Rebecca Mead's New Yorker profile of conservative online media mogul Andrew Breitbart repeats the false claim that his protege, provocateur videographer James O'Keefe, impersonated a pimp to infiltrate the offices of the anti-poverty, pro-voter registration group ACORN.
Here's how Mead describes the incident in her May 24th article:
Breitbart’s biggest scoop thus far has been a series of videos made by a twenty-five-year-old activist named James O’Keefe, which was posted on Big Government last September. O’Keefe, along with Hannah Giles, then a student at Florida International University, travelled across the nation and entered several offices of Acorn, the community-organizing association, with a hidden camera; they posed as a pimp and a prostitute who were seeking housing and business help. O’Keefe’s approach did not adhere to traditional standards of journalism, bearing a closer resemblance to the methods pioneered by Sacha Baron Cohen. In a visit to an Acorn office in Baltimore, O’Keefe and Giles politely introduced themselves as having “kind of a unique life situation.” As Acorn employees solicitously offered them routine small-business advice (file a 1099 tax form, look for deductions), O’Keefe and Giles slowly revealed what their unique life situation entailed, then presented an unorthodox business plan: to smuggle a number of underage Salvadoran girls into the country, with the goal of sexually enslaving them. The Acorn employees were, alarmingly, unalarmed by the proposal. “My job is not to judge people,” one of them told O’Keefe and Giles. [New Yorker]
The New Yorker's rigorous fact-checking protocols are legendary. Yet in this case, a discredited myth was smuggled in as fact. By the time the story was published, the pimp suit claim had been thoroughly debunked by more than one independent investigation and several media outlets.
O'Keefe never wore a pimp suit to the ACORN offices, though his videos were edited to give the impression that he did. O'Keefe never even told ACORN workers he was a pimp. All available evidence suggests that he posed as the clean-cut student boyfriend of "prostitute" Hannah Giles, who was supposedly looking for help fleeing her abusive pimp.
Yet, in a series of media appearances, O'Keefe implied that ACORN employees were fools as well as knaves for failing to see through his 1970s blaxsploitation disguise.
In February, Giles told the Washington Independent that O'Keefe never claimed to have worn the pimp suit into the ACORN offices:
We never claimed that he went in with a pimp costume,” said Giles. “That was b-roll. It was purely b-roll. He was a pimp, I was a prostitute, and we were walking in front of government buildings to show how the government was whoring out the American people.” [Washington Independent]
On March 20, New York Times editor Clark Hoyt published the results of his own investigation into the O'Keefe/Giles saga. The upshot? O'Keefe never wore the pimp suit and Andrew Breitbart knew he didn't:
Here is what I found: 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. It is easy to see why The Times and other news organizations got a different impression. At one point, as the videos were being released, O’Keefe wore the get-up on Fox News, and a host said he was “dressed exactly in the same outfit he wore to these Acorn offices.” He did not argue.
But Breitbart told me that, after doing his own examination, “I am under the impression that at no time was he ever dressed as an elaborate pimp” in the offices. Because O’Keefe was apparently carrying the hidden camera, he is generally not visible in the videos, but he is seen briefly entering the Baltimore office wearing a blue shirt and chinos.
It's discouraging that the New Yorker would uncritically repeat this thoroughly discredited claim.