The New York Times admits, sort of, that it got duped by right-wing propagandists who appear to have succeeded in a plot to destroy ACORN, an organization that for four decades has aided and defended the poor and powerless across the United States.
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 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 reflected 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 the transcripts provided by a conservative organization, Hoyt accepted a criticism made by the liberal media critics at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, that O'Keefe and his supposed girlfriend indicated they were 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 criticism of ACORN employees for not objecting to the apparent illegality of O'Keefe's other fictitious schemes was still legitimate.
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.
Think back, for instance, to 2004 and how a few right-wing operatives smeared Sen. John Kerry over his Vietnam War service, as CNN and other key mainstream outlets bought into the tales.
Or how right-wing bloggers put in play a claim that CBS's "60 Minutes -2" had published bogus memos about George W. Bush blowing off his Vietnam-era National Guard duty. The right-wing claim was that IBM Selectric typewriters in the early 1970s couldn't do superscripts for the "th" or "st" after a number, when, in fact, they could.
Even though the Selectric claim proved false and despite the fact that the content of the purported memos was true CBS succumbed to furious complaints from Bush's media defenders. Four producers were fired; longtime anchor Dan Rather was forced out; and the program was shut down.
So, from the point of view of mainstream journalists, it's clear that the smart career path is to run with the right-wing stampedes and never to get caught in the way.
Yet, the American Left continues to downplay or ignore the need to support independent media that could resist or counter the Right's pressures.