Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to prostitute yourself by pretending to be a prostitute

Today's Paul Simon lyric du jour is from "The Boxer":

All lies and jest,
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear,
And disregards the rest.

California Attorney General, erstwhile Governor Moonbeam, Jerry Brown announced last Thursday that his office would not prosecute anyone at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) for any activities allegedly caught on tape by an undercover operation by a pair of conservative activists. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles claimed to have dressed themselves up in some fetishistic nightmare version of pimp and prostitute, and supposedly caught ACORN employees helping them import under-age girls from Latin America for a prostitution ring. The whole ploy seemed a bridge too far at the time—underage girls and prostitution, maybe; smuggling illegals across the border, maybe; both at once? Hmmm…

Now, what O’Keefe and Giles did was illegal under California privacy law, but the Sean Hannitys and Glenn Becks of the world—and much of the rest of the country—were willing to overlook that little technicality because these were such upright “journalists.” And indeed the duo will not be prosecuted: but only because they were granted immunity in exchange for access to the unedited versions of their tapes… which, oh so coincidentally, show that O’Keefe and Giles really were engaged in prostitution, but of a different sort than they pretended. Because they sure as hell prostituted anything that bore any resemblance to the truth. A month after the Brooklyn DA found “no criminality” by ACORN workers when O’Keefe and Giles tried the same stunt in New York, Brown’s investigation showed "that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor."

An examination of the unedited California tapes—from San Diego, San Bernardino and Los Angeles—reveals that, for example, that what O’Keefe and Giles represented on their edited version as an ACORN worker guiding them towards means of bilking money from the government really shows that staffer only offering encouragement in obtaining affordable housing. And Rachel Maddow suggests that a different employee, Juan Carlos Vera, who seems to be helping the couple import underage prostitutes is in fact setting them up. Maddow quotes from the Attorney General’s report: “Immediately after the couple left, Vera telephoned his cousin, Detective Alejandro Hernandez, at the National City Police Department… [and said] that a self-admitted prostitute had been to the office and was discussing human smuggling…. Detective Hernandez contacted Detective Mark Haas at the San Diego Police Department. Detective Haas works with cases involving human smuggling.” So, argues Maddow, “that ACORN employee… did the responsible thing. He elicited as much information as he could get out of this supposed pimp and prostitute in his office, and he immediately reported it to the police. For that he ended up getting fired…” after Fox News aired what Maddow quite reasonably describes as “fantastical interpretations of his actions.”

What to make of all this? First, as both Attorney General Brown and commentator Maddow concede, the fact that some ACORN employees were clearly unjustly accused doesn’t change the fact that others were guilty as charged: those tapes from Baltimore, for example, edited or not, seem pretty damning, and ACORN didn’t exactly help its pretensions to legitimacy by suing the pair—not for misrepresentation (which certainly could have been charged in, say, San Diego), but with the purely legalistic argument the tapes were acquired illegally, in violation of Maryland’s privacy laws: “yeah, we’re a gaggle of felons, but you cheated when you tried to prove it, so we should get off.”

But it is also very clear that O’Keefe, Giles, and their employer/shill Andrew Breitbart—not to mention the propagandists at Fox News—didn’t really care whether they had actually uncovered an organization willing to engage in criminal conspiracy. The couple lied consistently, and provably, about what they were wearing, how they represented themselves, and who said what: Giles has admitted to at least the first of these charges, all the while claiming the demonstrable falsehood that they “never claimed that he went in with a pimp costume.” Too bad O’Keefe shows up here, introduced by a fawning Fox pseudo-journalist as “dressed exactly in the same outfit that he wore in these ACORN offices.” This is a standard ploy among the prevarication set: admit to what you can’t possibly deny any more, but continue to deny everything else. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Hey, it worked for Bill Clinton!) And these zealots’ utter disregard for the reputations of completely innocent victims they had so savagely defamed is nauseating at best.

Be it noted that there is no clear evidence that Fox News was an active co-conspirator in the O'Keefe/Giles prevarication. More likely, at least at first, they were presented with something so tantalizing to their prejudices that they simply didn't bother to act like journalists and check out the story before airing it. It's pretty clear the New York Times behaved with precisely that laziness on this pseudo-story. An incompetent press is little better than an actively dishonest one: their only contribution is to make the liars work a little harder. They'll still get away with their chicanery for at least a while, they'll still have a profound effect on public opinion with their lies, the (perhaps inevitable) revelation of their fraud will still attract less attention than the initial drumbeat of falsehoods did... but the bad guys will have to do their own editing.

Still, apart from the apparent demise of journalistic integrity across the board, there’s something else very disturbing here. Remember Juan Carlos Vera, the guy who got fired for appearing on that tape from San Diego, even though he immediately called the cops on O’Keefe and Giles? Why, exactly, did he get fired? Here is one version of the story as it happened last September. Remember that Mr. Vera’s English is not the best, so there may be some confusion, but he was dismissed despite the fact that ACORN had apparently confirmed the phone call to the National City police. Presumably, assuming the Attorney General’s report to be accurate, it would have been an easy matter to confirm the time and purpose of Mr. Vera’s call to Detective Hernandez, or the latter’s call to Detective Haas.

An organization that purported to fight for the poor (I use the past tense because ACORN is now apparently defunct) , then, failed to protect one of its own employees even when there was clear exculpatory evidence, even when releasing that evidence would get the yapping hounds away from their doorstep for a while. That makes ACORN either sufficiently corrupt that it was willing to sacrifice an innocent man to prevent (or at least delay) further investigation, or sufficiently craven that it wasn’t willing to go toe-to-toe with lightweight liars like O’Keefe and Giles. I’m guessing it was the latter… I confess it’s getting a little old watching anyone even vaguely liberal run scurrying for cover the first time some idiot like Sean Hannity shakes a teabag at them. I wish Mr. Vera the best. ACORN? Good riddance.

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