Brooklyn DA clears ACORN in video scandal

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s said Monday that ACORN employees caught on tape advising conservative videographers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles did not commit a crime. That’s right, the video that was used as evidence to halt federal funding to ACORN and nearly led to the community organization’s collapse doesn’t actually contain criminal activity.
From a source inside law enforcement:

“They edited the tape to meet their agenda,” said the source.

No! I’m shocked. Shocked! You’re saying editing can be used to manipulate information? And that folks trying to take down ACORN weren’t fair in their editing of their own video? That was completely not obvious at all!
The editing process included splicing shots of James O’Keefe wearing an absurd pimp costume into the footage. O’Keefe never wore the costume inside ACORN offices, yet the outlandish outfit was used to draw attention to the video stunt. And the New York Times not only reported this false information, but is unwilling to retract those reports, saying of O’Keefe, “We believe him.” Yeah, that guy’s totally a trustworthy source.
I’m consistently baffled that politicians just accepted the contents of this video, that Republicans could use it to nearly destroy an organization providing vital services to low income people, and that Democrats played right along. And then I think about who ACORN serves and I remember racism, sexism, classism…

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • CTD

    The NYT reported that he posed as a pimp (indisputably true), not that he dressed as one.
    Of what relevance is his mode of dress anyway?

  • Toongrrl

    Oh dear Editing makes us think different!!! How shocking!!!! (sarcasm)

  • supremepizza

    Democratic politicians are often some of the most spineless people on the planet…The incidence of spinelessness is so high I think it should qualify them as their own species…

  • puckalish

    well, to answer your question, the mode of dress was used to drive the point home even further with regards to the alleged scandal. as mentioned in the Bradblog post, the media, at the time, made a big deal of these. in the NYTimes, Rutenberg and Robinson made a point of stating (their words, not mine) O’Keefe “dressed up as a pimp and trained his camera…” and so forth (emphasis mine).
    Jos was just using the dress as an example of the, um, creative editing in the video. according to the Harshbarger and Crafts brief released by Proskauer Rose (the firm that investigated the tapes), “The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms.Giles’s comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding.”
    please explain how it’s “indisputably true” that O’Keefe “posed as a pimp” and how the NYTimes stating “Mr. O’Keefe [...] dressed up as a pimp” is different from stating “that he dressed as [a pimp],” because that totally lost me.
    i’m just really disappointed that, no matter what comes out at this point, an organization which did a great deal of work in securing housing rights for low income people, among other things, has been so severely crippled, particularly during this economic downturn. not that there aren’t problems over there (9 of which are outlined in the Proskauer brief and others include trying to prevent unionizing of their own underpaid workforce)…
    peace and blessings

  • CTD

    The very first shot after the credits in O’Keefe’s first video clearly depicts him entering the ACORN office wearing a dress shirt and slacks. Do you think all pimps dress up like Huggybear? Do you have to be wearing an ostrich feather in your hat?
    “The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover ”
    Harshbarger (who was paid by ACORN) did not say the videos were doctored to make ACORN look bad. His report said there were edits and narrative voiceovers — just like in any documentary. It did not say those edits and narrative voiceovers were misleading.
    It is not “difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are respondint” as shill Harshbarger claims. The full unedited audio is available at You can listen to the unedited audio, compare it to the videos, and hear for yourself that O’Keefe did not overdub voices in a deceptive or misleading way.

  • puckalish

    ugh, that should’ve been a response to CTD

  • puckalish

    let’s do this point-by-point.
    first, O’Keefe’s video does have him in a “Huggybear”-like outfit, so clearly there’s some value there. further, the videos are edited to suggest that he actually went into ACORN offices dressed like a cartoon (‘cos Starsky & Hutch is surely a cartoon) character. also, Breitbart, who must be some kind of hero to you, stated (in the WashTimes), “…filmmaker and provocateur James O’Keefe came to my office to show me the video of him and his friend [...] dressed as a pimp and a prostitute and asking for – and getting – help for various illegal activities.”
    next, there’s a difference between a “substitute voiceover” and a “narrative voiceover.” the brief refers to the former, not the latter. making it sound all innocuous like this happens “in any documentary” is ridiculous.
    in the brooklyn video, for example, O’Keefe states, right at the beginning, “I posed as her pimp boyfriend banker.” however, the very transcripts to which you linked, the only mention of a “pimp” in the brooklyn transcript (each one is 40-odd pages, so i only read the one from my lovely borough) is of the pimp from whom “Eden” is running. oh, yeah, and there’s the bit about burying money, right? it’s suggested in the video that this is to hide the money from the cops whereas, if you look at the transcript (which is dubious itself, given that it’s unverified and has been proffered by an accused felon), Volda is suggesting to bury the money in order to hide it from an abusive pimp (“Sonny”). at no point is O’Keefe’s character depicted as a pimp – rather, he’s depicted as the woman’s boyfriend who “know[s] nothing about her business.”
    and then there’s the bit where Volda says, “And when you in this business, you gotta think fast because I can’t tell you don’t do it because you will never listen to me.” and everything after that, like where “Eden” responds to Volda asking if her pimp (“Sonny”, not the guy she’s with) “prey[s] on little girls” with the statement, “I need to protect them… to give them somewhere to live.”
    so, yeah, i’d say that looking at the transcripts you pointed me towards makes it even more clear that the videos were doctored to be much more unseemly than the real deal.
    i’m not saying that Volda did the right thing, but that she was grossly misrepresented on the video tape and that, if you go by the news reports (NYPost – “O’Keefe and Giles were garishly dressed as a stereotypical pimp and prostitute. O’Keefe was decked out in excessively snazzy flesh-peddler couture…”), the clothing did matter.
    oh, and on the point of Harshberger being a “shill,” yeah, his firm was paid by ACORN… but the Brooklyn District Attorney was not – and that’s who determined that Harshberger’s assessment was valid. it must be the big government conspiracy… c.o.n… spiracy.

  • drydock
  • Joe

    The DA has more power than judges in New York. The DA can choose to ignore clear evidence of a crime and not prosecute those responsible because the DA has no obligation to actually prosecute anyone.
    A DA can choose to prosecute a child who takes a photo of herself and texts it to her boyfriend as a distributor of child pornography and once convicted, the child would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life, and often there is a minimum sentence a judge has to hand out to this child who would be considered the victim under the law if her boyfriend had taken the picture instead.

  • CTD

    “oh, and on the point of Harshberger being a “shill,” yeah, his firm was paid by ACORN… but the Brooklyn District Attorney was not ”
    Interesting. The Brooklyn DA seems pretty convinced that O’Keefe posed as a pimp:

    The three had been secretly videotaped by two people posing as a pimp and prostitute, who came to ACORN’S Brooklyn office, seeking advice about how to purchase a house with money generated by their ‘business.’

    “next, there’s a difference between a “substitute voiceover” and a “narrative voiceover.” the brief refers to the former, not the latter. making it sound all innocuous like this happens “in any documentary” is ridiculous.”
    Yes, like any documentary. Interviewees speak on camera, while the filmmakers do voice over.
    “the only mention of a “pimp” in the brooklyn transcript”
    Do you honestly think it only “counts” if he refers to himself as pimp, by name? That one can only pose as a pimp by referring to oneself, out loud, as one?
    Look at the transcript and audio:

    James: Yea well she is gonna have this business in the house with a bunch of girls coming and doing these things, performing tricks and she is going to give me the money so that I can pay the mortgage that is how we want to work it potentially.
    Volda (loan counselor): but your name is going to be on the mortgage your name is going to be
    on the deed

    James: what if I when I run for campaign in a couple of years and this third party is gonna give me the money to pay for the house. Pay for the mortgages. Can he continue giving me the money after I am done paying for the house you know cause she
    Volda (loan counselor): But you don’t need it
    James: yea but she is going to be bringing the money in so if I run for political office maybe that’s a good idea for continuing to give me the money while I am running for campaign so I can raise money giving money to this third party even after I am done paying the mortgage

    So puckalish, in your universe, what do you call a man who has a prostitute (or prostitutes) turn tricks then give him the proceeds?
    You’re also only telling half the story about the “abusive” ex-pimp. Yes, they say that O’Keefe is trying to “protect” her and her underage prostitutes from him. But not by setting them on the straight an narrow, but by becoming their new pimp. He repeatedly told ACORN employees that he was setting up a house where Giles and underage girls would turn tricks, and give the proceeds to O’Keefe, who planned to use them for a future Congressional campaign.