The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now filed a lawsuit on Sept. 23 asking the Circuit Court in Baltimore to issue an injunction blocking further distribution of a video shot secretly by rightwing tricksters, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles. The twosome, dressed up as pimp and prostitute, went to ACORN’s Baltimore office and got two ACORN staff workers into a discussion of how to open a brothel in the city, all caught on video and now broadcast endlessly on Fox News.
After weeks of such repeated broadcasts and accompanying lies from rightwing pundits, it is becoming clear that ACORN is in the crosshairs of a smear campaign aimed at destroying the multiracial organization of 500,000 members that has toiled since 1970 to make life better for the poor and disenfranchised.
ACORN’s legal team points out that the secret video is in “clear violation” of Maryland law which requires “two party consent to all electronic surveillance.”
ACORN General Counsel Arthur Schwartz charged that the aim was to “inflict maximum damage to the reputation of ACORN, the nation’s largest grassroots organizer of low-income and minority Americans. Unfortunately, they succeeded.”
Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s chief organizer assailed the House and Senate for their surrender in the face of the rightwing media onslaught, voting overwhelmingly to terminate federal funding for any ACORN-administered programs. “To include language in legislation that targets a single organization is unconstitutional and wrong,” Lewis said.
She quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who denounced the House vote that “did not follow some criminal or administrative process with basic due process protections. It flowed out of a Fox News network report, which led the call for a public lynching” of ACORN.
Lewis added pointedly that if the standard is that organizations that have broken the law shouldn’t get federal money, “then let’s set that standard consistently. There are numerous corporations that have proven records of malfeasance. ACORN has never been convicted of any crime in a court of law.”
At the same time, the group said it would let an independent investigation take place. “We have all been deeply disturbed by what we’ve seen in some of these videos,” Lewis said. “We will go to whatever lengths necessary to reestablish the public trust.”
ACORN’s Brian Kettenring, deputy director of National Operations, said the organization has received a “huge outpouring of support from individuals and grassroots organizations that see the shameless attacks for what they are.”
ACORN is taking action to “strengthen” the organization “in light of some of the content of the actual videos,” he said.
But at the same time, ACORN is pointing out the hypocrisy. “Why no accountability for Halliburton and Blackwater?” Kettenring asks.
Despite this being the “toughest month” in ACORN history, Kettenring says, the “morale of the leadership and staff is quite high” and the “message is finally penetrating about the nature of the attacks.”
Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson takes on the witchhunt in his Sept. 24 article, “For ACORN, truth lost amid the din.”
He lists many of the accomplishments: a successful drive for a ballot initiative in Florida that raised the minimum wage in 2004, and in four more states in 2006; legal challenges often joined by States’ Attorneys, that “compelled such lenders as Citigroup” to change their discriminatory lending practices. It has led to outlawing “the most egregious predatory lending in nine states.”
Meyerson adds that ACORN “has been to expand the electorate.” In the 2007-2008 election cycle, ACORN registered 1.3 million new voters in the nation’s inner cities.
“This activity particularly vexed many Republican politicians who have repeatedly accused the organization of massive voter fraud.”
Meyerson quotes a report titled, “Manipulating the public agenda: Why ACORN was in the news and what the news got wrong.” The report, co-authored by Prof. Peter Dreier of Occidental College and Christopher R. Martin of the University of Northern Iowa, analyzed 647 stories about ACORN.
The ACORN story, they write, illustrates how the ultra-right media “set the agenda for public debate and frame the way that debate is shaped.”
Rightwing talking-heads and pundits which they call “opinion entrepreneurs,” set the story in motion as early as 2006, the report states.
The “conservative echo chamber” then “orchestrated” its anti-ACORN campaign in 2008, and the “mainstream media reported its allegations without investigating their truth or falsity.”
The aim of the assault was to make “voter fraud” the main public perception of ACORN, the authors write.
The report authors quantify the media failures stating, “82.8 percent of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voting fraud failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare,” and by a similar percent, failed to mention that ACORN had proactively “reported the irregularities to authorities.”
The mainstream media also “failed to provide a deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of ‘voter fraud’ to dampen voting by low-income and minority Americans.”
And 61.4 percent of the stories “failed to acknowledge that Republicans were trying to discredit Obama with an ACORN ‘scandal.'”
The peak came during the Obama-McCain televised debate, Oct. 15, 2008, when McCain said, “We need to know the full extent of Sen. Obama’s relationship with ACORN who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
The authors cite especially shocking examples of the Big Lie: A July 2009 report by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., with the libelous title, “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured As a Criminal Enterprise?”
Although the election is over, these rightwing “opinion entrepreneurs” and the Fox News “echo chamber” remain fixated on ACORN, they warn. Fox and its minions are “poised to inject their frame about ACORN as an issue in the 2010-2012 national elections.”