The New York Times Corrects ACORN Reporting

Well it’s nice that they got that in before ACORN close up shop:

Several articles since September about the troubles of the community organizing group Acorn referred incorrectly or imprecisely to one aspect of videotaped encounters between Acorn workers and two conservative activists that contributed to the group’s problems.

In the encounters, the activists posed as a prostitute and a pimp and discussed prostitution with the workers. But while footage shot away from the offices shows one activist, James O’Keefe, in a flamboyant pimp costume, there is no indication that he was wearing the costume while talking to the Acorn workers.

The errors occurred in articles on Sept. 16 and Sept. 19, 2009, and on Jan. 31 of this year. Because of an editing error, the mistake was repeated in an article in some copies on Saturday

Of course, that’s not really right either, and it’s incredibly galling that the Times continues to underplay how atrocious their “journalistic” work was on this story. While it is true that James O’Keefe didn’t wear his ridiculous “pimp suit” when he was in an ACORN office, is also true that in the most inflammatory videos, O’Keefe did not present himself as a pimp at all, but rather as someone trying to help a prostitute escape an abusive pimp. This fact compeltely alters the nature of the interaction ACORN had with O’Keefe and Giles, as everyone who has investigated the unedited film O’Keefe refused to release to news organizations has concluded (and one would think that the fact that O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart refused to release the raw video would have sent up red flags with professional journalists). Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and ACORN is beng forced to shut down their operation due to an inability to raise funds.

Freedom of the press is obviously a very important thing, and as a general rule a large degree of latitude should be given to media outlets to report information. That said, there needs to be some consequence for media outlets/reporters who traffic inaccurate information and cause real damage to organizations or individuals. In this case, the “reproting” the Times did was so unbelievably credulous it basically constitutes professional malpractice. I’m not sure whether ACORN could demonstrate damages or not, but it seems hard to believe that the inaccurate reporting of the Times didn’t damage ACORN, or that accurate reporting wouldn’t have helped them. Either way, ACORN ought to have to ability to attempt to prove their case, and if they can show that the Times caused them damages, and that their reporting was especially sloppy, the Times ought to be required to pay damages to ACORN.

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