Big Falsehoods: An updated guide to Andrew Breitbart's lies, smears, and distortions

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Following the dissolution of Andrew Breitbart's smear of former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod, Media Matters provides an updated look at how his sensationalist stories have been based on speculation, gross distortions, and outright falsehoods.

The "video evidence" of Shirley Sherrod's "racism" (NEW)

"Nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation" (UPDATED)

Platform for anti-gay Jennings smears

Breitbart-promoted O'Keefe Census tape features selective editing (NEW)

Breitbart-promoted video falsely accuses Democrats of reconciliation hypocrisy (NEW)

Wild accusations over Gladney case

Breitbart's websites make baseless claim that NEA engaged in lawbreaking

Bertha Lewis' nonexistent White House visit

The Maoist Christmas tree ornaments

The ACORN "document dump"

False claims of community organizers "praying" to Obama

The "video evidence" of Shirley Sherrod's "racism"

Breitbart released heavily edited video purporting to provide "proof" of Obama admin official's "racism." In a July 19 BigGovernment.com post -- headlined "Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism -- 2010" -- Breitbart purported to provide "video evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee and NAACP award recipient." The heavily edited video clip Breitbart posted shows Shirley Sherrod, then the USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaking at an NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia, and stating that she didn't give a "white farmer" the "full force of what I could do" because "I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land." Breitbart characterized Sherrod's comments as her "describ[ing] how she racially discriminates against a white farmer."

Full video vindicates Sherrod, destroys Breitbart's accusations of racism. On July 20, the NAACP posted the full video of Sherrod's remarks, exposing how the clip Breitbart posted had taken Sherrod out of context. The heavily edited clip included her statements that she initially did not help the farmer, but removed her statements indicating that she ultimately did help him save his farm and learned that "it's not just about black people, it's about poor people."

Immediately prior to the portion of Sherrod's speech included in Breitbart's clip, Sherrod says that she originally made a "commitment" "to black people only," but that "God will show you things and he'll put things in your path so that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people." Immediately following the portion of the video included in the clip, Sherrod detailed her extensive work to help the farmer save his farm. She then said, "working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't," adding "they could be black, and they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people -- those who don't have access the way others have." She later added, "I couldn't say 45 years ago, I couldn't stand here and say what I'm saying -- what I will say to you tonight. Like I told, God helped me to see that its not just about black people, it's about poor people. And I've come a long way."

Breitbart falsely suggested Sherrod was describing her actions as an Obama admin official. Breitbart falsely suggested that his heavilyedited clip of Sherrod's speech showed her saying that Sherrod discriminated against a white farmer in her capacity as the USDA Georgia director of rural development, writing that she "lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions." In fact, in the video, Sherrod says the incident occurred when "Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm." Chapter 12 bankruptcy was enacted in 1986. In a June 2009 press release touting Sherrod's appointment to USDA, the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund states that Sherrod had worked for them "since 1985."

Farmer and his wife defend Sherrod as a "friend" who "helped us save our farm." In an interview with CNN on July 20, Eloise Spooner -- the wife of the farmer who Sherrod helped -- came to the defense of Sherrod, calling her a "friend" who "helped us save our farm." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution similarly reported that Spooner considered Sherrod a "friend for life" and said that Sherrod "worked tirelessly to help the Iron City couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy back in 1986." In a separate interview, Roger Spooner, the farmer, told CNN that Sherrod "did her level best" to help him save his farm and those that are smearing her as a racist "don't know what they're talking about."

After Sherrod smear dissolves, Breitbart falsely claims his story was "not about Shirley Sherrod." Since his smear of Sherrod was repudiated, Breitbart has claimed that his story is "not about Shirley Sherrod" but rather about "the NAACP." In fact, in his initial post on July 19, Breitbart claimed that the video is "evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee" and that Sherrod discriminated against a white farmer in her "federal duties" as the USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development. The video itself also included text that said, "Ms. Sherrod admits that in her federally appointed position, overseeing over a billion dollars she discriminates against people due to their race." Breitbart also posted a tweet on July 19 asking, "Will Eric Holder's DOJ hold accountable fed appointee Shirley Sherrod for admitting practicing racial discrimination?" After the USDA forced Sherrod out of her position in response to the deceptive video, Big Government celebrated with a post titled: "Racist Govt Official/NAACP Award Recipient Resigns after Big Government Expose."

Breitbart tries to redirect conversation with false claim that NAACP audience was "applauding racism." In a July 20 Fox News appearance, Breitbart claimed that the video proves there are racists among the NAACP because "the audience was laughing and applauding as she described how she maltreated the white farmer," and he argued that the audience did not "know that there was going to be a point of redemption" in her story. On a July 21 appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, Breitbart again claimed that his video shows that "at an NAACP event, people are applauding racism." But in his initial post, Breitbart described the audience reaction as only "nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement," not applause. Indeed, a review of the full video indicates that the NAACP audience does not applaud at any point in her story about her interaction with the farmer.

Media across the board reject Breitbart's race-baiting lies. Media figures and outlets from across the board have rejected Breitbart's false claims against Sherrod. For example, NRO's Jonah Goldberg has said that Sherrod is "owed apologies from pretty much everyone, including my good friend Andrew Breitbart," CNN's Anderson Cooper said Sherrod's remarks "were taken out of context ... She was smeared by allegations of racism, lost her job, and is now being redeemed by the truth, it seems, the whole truth," and Fox News' Glenn Beck said Sherrod "deserves her job back." Moreover, NBC News' Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg wrote in a July 21 post on First Read:

After conservative activist James O'Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for entering a federal building under false pretenses, you would have thought that all of us in the ACTUAL news business would have learned this lesson about Andrew Breitbart and his protégés: They're not out for the truth; they're out for scalps. So once again, we find out that Breitbart has distributed an EDITED video that gets wide play on Drudge and cable TV; that the target of the video is embarrassed, forced to resign, or stripped of federal funding; and that -- surprise, surprise -- the video didn't tell the whole truth.

"Nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation"

Breitbart coordinated release of conservative activists' undercover ACORN videos. On September 10, 2009, conservative activist and videographer James O'Keefe posted an entry to BigGovernment.com in which he revealed that he and fellow activist Hannah Giles had posed as a pimp and prostitute at a Baltimore ACORN Housing office and secretly filmed their meetings with ACORN staffers. As O'Keefe wrote, their intention was to take "advantage of ACORN's regard for thug criminality by posing the most ridiculous criminal scenario we could think of and seeing if they would comply -- which they did without hesitation," the "scenario" being the "trafficking of young helpless girls and tax evasion." O'Keefe would later release similar recordings of their interactions with ACORN and ACORN Housing employees at several other ACORN offices nationwide.

Breitbart authored a separate September 10 BigGovernment.com post "introducing" O'Keefe and making it clear that he and BigGovernment.com would play a central role in the distribution of O'Keefe and Giles' videos. But as Breitbart, O'Keefe, and Giles released and promoted the "heavily edited" videos, their allegations about ACORN and its employees were undermined by numerous falsehoods and distortions.

Assessment "did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff." In his December 7, 2009, "Independent Governance Assessment of ACORN," former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (D), who was hired by ACORN to conduct an inquiry in part into the videos, wrote, "While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers."

A December 22, 2009, report by the Congressional Research Service prepared for the House Judiciary Committee on "several issues" relating to ACORN and its affiliates stated that "[a] search of reports of federal agency inspectors general did not identify instances in which ACORN violated the terms of federal funding in the last five years." Addressing "the recent videotaping of ACORN workers and the distribution of conversations with ACORN workers without consent," the report stated that "the laws of Maryland and California appear to ban private recording of face to face conversations, absent the consent of all the participants."

Investigations by CA, Brooklyn authorities find no criminality. On April 1, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. stated that his office concluded that the videos show "some members of the community organizing group ACORN engaged in 'highly inappropriate behavior,' but committed no violation of criminal laws." Kings County, New York, district attorney Joe Hynes likewise cleared ACORN of wrongdoing stemming from claims instigated by O'Keefe and Giles' taping at ACORN's Brooklyn office, stating: "That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found." After Brooklyn prosecutors cleared ACORN, Breitbart backtracked on his previous accusation of ACORN criminality, writing in a March 2 post that the "ACORN tapes were less about 'criminality' than facility with which employees all knew how to work system for any lowlife wanting govmnt $."

Authorities criticize selective editing of ACORN videos. According to the California attorney general's office the videotapes were "severely edited by O'Keefe." In a statement, Attorney General Brown said that "The evidence illustrates... 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." Likewise, a March 1 New York Daily News article reported that "a law enforcement source" said of O'Keefe and Giles: "They edited the tape to meet their agenda." A March 2 New York Post article, headlined "ACORN set up by vidiots: DA," reported of O'Keefe and Giles' ACORN tapes: "Many of the seemingly crime-encouraging answers were taken out of context so as to appear more sinister, sources said."

Breitbart said his strategy for promoting ACORN videos was to "deprive" people of "information." The Washington Independent reported on September 24:

Within hours, Breitbart was doing interviews with reporters who wanted to know how, exactly, the story had come about, and why Big Government was releasing the videos and the identity of the muckrackers - 25-year-old James O'Keefe III and 20-year-old Hannah Giles - so slowly.

"It was strategized," Breitbart told TWI this week, so "that they would be deprived of the type of information that a defense attorney would try to gather in order to create a defense."

Who were "these people?" They were not just the leaders or members of ACORN itself. "They" were the Democratic Party, the White House, the progressive Center for American Progress and its president John Podesta. The "Democrat-media complex" is Breitbart's name for the whole apparatus. "We deprived them of information," Breitbart explained, "so that they couldn't come up with a vile, kill-the-messenger attack with the media doing the groundwork for them."

O'Keefe falsely claimed undercover video campaign was a "nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation" implicating many ACORN employees. From a November 16, 2009, BigGovernment.com post by O'Keefe:

Although Mr. Felix D. Harris of Los Angeles ACORN told us he didn't care about our prostitution business in regards to a housing loan, he drew the line when we spoke about the underage girls.Although he did not kick us out, he was the only employee in our nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation who would not assist us.

The videos, however, don't support the allegation that many ACORN offices were willing to aid child prostitution. Giles and O'Keefe released heavily edited videos of their encounters at eight ACORN or ACORN Housing offices. In at least six of those instances, either the activists did not clearly tell the ACORN employees that they were planning to engage in child prostitution; or the ACORN employees refused to help them or apparently deliberately misled them; or ACORN employees contacted the police following their visit.

Giles falsely claimed no ACORN employee refused to assist them. From the September 16, 2009, edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: [W]hen you go to Baltimore and D.C. and New York and San Bernardino and San Diego, and this all happened, were there any cities you went to where you just didn't get any videotape, not worthy to air?

GILES: We are airing it. It's pretty worthy. Everyone seems.

HANNITY: In other words, you didn't go into one office and they said we're not going to help you do anything like that?

GILES: No.

HANNITY: Not one. Every place you went they helped you or were willing to help you either not report you for an underage prostitution ring, evade taxes as we have.

BREITBART: Right. The -- it is interesting. There's no place, as ACORN tried to state, that kicked them out based upon the premise that they were doing something nefarious.

From the September 13, 2009, edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:

GILES: [A]bout the whole kicking out, I mean, the women in Baltimore hugged me and -- when I left. And the women in D.C. -- I did follow-up phone calls, and they asked if I could come and meet them for coffee so we could further discuss how to make this possible.

ERIC SHAWN (Fox News correspondent): So these first two tapes, they didn't kick you out, but you are saying that there were some that did refuse? James or Hannah?

GILES: Not -- no

O'KEEFE: Say that again.

SHAWN: Were there some that refused their your offers, that actually did not -- were not willing to cooperate?

O'KEEFE: No -- in none of the facil -- [laughs] none of the facilities kicked us out. That's a lie.

But a video released months later showed an ACORN employee who refused to assist Giles and O'Keefe. After withholding the video for more than two months -- despite reportedly vowing to "release all the tapes soon to show if any ACORN offices did the right thing," in the words of Fox News' Chris Wallace -- O'Keefe finally acknowledgedthat a Los Angeles ACORN employee "would not assist us obtain a house for our illegal activities" -- an admission that directly contradicts Giles' false claims that no ACORN employees refused to help them.

O'Keefe falsely claimed Harris "was the only employee ... who would not assist us." From O'Keefe's November 16, 2009, BigGovernment.com post:

Although Mr. Felix D. Harris of Los Angeles ACORN told us he didn't care about our prostitution business in regards to a housing loan, he drew the line when we spoke about the underage girls. Although he did not kick us out, he was the only employee in our nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation who would not assist us.

Contrary to O'Keefe's assertion that the Los Angeles ACORN worker "was the only ACORN employee in our nationwide investigation who would not assist us obtain a house for our illegal activities," ACORN employees inPhiladelphia and the San Diego area contacted the police following their encounters with O'Keefe and Giles, an action that indicates that they had no intention of helping O'Keefe and Giles conduct any illegal activities. At two other ACORN offices -- in New York and Washington, D.C., -- Giles and O'Keefe did not make clear that they were planning to engage in child prostitution.

Additionally, in the video of Giles and O'Keefe's visit to the San Bernardino ACORN office, an ACORN employeegives them advice on how to run a brothel and falsely informs them that she murdered her ex-husband. In astatement subsequently released by ACORN, the employee stated of the conservative activists who filmed her: "They were not believable. ... They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me." Indeed, even Fox News' Sean Hannity later acknowledged that O'Keefe and Giles were the "least convincing pimp" and "prostitute" in "the entire world."

Breitbart threatened to release more tapes during election unless DOJ investigates ACORN. During the November 19, 2009, edition of Fox News' Hannity, Breitbart offered a "message" for Attorney General Eric Holder:

BREITBART: I want you to know that we have more tapes, it's not just ACORN, and we're going to hold out until the next election cycle. Or else, if you want to do a clean investigation, we will give you the rest of what we have, we will comply with you, we will give you the documentation we have from countless ACORN whistleblowers who want to come forward but are fearful of this organization and the retribution, that they fear that this is a dangerous organization. So if you get into an investigation, we will give you the tapes. If you don't give us the tapes, we will revisit these tapes come election time.

Following up on his comments with a November 21, 2009, blog post on BigGovernment.com, Breitbart stated, "There will be consequences if there isn't an investigation into ACORN. The videos will be shown and at a particular moment."

O'Keefe later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charge in Landrieu office case. As reported by The Times-Picayune on May 26:

The four defendants who were arrested in January in Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs federal complex in New Orleans pleaded guilty Wednesday morning in federal court to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses.

Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles III sentenced Stan Dai, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan each to two years probation, a fine of $1,500 and 75 hours of community service during their first year of probation.

James O'Keefe, as leader of the group and famous for posing as a pimp in ACORN office videos, received three years of probation, a fine of $1,500 and 100 hours of community service.

Platform for anti-gay Jennings smears

Blogger Hoft's smear campaign against Jennings. Writing for the website Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft has authored a series of factually dubious attacks on Department of Education staffer Kevin Jennings and the organization Jennings founded and previously led, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Hoft's Jennings posts -- which he has labeled "Fistgate," even though many of those allegations have little or nothing to do with the sexual practice of fisting -- often draw upon the work of MassResistance, a Massachusetts based anti-gay organization that has been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even conservative commentator Dean Barnett has stated that the organization "verges on being a hate group."

Breitbart eagerly embraced and promoted Hoft's false attacks on Jennings. Hoft's "Fistgate" attacks on Jennings and the GLSEN have been faithfully cross-posted on BigGovernment.com, and Breitbart himself has used Twitter topromote Hoft's work. Among the smears and distortions Breitbart has embraced:

  • Hoft deceptively linked Jennings to "fisting" workshop he criticized. Hoft claimed that a 2000 conference sponsored by the Boston branch of GLSEN included "a workshop where GLSEN activists promoted 'fisting' to 14 year olds," citing a recorded exchange that occurred during a "Queer Sex and Sexuality" workshop at that conference. In fact, Jennings reportedly criticized some of the workshop's content when the recordings were first released in 2000, and the people involved in conducting the controversial discussion were state employees and contractors, not GLSEN employees.
  • Hoft falsely claimed high-school students received "fisting kits" at 2001 GLSEN conference. Hoft falsely claimed that "fisting kits" -- which he placed in quotes -- were distributed at the 2001 GLSEN/Boston conference. But Hoft has presented no evidence that the kits distributed by Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts were actually intended for fisting. Indeed, while the conservative newspaper Massachusetts News -- cited by Hoft -- reported in 2001 that the kits were "intended for 'fisting' or oral sex," the paper described the kit's contents as "a single plastic glove, a package of K-Y lubricant and instructions on how to make a 'dental dam' out of the material" and offered no support for the claim that the kits were "intended for 'fisting.' " Even FoxNews.com has reported that Hoft "alleged that Jennings and GLSEN were involved in Planned Parenthood's purported distribution of 'fisting kits,' " but that the kit "was actually for making a 'dental dam' -- designed to prevent STD transmission during oral sex."
  • Hoft falsely suggested Jennings' organization handed out explicit safe-sex booklet to children. Hoft falsely suggested that that GLSEN had distributed to children an explicit safe-sex booklet that included "a list of the local gay bars" and "Pushed Anal S*x in Parks With Strangers." In fact, a community health group -- not GLSEN itself -- reportedly said that it had mistakenly "left about 10 copies" of the booklet on an informational table it rented at a 2005 GLSEN conference at Brookline High School in Massachusetts; the group reportedly apologized for doing so; GLSEN stated that if it had known the booklets had been at the conference, it would have demanded they be removed; and the Brookline school superintendent reportedly said he believed no students had actually taken the booklet.
  • Hoft falsely claimed Jennings "Pushed Books That Encouraged Children to Meet Adults at Gay Bars For Sex." Hoft falsely claimed that Jennings "Personally Pushed Books That Encouraged Children to Meet Adults at Gay Bars For Sex," citing MassResistance's falsehood that a book Jennings recommended to high school and college students, One Teenager in 10, "encourage[s] teens to, among other things, go to gay bars and have sex with adults to see if they like it." Media Matters for America has reviewed the book, compiled all references to gay bars, and determined that the book at no point encourages teens to "go to gay bars and have sex with adults." In fact, a majority of the youth testimonials included in the book that mention gay bars refer to them negatively.

Breitbart.tv also smeared Jennings. An October 6, 2009, Breitbart.tv post grossly distorted comments Jennings made to a GLSEN audience in 2000 to claim he "criticize[d] schools for promoting heterosexuality." In fact, in the audio files posted at Breitbart.tv, Jennings promoted a curriculum that demands "respect [for] every human being regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity, regardless of race or religion or any of the arbitrary distinctions we make among people," and said that efforts to promote a specific sexual orientation through schools were ineffective.

Breitbart-promoted O'Keefe Census tape features selective editing

Breitbart-promoted O'Keefe video: "Census supervisors" were "systemically encouraging employees to falsify information on their time sheets." In a 10-minute video posted on Breitbart's BigGovernment.com on June 1, O'Keefe stated that he had been hired as a Census worker and attended two days of training. He said, "What I found were Census supervisors systematically encouraging employees to falsify information on their time sheets." The video includes clips of census leaders who, according to O'Keefe, "didn't seem to have a problem with the discrepancy" of the hours recorded on his time sheet versus the hours he claimed to have worked.

BigGovernment video omits additional clip showing census crew leader stressing need for accuracy in time sheet reporting. On June 1, ABC's Good Morning America interviewed O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart, airing a clip excluded from the BigGovernment video of a census crew leader telling workers that they must carefully and accurately report on their time sheets the number of miles they drive when they are doing their enumeration work. From the June 1 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): But this was the training program. And you concede that in the actual Census program, they were holding workers to much stricter standards. We have some video tape of that as well.

CREW LEADER (video clip): This is not a big issue here, but when you start doing this enumeration thing, you want to make sure you are watching your miles, OK? Set the odometer and every day record it. Don't estimate it, don't guess it. That's part of their ability to audit you, would be to look at your miles, take a look at the places you went to, if it didn't add up, you know, they'll go crazy.

In video, O'Keefe uses fuzzy math in calculating potential cost of the alleged census "fraud." In the opening of his video, O'Keefe displayed the following on-screen text to illustrate the potential cost of the alleged census "fraud": "If 600,000 Census employees get paid $18.25/hour and each of them gets paid just four hours extra that's $43,800,000." But O'Keefe's figure is based on the assumption that all census workers make the same amount of money he did, when he spent two days training to be a census enumerator in New Jersey. However, according to the Census 2010 website, "census takers" are paid different amounts based on which local office they report to. These starting wages vary from $10.00/hour to $25.00/hour. The average starting salary for all 492 local offices is $14.78/hour.

Breitbart-promoted video falsely accuses Democrats of reconciliation hypocrisy

Breitbart.tv headline: "Obama & Dems in '05: 51 Vote 'Nuclear Option' Is 'Arrogant' Power Grab Against the Founder's Intent." On February 24, Breitbart.tv posted video showing Democratic senators expressing opposition to a Republican proposal that would have eliminated use of the filibuster for judicial nominations. Text accompanying the video states, "Biden: 'I pray God when the Democrats take back control we don't make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.' "

Conservative media jump on video to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy. Numerous conservative media figures, particularly at Fox News, jumped on the video as evidence that Democrats who in 2010 supported the use of the budget reconciliation process for health care reform are hypocrites, falsely suggesting that the "nuclear option" to which the Democrats referred was the budget reconciliation process.

Democrats in video were discussing "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules, not reconciliation. The term "nuclear option" was coined by former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the leading advocates of the proposal to change the Senate rules on filibusters for judicial nominations. The Democrats in the video were expressing opposition to this proposal to change Senate rules, not the use of reconciliation.

Reconciliation process is part of congressional budget process, was repeatedly used by Republicans to pass Bush agenda. The budget reconciliation process is defined by the U.S. House Committee on Rules as "part of the congressional budget process ... utilized when Congress issues directives to legislate policy changes in mandatory spending (entitlements) or revenue programs (tax laws) to achieve the goals in spending and revenue contemplated by the budget resolution." Republicans used this procedure to pass several Bush agenda items, including his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Wild accusations over Gladney case

Breitbart baselessly implicates White House in alleged Gladney assault. On August 6, 2009, a fight broke out at a health care town hall meeting with Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO), during which Tea Party activist Kenneth Gladney was allegedly assaulted and injured. Gladney quickly became a cause célèbre among conservatives, with Breitbart leading the way and accusing the White House of directing SEIU representatives to attack Gladney.

Claims WH "directed" town hall violence based on egregious distortions. Breitbart grossly distorted a reported quote from White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina to blame the White House for Gladney's alleged assault, claiming that "union thugs were directed by the White House to go to" health care town hall meetings "and 'punch back twice as hard.' " In fact, Messina reportedly told Senate Democrats -- not union groups -- that the administration will "punch back twice as hard" when senators are attacked over their support for health care reform. There is no indication it was anything other than a metaphorical explanation of how the White House plans to respond to political attacks against Senate Democrats.

From Breitbart's August 10, 2009, Washington Times op-ed, headlined "I am Kenneth Gladney":

Last week, a black gentleman named Kenneth Gladney went to a town-hall meeting hosted by Rep. Russ Carnahan, Missouri Democrat. While passing out "Don't Tread on Me" flags, he was viciously attacked by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members. One called him a "nigger."

These union thugs were directed by the White House to go to the protests and "punch back twice as hard." And they did.

In a November 30, 2009, BigGovernment.com post titled "Anatomy of a Beat-Down Part 1: Why Kenneth Gladney Was Beaten, And by Whom," Larry O'Connor similarly referenced Messina's quote and linked it to Gladney's alleged assault:

Finally on August 6th, hours before the Carnahan town hall meeting where Kenneth Gladney was assaulted by members of the SEIU, David Axelrod and Jim Messina gave a pep talk to Senators on Capitol Hill prior to their leaving for the August recess. According to Politico:

They showed video clips of the confrontational town halls that have dominated the media coverage, and told senators to do more prep work than usual for their public meetings by making sure their own supporters turn out, senators and aides said. And they screened TV ads and reviewed the various campaigns by critics of the Democratic plan.

"If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard," Messina said, according to an official who attended the meeting.

Two days after the instructions on how to manage and control protestors at town hall meetings were released by Margarida Jorge at HCAN, one day after the Speaker of the House likened protestors to Nazis and mere hours after President Obama's top political advisors assured Congressional Democrats that "If you get hit, we will punch them back twice as hard", Kenneth Gladney lay beaten and bloody on the ground outside Rep. Russ Carnahan's Town Hall meeting.

Breitbart's websites baselessly attack Missouri law enforcement. After six people were charged with misdemeanor ordinance violations on November 25, 2009, in connection with the alleged assault of Gladney, Breitbart's websites accused St. Louis prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch of displaying "partisan bias" in supposedly delaying the charges and not making them harsher, and suggested that the Obama administration may have played a role in the delay. Their "evidence" for the accusation was that McCulloch, in 2008, "worked on behalf of the Obama for America campaign ... by aggressively promoting a pre-emptive strike against negative campaigning against Barack Obama" and that the head of the Obama for America campaign in Missouri, Buffy Wicks, now works in the White House Office of Public Engagement. In a December 2, 2009, BigGovernment.com post, O'Connor wrote:

Meanwhile, [county counselor Patricia] Redington let this case languish for months before finally bringing modest charges against the suspects on the afternoon before Thanksgiving (an obvious attempt to let the story disappear). One week before the charges were brought, Big Government reported:

  • Redington hasn't spoken to Kenneth Gladney
  • Redington hasn't called any of the witnesses on the police report.
  • Redington hasn't contacted any of the Tea Party members that are seen on video
  • Redington hasn't contacted any of the people who shot video that night and whose YouTube urls are listed on the evidence page

Also, despite the fact that Redington never investigated the injuries Gladney suffered and never interviewed the medical personnel who administered assistance to Gladney, she still felt it best to reduce the charges down to an ordinance violation. In the words of Judge Anthony Napolitano: "The moral equivalent of jay walking."

But, make no mistake; this is happening on McCulloch's watch. He has the authority to handle this case and to ensure that proper charges are filed, but he has chosen not to. It begs the question: If he jumped through the "Truth Squad" hoops when Buffy Wicks asked him to during the campaign, is it possible he has turned his back on this case for similar reasons?

Missouri law enforcement denies delaying charges. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on November 25, 2009:

The charges were filed Tuesday by the St. Louis County counselor's office. All six are to appear in court Jan. 21. The maximum penalty would be one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Some bloggers and others watching the case have raised questions for months about the lag between the arrests at the politically charged event and the filing of charges.

County Counselor Patricia Redington insisted it had nothing to do with politics or anyone's influence.

[...]

Ordinance violation charges are usually filed within four to six weeks of an incident, Reddington said, but this case involved interviews with dozens of witnesses and review of many videos posted on the Internet. [from the Nexis database]

Breitbart's websites make baseless claim that NEA engaged in lawbreaking

BigHollywood.com claims NEA "looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration's positions." In an August 25, 2009, BigHollywood.com entry, Patrick Courrielche wrote that he was "invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries 'to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda -- health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.' " According to Courrielche, the conference call, in which NEA and White House staffers took part, was "a gross overreach of the National Endowment for the Arts and its mission."

Posters on Breitbart's websites baselessly claim NEA broke laws. In a September 2009 blog post that appeared on Breitbart's Big Hollywood and Big Government sites, Ben Shapiro asserted that the conference call "is in blatant violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act"; in a post the next day, he added that the call also "violates the Hatch Act."

Fox News runs with baseless lawbreaking allegation. Fox News followed Big Hollywood's lead as Glenn Beckrepeatedly attacked the NEA over the conference calls and Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson asserted that former NEA communications director Yosi Sargent's actions during the conference call were "against the law."

No evidence that activities broke Anti-Lobbying Act. The Justice Department -- whose opinions about the Anti-Lobbying Act carry special force, according to the legislation itself -- has stated that a violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act requires that the alleged perpetrator urge members of the public to pressure members of Congress "to support Administration or Department legislative or appropriations proposals." The Justice Department has also stated that Anti-Lobbying Act violations are limited to lobbying campaigns of more than $50,000. Carlson and Shapiro pointed to Sargent calling on people to support the president but neither they, nor the "Full NEA Conference Call Transcript and Audio" posted on BigHollywood.com, show Sargent or any other government official encouraging participants to contact members of Congress.

CREW: No evidence of Hatch Act violations. According to a blog post by ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said: "Government agencies are not supposed to be engaged in political activities. ... Here, because they didn't veer off into 'This is about the election,' where you'd get into violations of the Hatch Act, it's not illegal. But it doesn't look good -- it looks terrible. It's inappropriate." [ABCNews.com, 9/22/09]

Fox and Breitbart kept trying to push NEA storyline through the end of the year. In December 2009, FoxNews.com posted "Nine Big Stories the Mainstream Media Missed in 2009." Story five was "politicizing the NEA." On December 31, 2009, Big Hollywood trumpeted the FoxNews.com article with the headline "Fox News: Politicizing NEA Among Top Stories MSM Missed in '09."

Bertha Lewis' nonexistent White House visit

BigGovernment.com claims ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis visited White House. A December 30, 2009, BigGovernment.com "exclusive" noted that according to recently released White House visitor logs, a "Bertha E. Lewis" had visited the White House on September 5, and alleged that "Bertha E. Lewis" was, in fact, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis. The story further noted: "Ms. Lewis doesn't seem to have returned to the White House after this visit. Of course, just 5 days after this visit, James O'Keefe would release the first video of his undercover journalism on the systemic corruption within ACORN."

Politico: White House says it was a different Bertha Lewis. On December 31, 2009, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith reported that an anonymous White House staffer had denied that the "Bertha E. Lewis" who visited the White House was the ACORN CEO and that ACORN officials had pointed out that their CEO's middle initial, as it appears on her New York voter registration, is "M," not "E."

Breitbart issues semi-correction. In a January 4 BigGovernment.com entry, Breitbart wrote that he had contacted Smith "to tell him that Big Government would offer a correction if the 'administration official' who offered the information went on record and told us who the 'other' Bertha Lewis is and got the unnamed administration source to come out from behind the veil of anonymity and use his/her name." Smith responded to Breitbart's challenge by updating his blog post to report that White House deputy press secretary Jen Psaki "confirmed ... that, indeed, it was a different Bertha Lewis." Breitbart subsequently updated the original BigGovernment.com story, writing: "Since we have no information on how to hunt down the 'other' Bertha Lewis -- Ms. Psaki wouldn't reveal who she is, citing 'privacy concerns' -- Big Government will err on the side of prudence and grant the White House its side of the story."

Breitbart countermands his own correction. Despite having "grant[ed] the White House its side of the story," Breitbart continued to suggest that it was, in fact, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis who visited the White House on September 5. After posting the correction, Breitbart issued to Media Matters a $1,000 challenge to produce proof that "Bertha E. Lewis" was not Bertha Lewis of ACORN. This despite the fact that ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis' middle initial, as noted above, is "M" and not "E." In the introductory post to his new website, BigJournalism.com, Breitbart credited himself for posting a correction to the Bertha Lewis story, but at the same time explained, "I don't really believe it wasn't her."

The Maoist Christmas tree ornaments

BigGovernment.com: "Transvestites, Mao And Obama Ornaments Decorate White House Christmas Tree." A December 22, 2009, BigGovernment.com "exclusive" featured photographs of three ornaments adorning the Christmas tree in the White House Blue Room that depicted Obama's face superimposed on Mount Rushmore, Mao Zedong, and Hedda Lettuce. BigGovernment.com suggested the White House was "making some political statements" with the ornaments and attacked it for "pegg[ing] controversial designer Simon Doonan to oversee the Christmas decorations for the White House."

Accusations undermined by facts, common sense. On the December 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report -- one of many conservative media outlets to run with BigGovernment.com's dubious "exclusive" -- host Bret Baier reported that the first lady's office "says local community groups were asked to decorate hundreds of ornaments but that they are unaware of these specific decorations."

Moreover, as the Los Angeles Times' Culture Monster blog explained, the image of Mao adorning one ornament was actually "one of a very large series of silkscreen paintings and prints [Andy Warhol] made of Mao. Warhol's parody transformed the leader of the world's most populous nation into a vapid superstar -- the most famous of the famous."

In a December 22 entry on the conservative blog Hot Air, blogger Allahpundit dismissed as nonsensical the idea that the White House would use three Christmas tree ornaments out of hundreds to make a "political statement," writing: "Laying aside the fact that spotting a right-wing dictator on ornaments in the Bush White House would have had Media Matters stumbling towards its fainting couch, isn't the most likely explanation here that they really didn't know what was on the ornaments? Why court PR trouble with a deliberate provocation via something this trivial?"

The ACORN "document dump"

Breitbart announces Dumpster-diving "evidentiary phase" of ACORN "scandal." In a November 23, 2009, BigGovernment.com entry, Breitbart announced the existence of "20,000 deeply sensitive and highly political documents discovered in the dumpster behind ACORN in San Diego on October 9, nine days after ACORN was announced to be under state investigation." Breitbart added: "Some might call that 'obstruction of justice.' "

That same day, Derrick Roach, a San Diego-area private investigator, posted an entry on BigGovernment.com announcing that it was he who had retrieved the documents, which he said "were irresponsibly and brazenly dumped in a public dumpster, without considering laws and regulations as to how sensitive information should be treated." Roach also posted a YouTube video shot on "the evening of the document dump" that, in his words, "shows ACORN operatives clearly engaged in some kind of discussion -- likely related to the activities of that evening."

"Deeply sensitive" documents mainly trash. Despite claims of "obstruction of justice," neither Breitbart nor Roach offered any evidence that the documents they took from the trash bin behind ACORN's San Diego office had anything to with California Attorney General Jerry Brown's reported investigation into ACORN. Indeed, the limited selection of documents they posted online included a food stamp application, a canvassing form, and redacted documents presumably containing an employee's tax and personal information.

NBC Los Angeles reported on November 23, 2009, that Amy Schur of ACORN's California office stated of the discarded documents: "In early October, when our San Diego staff were doing an office clean-up in preparation for a major 10-station phone bank program being set up in our offices, it appears that included in the piles of garbage being thrown out may have been some documents containing private information." Schur further stated: "Our files were not part of the scope of the visit by the Attorney General's office, and the majority of what was thrown out was junk -- old leaflets, newsletters, etc... It looks like our staff were careless and some documents with personal information were included in the piles of garbage."

False claims of community organizers "praying" to Obama

Breitbart announces "shocking" video of community organizers "praying" to Obama. On September 29, 2009, Breitbart.tv embedded a YouTube video under the headline: "Shock Discovery: Community Organizers Pray TO President-Elect Obama." The video included captions reading "Deliver Us Obama" and "Hear Our Cry Obama," suggesting that the crowd of people -- members of the faith-based group The Gamaliel Foundation -- featured in the clip was "pray[ing] to" Obama.

Breitbart walks back "praying" allegation. Breitbart.tv later embedded a different version of the video -- this one without captions -- under the headline: "Newly Discovered: Community Organizers Appear to 'Pray' to President-Elect Obama." Attached to this version was an "Editor's note" explaining: "We've updated this post with the longer version of the original event. As you'll see in the comments and related links there is a debate over what is actually being said. Does the crowd say, 'Hear our cry, Obama' and 'Deliver us Obama?' Or are they saying 'Oh God?' In the longer version the first two repetitions seem to have a distinct 'uh' sound at the end that resonates as 'Obama.' The later repetitions are a little fuzzier."

Gamaliel Foundation responds: "At no time, however, have we prayed to President Barack Obama." After the video was posted on Beck's blog, the Gamaliel Foundation issued a response, in which they stated:

As a faith-based organization, it is customary for Gamaliel Foundation affiliates to begin and end every action with prayer. At no time, however, have we prayed to President Barack Obama. In the form of call and response, those who took part in the UnitedHealthcare action can be heard saying, "Hear our cry oh God," "Deliver us oh God," etc.

It is obvious that those who took the time to distort our sincere action for healthcare reform, by posting their own edited version on the Internet, are against what we believe is a fundamental right. It is also obvious that those who are against healthcare reform will stoop to any level to stop what Dr. Martin Luther King called, one of the greatest forms of inequality.

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