Washington Post Admits to Bogus Quote

Veteran Washington Post reporter Daryl Fears, part of a two-person writer team, unmistakably wrote that filmmaker John O’Keefe had “said” he “targeted” ACORN, the advocacy group, for his candid-camera expose, because it registered voters to defeat Republicans.

O’Keefe said no such thing. It was a non-quote made out of whole cloth by reporter Fears, and published as fact on Sept. 17. Making the falsehood exponentially worse, the Post story then was retailed worldwide by the Associated Press.

Post‘s goof took dead aim at someone called a “conservative activist.” That label then finds its way into left-wing blogs, too. But is it true? O’Keefe claims he’s “radical progressive.” But Post‘s label sticks, tossed into a pigeon hole, a box, into which enemies of the Left are frequently cast.

The quote that never was — “he said” — caused Post editors to issue a correction, one that turned out to have a few slants of its own. Judge for yourself. Here it is en toto:

Th[e] article about the community organizing group ACORN incorrectly said that a conservative journalist targeted the organization for hidden-camera videos partly because its voter-registration drives bring Latinos and African Americans to the polls. Although ACORN registers people mostly from those groups, the maker of the videos, James E. O’Keefe, did not specifically [sic] mention them.

Specifically, did you catch that “specifically?” It is an adverb with a purpose. Call it a “Dan Ratherism,” an unproven fact that lives only in the eyes of the out-to-prove-something Left. Like CBS-TV’s Rather relying on bogus documents to hang President George W. Bush, it is designed to indict, not to enlighten.

Note the transformation of O’Keefe from “conservative activist” to “conservative journalist” in the tricky correction. At least the Post did not label O’Keefe “an operative,” another handy twist of political skulduggery.

Scott Johnson of the influential weblog Power Line fears that Fears, a longtime Post man, “fabricated the existence of an O’Keefe quote indicating a racial animus for his [ACORN] reportage. The race angle existed only the minds of the Washington Post.” Amen to that.

The race card is played a lot nowadays, cheapening the very term, racism. Methinks the gratuitous slap, used against filmmaker O’Keefe, is no mere slip-up, no innocent goof. It is an attempt to take down the “conservative” filmmaker, to devalue him, somehow to marginalize his product, the videotape evidence of quite obvious ACORN wrongdoings.

(Aside: Now is time for journalists to come to the aid of their party?)

Such are the ways of today’s news media. Cast aspersions. Use labels. Slay those who do not share your beliefs. Dishonor them. Label them racists. And Walter Mondale talks about the “coarseness” of debate? In spades.

Upon the heels of Post‘s slanted correction comes the Associated Press’s. It’s as minimal and self-serving as the Post‘s. (Birds of a feather?) AP had moved the story to thousands of its wire service clients worldwide, mainly newspapers, spreading the non-quote from O’Keefe far and wide.

Note AP picks up on Post‘s applied label of O’Keefe indisputably as a “conservative” but now, he’s no longer an “activist,” rather a “journalist.” AP repeats the skeptical notion of “specifically” and dutifully recites the “targeting-of-ACORN” line:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a Sept. 19 story about the community organizing group ACORN, The Associated Press, based on an account in The Washington Post, erroneously quoted a conservative [sic] journalist [sic] saying he targeted [sic] the organization for hidden-camera videos because its voter-registration drives bring minority voters to the polls. The Washington Post on Tuesday printed a correction about the quote. Although ACORN registers people mostly from those groups, the maker of the videos, James E. O’Keefe, did not specifically [sic] mention minorities, the newspaper said.

Power Line contributor Joel Mowbray thinks “ascribing to O’Keefe unsavory racial motives is no ordinary mistake.” Spot on. Fabrication of the quote is designed I think to inject racism into the ACORN expose. It is done with a purpose, a dubious one, based on a premise, a prejudice, in an effort to “put down” the independent filmmaker.

Put simply, reporter Fear’s goofs were conscious errors, expressing the reporter’s own take on the ACORN “flap” and his dislike, in general, of all conservatives. Maybe, they can all go to hell?

Did the AP’s correction, repeating Post‘s sins of presumption, get special attention at news outlets that carried it? No way. As expected, AP’s answer to that question was: “Obviously, we don’t control the content management systems of all our [AP] members, subscribers and other customers.” Thus preserved for all time is a media mistake, a slanting of an important story, now “history.”

Gives rise to that old saw about lies flying halfway around the globe while truth pulls it britches on. Journalist Mowbray comments: “Even granting normal allowances, it’s hard to see how this error was simply accidental.” Agree. It’s too monumental to be dismissed as a slip-up.

The attack on O’Keefe cannot be brushed off as an innocent goof up, a slip of the pen, even slipshod journalism. Purposes are met in partisan reporting. It reminds one of the dishonesty of “Rathergate,” with falsified documents designed to score political pointts, not to serve truth. There is method to this madness, folks.

No wonder that 60% of public, by a respected survey by the Pew Institute, distrusts mainstream media, calling them inaccurate. Such a perception, if not reality, only hastens the mainstream’s constant spiral downward, a death spiral, lowering public respect for the less esteemed Fourth Estate and now, its circulation too. Will they ever learn?

Bottom line: Democracy itself suffers from use of news as political weapon.