasons why, as you wrote to him, "We [presumably the Times] stand by our reporting"???

What I thought was likely shoddy reporting, and a possibly lazy and inaccurate response to it, has just become an absurdity.

My request for the evidence to back up the assertions you made as the reasons why you "stand by [your] reporting" still stands. I hope you will offer it, since, as noted several times, I've so far been unable to verify your assertions, but I'd think you'd be able to. But I'm also now CC'ing the Times Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, at this point in hopes that he may either be able to point out what it is that I'm seeing incorrectly here, or correct for the record what seems clearly to be an outrageous misrepresentation of your position/job at best or an extraordinarily hypocritical CYA move at worse, from you (or both).

For his reference, I'm including the original exchange between you and Bob at the bottom of this note, just below the exchanges between you and I, in my hopes to respectfully follow up on Bob's concerns. (Mr. Hoyt, you can review this entire bizarre/disturbing affair by reading the thread below from the bottom up.)

Best,
Brad
[phone number redacted for privacy]

At this point, Brock replied, but only to me. No longer did he REPLY ALL to those who were CC'd on the thread to date (which had included Bob F. and New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt by that point)...

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 6:29 PM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: Re: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

Dear Brad,

By all means, take your query to Clark Hoyt. That is why his position exists.

It's pointless for us to continue to argue. I am sorry you do not agree with my approach. But I think I was clear in my explanation of why I told you I would not comment to you beyond stating that we stand behind the reporting.

Mr. F. [full name redacted] wrote to me as a reader. I answered him in my official Times capacity --- which is to respond as best as I can to readers. Yes, my emails are on a Times e-mail address and, of course, any reader can take my emails and do whatever they want to with them (including sharing them with you). They can publish them in a book if they choose. I am aware of that every time I send an email message. But just because I send an email response to one reader does not mean that the content of that email is THE official statement to the public and all media outlets on behalf of The Times. That's not my job. That's what our corporate communications department does. (In fact, my job often conflicts with those statements. As Mr. Hoyt and many others can tell you, I often disagree with a decision by The Times and I say so --- in emails to readers. But those comments are under my name and represent my opinions in the context of my job; they are not the official position of The Times. Fortunately, we are allowed to disagree here. We don't march in lockstep.)

You wrote to me not as a reader but as someone who identified himself as the editor of a blog who was seeking a comment from The Times that would be published. (And as I said before, I appreciated that. It gives you credibility for being upfront.) But I'm not going to have our corporate communications folks wake up tomorrow and discover that I have issued some official statement for publication. They decide when and how to do that. By the same token, they know that I do not want to wake up one morning and find that they have been sending individual responses to readers about specific questions on our content when they themselves have not been involved in or even talked to an editor or reporter about it.

I don't know a clearer way to make the distinction.

Best regards,
Greg

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 10:51 PM
To: NYTimes, Senioreditor
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

To be frank, while I appreciate the distinctions you're trying/hoping to make here, the fact is you made very specific assertions in response to a reader that I'd think the Senior Editor who made them would be willing, able to back up.

My request was very simple. You referred to a specific video and to specific comments from ACORN employees to back up your reportage. I asked for links to that specific video and/or specific comments from ACORN employees and no matter what your point is now about who does or doesn't speak "officially" for the NYTimes, I'd think you'd be forthcoming with those links.

Are you able to offer them or not?

This is not personal, Greg. This is merely journalism. And as someone who works at the country's "paper of record", I'd hope you'd be able to support your journalism as you had claimed to "stand behind" in response to a reader.

Am I to presume, at this point, that you simply refuse to do so? I understood that was your stated intention from your original reply to me, but I'm trying to give you every benefit of the doubt here in hopes that you will simply do the right thing by offering the support for the claims that you made.

Brad

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Sunday, February 07, 2010 6:19 AM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

Dear Brad,

I think it is great that you are examining this coverage. But I am definitely not the person who can speak on behalf of The Times as to our handling of that coverage.

However, I can offer one clarification that might help. Given the nature of your article, you were/are correct to seek as much confirmation of information as possible. Perhaps in that mission, you read more into my note to Mr. F than was there. I said our statement was based on a video. I did not say that we saw the video online or that it ever was online. I guess this day and time that would seem logical to assume since everything else is. Many of our reporters have done a great deal of reporting on Acorn over a good period of time. And through that reporting --- whether it was watching videos, interviewing sources (who would not always go on the record) or doing other research --- we feel we have confirmed the information we reported. Just because I am not willing to give you a link --- or don't even have a link --- doesn't mean our reporting is in error. We're also not going to give out the names and phone numbers of sources so anyone who wants to call them up and ask for confirmation can do so. And in cases where someone might have let us listen to an audio tape or view a video on some subject, we are not going to break our commitment to them not to divulge the source. It's just like when we quote from a document and say: which The Times was allowed to read..... Meaning that we saw it; we took notes, but we don't have the document in our possession. The fact that we can't post the document online doesn't undercut our reporting. If someone chooses not to believe us, then that's part of the process.

So while I don't have anymore to offer you than: "we stand by our reporting," there may be other options for you to find this video. Below is a sampling of the many news organizations and Web sites that have reported that Mr. O'Keefe entered the offices "dressed as a pimp." Everyone from the NYPost to the AP to Huffington Post, Slate, Rawstory and dozens of other sites. I assume you are checking with them to see what they based their statement on. They may very well have a video tape in their possession and will be happy to share it with you. Or they may be able to give out the information on their source, in which you can call that source directly.

//www.google.com/se...+%22dressed+as+a+pimp%3a

On my reference to comments by ACORN employees, I made that point to Mr. F. [full name redacted] based on my having read ad naseum about this case for months on end. I was not saying that the specific comment about "dressed as a pimp" was from our interviews with ACORN employees. But others have reported such comments.

I hope this helps clarifies these points.

Best,
Greg

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Sunday, February 07, 2010 10:07 PM
To: 'NYTimes, Senioreditor'
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

Of course, I would never ask you to divulge such a confidential source, Greg. But that was clearly not the assertion that you were making. In fact, your first response to Bob referenced your source as being Fox News and James O'Keefe, not some confidential source. You referenced his appearance on Fox in the costume, and suggested video they showed would have had to have been "somehow manipulated". You further suggested Bob might want "might want to check with Mr. O'Keefe and ask him if he was lying when he went on this live Fox show and told the anchors that he was dressed on the show exactly the way he was dressed when he went into the ACORN offices."

You concluded that note with: "If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."

To now say you had some secret source who you cannot reveal would seem to strain the bounds of credulity, frankly.

As to the other news sources who you correctly note have also gotten this aspect of the story wrong, I agree, and where I can highlight that point, I certainly will. But the NYTimes is, as you know, "the paper of record". And simply because others fail should hardly keep *you* from doing the right thing and correcting your reporting transparently and with the same prominence that you misreported the information in the first place.

Moreover, to my knowledge, none of those other news sources, much less a "Senior Editor/Standards" at any of them replied to a reader query/concern by citing Fox News and James O'Keefe as their source for standing by their story because they "believe him" and feel that "therefore there is nothing for us to correct", only to suggest ownership of new, yet uncited 'evidence' later to support the claim (allegedly unreleased videos as well as comments from ACORN employees which you now say you've gleaned "based on my having read ad naseum about this case for months on end" though they were not "from our interviews with ACORN employees. But others have reported such comments", but you still fail to supply any cite to any such reportage anywhere. Was it from Fox News? Did someone there say they spoke to some ACORN employee who described the costume? If so, does that meet the "standards" for appearing in the pages of the New York Times unconfirmed and unverifiable?!)

I believe you would have been wiser to quit while you were not quite as deep in the hole as you seem more determined to be with each note, should have copped to the original bad judgment/hasty reply to Bob, apologized for it, and attempted to correct the record in the "paper of record" as clearly and as thoroughly and as appropriately as possible, Greg.

I'm sorry, but this is no small matter. The scam that O'Keefe, Breitbart and gang have been running --- as expectedly aided and abetted by Fox "News" --- against ACORN largely for having the temerity to legally register millions of low and middle-income (read Democratic-leaning) voters strikes at the very heart of our democracy and our electoral system.

Surely you know that. And surely you don't actually think it appropriate for the New York Times to aid and abet that scam as we would expect Fox, but not necessarily the Times, to do. Surely the standards for the Times are a tad higher than those at Fox. But perhaps my expectations for the Times are still far too high.

Brad

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, February 08, 2010 4:17 AM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

Please re-read that reference to Fox and Mr. O'Keefe. I did not cite that as our source. I simply made the point to Mr. F [redacted for privacy] that that had occurred. And that if there was indeed a question about how he was dressed, it would be a good starting point to ask him and Fox about that report: was he honest in that report? Did Fox try to verify his contention that he was dressed like that? . My reference to manipulated was in reference to Mr F[redacted]'s comment about how videos had been manipulated. My point was: I guess now someone will say that Fox maniuplated the live images while he was on TV. I didn't say they did.

But here is the bottom line, Brad: Mr. F. [redacted for privacy] asked a specific question. I tried to answer it. You followed up asking for more information on that answer. In the end, I have written several emails to you now trying to help as best I can on this point --- given that I am not the right person to make some sweeping statement on behelf of The Times.

I feel like I have bent over backward to help. I am sorry you do not feel I have and that you are so disappointed in me and what you feel is The Times's low standards.

Greg.

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Monday, February 08, 2010 2:51 PM
To: NYTimes, Senioreditor
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

"Please re-read that reference to Fox and Mr. O'Keefe. I did not cite that as our source. I simply made the point to Mr. F. [full name redacted] that that had occurred."

Greg, with all due respect, I have read and re-read all of your notes. You were quite clear to Bob in your very first sentence sent to him, in reply to his charge that the Times had misreported O'Keefe as wearing the pimp outfit inside ACORN's offices. The very first thing you said to him in reply was:

"Our article included that description because Mr. O'Keefe himself explained how he was dressed --- and appeared on a live Fox show wearing what HE said was the same exact costume he wore to ACORN's offices."

To backtrack now, and suggest you "did not cite that as our source", does, as previously mentioned, seem to strain credulity. But we can let Clark Hoyt and the general public decide by reviewing the full thread for themselves.

I do thank you for your responsiveness, of course, and for what you feel has been bending over backwards to respond to my concerns. I'm happy to let others decide what is what and what has gone on here and at the Times.

Best,
Brad

From: NYTimes, Senioreditor [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, February 08, 2010 11:54 AM
To: Brad Friedman
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

The main thing I cited was the video. Which prompted you to ask for the link to it or a copy, etc. That was the central point. If you took my comment to mean just the Fox video, then you could have linked to that and you would have had what you asked for. It's all over the Internet. I went on to make the point that he had made these comments on TV and that what he said matched what we had seen on video.

I think we have discussed this thoroughly. Again, I am sorry you did not find my efforts helpful.

Greg

From: Brad Friedman
Sent: Monday, February 08, 2010 3:37 PM
To: 'NYTimes, Senioreditor'
Subject: RE: (2nd Attempt) MEDIA REQUEST RE: James O'Keefe

"I went on to make the point that he had made these comments on TV and that what he said matched what we had seen on video."

As I believe you and I both know, you referenced a different video later that you did not offer a link to. You did offer a link to the Fox News video which did not show O'Keefe dressed as a pimp in any of the offices, even though, as you originally said in your first several notes, the Times took O'Keefe at his word. "We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct," you wrote.

The video you suggested later as existing someplace, seen only by the Times, was referred to as your evidence only after you deferred to Fox's and O'Keefe's unverified explanations as fact to support the Times reporting.

Anyway, you've had your say, I've had mine. We'll let others decide what happened here.

Best,
Brad

Brad Friedman is the publisher of The BRAD BLOG. He has appeared in the documentaries Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections and Murder, Spies & Voting Lies: The Clint Curtis Story.
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