Still Making An Innocent Man Look Bad

by Conor Friedersdorf

There's a guy named Juan Carlos Vera. He worked at an ACORN office in San Diego, California. One day, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles walked in with a hidden video camera, and pretended to be a pimp and prostitute. They asked for help smuggling underage girls across the Mexican border so that they could work in a brothel. Confronted with what appeared to be a sex trafficking plot, you'd hope that someone would play along, get as much information as possible, and call the police. And guess what? That's exactly what Mr. Vera did! Unbeknownst to O'Keefe or Giles, he called his cousin, a police officer, shortly after they left his office.

Perhaps you know what happened next. Having cut his teeth editing The Drudge Report and its notoriously misleading headlines, Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart published the ACORN videos, which fooled me at the time – I praised them, and even encouraged Breitbart to pressure attorneys general into investigating the organization. I've never felt like such a fool. Some of the ACORN tapes reflect very badly on that organization, but taken as a whole, they are misleading in a lot of ways.

The San Diego ACORN video was particularly misleading.

Put another way, Andrew Breitbart published videos that made an innocent man look as if he was complicit in a plot to traffic underage girls across the border. Granted, he didn't do this on purpose. Still, it happened. And it cost the guy his job:

A man fired from ACORN's San Diego-area office for discussing human smuggling with a fake pimp and prostitute reported the incident to police two days after it happened, according to information released by the police. Juan Carlos Vera was fired by ACORN after a videotape was aired on Fox News showing him discussing with a couple posed as a pimp and a prostitute the best ways to smuggle underage prostitutes into the U.S. from El Salvador.

"It's better if it's in Tijuana," Vera is heard saying in the video.  "Because I have a lot of contacts in Tijuana."

But police said in a press release that Vera reported the incident to his cousin, a detective with the National City Police Department. Vera worked in ACORN's National City office. The detective contacted a federal task force that deals with human smuggling, and an officer from the task force asked for more details. 

After publishing videos of Vera that made him look like a sex trafficker and costing the man his job, did Breitbart explain how the mistake happened, apologize and correct the record? Did he alert his readers to the truth? Having expressed outrage at the media on countless occasions for trafficking in serious accusations that weren't grounded in facts, did he behave better after realizing that he'd done exactly the same thing?
Nope. As far as I know, neither an apology nor a correction has ever appeared. The vast majority of his readership remains misinformed. The San Diego videos remain posted at Big Government, misleading as ever. I've attempted to get Breitbart and O'Keefe to address this. No luck. But Breitbart has a habit of having long, often profane arguments with his detractors on Twitter. A guy named Frank Vayan Walton raised the subject of Vera. And here is how Breitbart responded on December 27, 2010 (brackets are my added context):
Juan Vera called [his police officer] cousin LONG after videos were filmed - when James [O'Keefe] refused to hook up w him to help girls over border. Try again!
After examining phone records and conducting interviews with two police officers, the California Attorney General's Office reported [PDF] this about O'Keefe and Giles' visit with Vera: "Immediately after the couple left, Vera telephoned his cousin, Detective Alejandro Hernandez, at the National City Police Department."
The report goes on:
He left a voicemail message for Detective Hernandez stating that some “crazy people” were in his office providing information.  Vera did not explain the substance of the conversation and did not make reference to prostitution or human smuggling on the message.  He asked his cousin to call him back. Later that day, Vera also reported the incident to fellow ACORN employee Cruz Acosta.  Acosta had been away from the office while the couple was present.  Vera explained to him what happened.  Vera also reported the incident, either the same day or shortly thereafter, to Mar Murrillon, an ACORN board member.  Vera told Murrillon that he had reported the incident to the police.  (Vera Interview.) Vera eventually spoke with Detective Hernandez on August 27, 2009.

So Breitbart is factually wrong. He is also still insinuating than an innocent man was willing to be complicit in the transnational smuggling of underage prostitutes. All this seems like a story to me! Something that would be of interest to folks on the press beat like Howard Kurtz or Jack Shafer or others. And shouldn't all the press outlets that wrote about the ACORN tapes from San Diego note this development? I'd even say that conservative publications that value informing their readership more than having a good relationship with a powerful ideological ally like Breitbart should report on this story. But do such publications exist?

If Breitbart has evidence that the California AG's report is wrong, he should come forward with it. If not, he should apologize for tarnishing Vera's reputation and costing him his job. Absent one or the other, can anyone defend him?