ACORN Story Grows But Mainstream Media Reluctant to Cover It

Bruce Springsteen once wrote: “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come).” I doubt he expected that story of love gone wrong would become ideal political commentary for the group known as ACORN. 

The small scandal showing an embarrassing video of Baltimore ACORN staffers giving tax advice on how to set up a brothel for underage girls is now national news. This story has everything you could ever want – corruption, sleazy actions at tax-funded organizations, firings, government ties, sex, hookers. It is a network news director’s dream. Imagine the ratings!

Only almost no one is covering it. 

This is the news media in the era of Van Jones and President Obama. The major outlets cover what they want and create the themes they want. When they find something inconvenient, they let it pass. They didn’t like the Van Jones story because he was a community organizer and environmentalist, so they ignored it. The network news media liked the financial entity known as Fannie Mae, so they ignored that scandal-plagued organization for years. ACORN is getting the same treatment.

But it isn’t working any more. The ACORN fiasco has now impacted four offices – Baltimore, Washington, New York and San Bernardino – with laugh-out-loud videos featuring hookers and pimps reminiscent of the 1970s “Starsky and Hutch” show. Huggy Bear returns! Four employees have been fired, with more likely to come. And the controversy was so laughably bad that the Census Bureau cut off all ties to the group known formally as the "Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now." They called it the “tipping point” to shed themselves of ACORN. More nuts for someone else, I guess.

And yet. And yet it’s still been almost entirely ignored by the network news. Nothing on ABC, CBS or NBC for nearly a week. Finally, on Sept. 15, CBS broke ranks and did a thorough job on the story. Prior to that, the only thing any one of the three broadcast networks has done appeared in a blog post by ABC’s Jake Tapper. It's hardly worth noting except to show that the networks know about what’s going on. They just don’t care to report it. Only FOX News has bothered to report on the controversy.

ABC’s “World News Tonight with Charlie Gibson” anchor Charlie Gibson is especially bad. The anchor told Don Wade of 890 WLS in Chicago that he “didn’t even know about” the story five days after it broke. Remember that the next time the media complain a Republican – Bush, Palin, Reagan, etc. – is somehow uninformed.

At least CBS finally did the story the networks were obliged to do. The network reveled in its new-found commitment to balanced journalism by doing a good job on the round-up – including damning details such as video clips, information about the Census decision and background on ACORN’s “voter fraud charges in nearly two dozen states.”

NBC’s “Today” finally chimed in with a story on Sept. 16 by Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers. Myers did a solid piece about the “seemingly damning Acorn videos.” But, she still showed how clueless journalists are when she claimed at the very end that Obama’s background as a community organizer is “one reason this story is getting so much play.” I guess one story on the network is “so much play.”

Unfortunately, much of this is the fault of the media for not digging into ACORN sooner. The voter fraud charges were discussed a bit prior to the November election – the last time by NBC on Nov. 1 – and then forgotten until last night. They have treated ACORN well, calling them a “community” group, “grassroots” and rationalizing their numerous election fraud charges.

And the news media have ignored the consistent theme. Every time ACORN gets into trouble, it fires a few employees and acts like nothing’s wrong.

Just last week CNN reported that other members of this Saul Alinsky-esque community group were arrested in Florida. “Arrest warrants were issued Wednesday for 11 Florida voter registration workers who are suspected of submitting false information on hundreds of voter registration cards, according to court documents,” said CNN.

That’s typical. The Web site "Rotten ACORN" is devoted to election fraud complaints against the organization. The site’s map shows 14 different states where complaints have been filed. Yes, the newspapers took a passing glance at the video story. The Post initially wrote about the firings in D.C. The New York Times ran a story by the Associated Press. It took the Democrat-controlled Senate voting away Acorn’s federal funds to get the “newspaper of record” more involved. I am underwhelmed. At least the Times covered it this time. With Jones the Times waited until he had resigned to report he was under fire.

What’s worse with ACORN is that we’re paying for all this, at least in part. The Washington Examiner wrote that they “found that ACORN has received at least $53 million in federal money since 1994.”

For its own part, ACORN naturally blamed someone else. In this case, FOX News. ACORN called itself “their Willy Horton for 2009.” The ACORN statement reads like a paranoid’s interpretation of the videos. Here’s Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis  for the group:

“The relentless attacks on ACORN's members, its staff and the policies and positions we promote are unprecedented. An international entertainment conglomerate, disguising itself as a ‘news’ agency (FOX), has expended millions, if not tens of millions of dollars, in their attempt to destroy the largest community organization of Black, Latino, poor and working families in the country. It is not coincidence that the most recent attacks have been launched just when health care reform is gaining traction. It is clear they've had these tapes for months.”

Now the latest video is out and more outlandish than the others. The ACORN employee says she previously killed her husband and claims she is regularly in touch with top Democratic politicians. ACORN’s response is she claims she knew it was a set-up. She is quoted on ACORN’s Web site saying, “They were not believable.”

What’s not believable is ACORN’s response to all this. So far four of their operations have been compromised and they think the world is out to get them. Yet this is entirely the kind of garbage ACORN pulled for years. Community activism is fine when ACORN is stalking Wall Street executives in their Connecticut homes. But it’s evil and “McCarthyism” when it’s turned around on them.

And all that took was a few young people showing some initiative and doing a job journalists should have done years ago – looking into ACORN and where our millions in tax dollars have gone.

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum and he can be seen on’s “Strategy Room.”

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