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[Washington Babylon]

The Acorn Fraud and the Media

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Must read piece at Reason on the media’s response to the ACORN scandal. Highlight:

One of the more convincing non-coverage defenses came from Austin American-Statesman Editor Fred Zipp (“First, it’s a local story set elsewhere,” he explained last week). But Zipp couldn’t leave well enough alone:

“Second, we’re not Fox, and we resist letting Fox set our agenda. The story is only now beginning to catch fire among the news sources that we trust. As they offer stories that dissect ACORN, its activities, the origin of the controversy and the credibility of its principal antagonists, we will publish them.”

At best, this is an example of outsourcing news judgment. At worst, it’s a classic example of pointless (and, likely, politically one-sided) media shadowboxing. As an editor, by definition you set your “agenda”; defining yourself in opposition to others’ is a game that has no logical conclusion, and says more about who you are pre-emptively biased against than what you tangibly stand for. Does Zipp offer equal resistance to agenda-setting from The Huffington Post? The Daily Kos? Texas Monthly?

Meanwhile, ACORN is trying to sue the journalists who pulled off the sting. As Jonathan Turley wrote, “The decision of ACORN to aggressively pursue the filmmakers is, in my view, a mistake and evidence of continued poor judgment by the organization’s leadership. These filmmakers may be properly prosecuted [for nonconsensual electronic surveillance] under state law…However, ACORN should confine its role to that of a witness and focus on cleaning up its tarnished organization.”

I wrote in an earlier post that I’d long admired ACORN’s work. That was based mostly on distant memories of the group’s work as an advocate for low-income housing, but those memories look like they were largely romantic. Based on emails I have gotten about ACORN and revelations that have come out since the sting, ACORN has been rotten for a long time. For example, from the Washington Post today:

Documents released by a Senate Republican on Thursday show that leaders of the ACORN community organizing network transferred several million dollars in charitable and government money meant for the poor to arms of the group that have political and sometimes profit-making missions.

ACORN’s tax-exempt groups and allied organizations, long a target of conservative ire, used more than half their charitable and public money in 2006 to pay other ACORN affiliates, according to an analysis by the tax staff of Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

Liberal commentators will no doubt dismiss this as GOP propaganda, just as its been attacking the funding source for the two conservatives who pulled off the sting (since it can’t really attack the findings) and defending ACORN’s attempt to sue them. As a friend wrote to me, the laws that have criminalized recording, which ACORN is using, should be called the “criminal and fraudster protection act” because they “effectively shut down one of the most powerful means of gathering evidence of illegal conduct.”

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