- Fox News Prepares Audience for Sharron Angle’s Defeat (crooksandliars.com)
- “ACORN Press Release: The end of an era: ACORN files Chapter 7 bankruptcy” and related posts (nolandgrab.org)
- Michael Kieschnick: 10 Steps to Take Now After a Brutal Election (huffingtonpost.com)
- “ACORN files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy” and related posts (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
I run this article from MediaMatters.org today because my e-mail was just hit by an outrageous statement against Acorn by my Congresswoman, Shelley Moore Capito. Here’s the truth:
If you get your news from right-wing talk radio and Fox News, you probably think America is being overrun by a hyper-corrupt organized prostitution ring headquartered in the White House.
In case you missed this story: Two conservative activists, Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe, visited a host of ACORN offices around the country posing as a pimp and prostitute. They asked for help establishing a brothel, and even stated that underage girls would be working for them. They had a surveillance camera and recorded at least four interactions with ACORN employees and claimed these employees provided them with assistance. All of the employees implicated have now been fired, and federal aid to ACORN has been cut off.
Still, the story at this point really has a lot more to do with Fox News and conservative media activism than with ACORN. The undercover videos first appeared on BigGovernment.com, founded by Andrew Breitbart, a protégé of Matt Drudge and a conservative with a long record of highly partisan and inflammatory statements. Giles, daughter of conservative blogger Doug Giles, attended the National Journalism Center in Washington, one of the many right-wing institutions conservatives have established to flood the field with young, motivated, and rabidly partisan “reporters.” For his part, O’Keefe has been a far-right activist since college.
Breitbart has developed a direct line to Glenn Beck, and so it wasn’t long before the videos were being presented breathlessly on his TV and radio programs. This week, following his 9/12 rally, Beck escalated the attacks over ACORN. “But good God almighty, what is wrong with us,” he said on Tuesday, “that we don’t right now get into the cars and drive back to Washington, and surround the Capitol and say, ‘What the hell is wrong with you people? Are you soulless? Are you dead inside?’ “
It was just the beginning. “Obama is Van Jones, Obama is ACORN,” right-wing pundit Monica Crowley said on Wednesday. “Just as he is ACORN, just as he is Van Jones, he is racism,” Rush Limbaugh parroted the sentiment on Thursday. Radio host Jim Quinn said that we were all living in the “United States of ACORN,” and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had Karl Rove on to talk about the tapes exposing what was now a “remarkable criminal enterprise.” The stakes couldn’t be higher. ACORN, after all, was on tap to receive “eight and a half trillion dollars of stimulus money,” according to Sean Hannity — a number that was a thousand times greater than the equally fictitious billions that Beck had accorded to the organization on behalf of the government. ACORN had suddenly ballooned from an organization which had received $53 million in federal funds over 15 years to representing 67 percent of America’s gross domestic product.
Fox was running so wild with the story that they were willing to lower their already dubious standards. The first problem was one of logic. Four videos were being promoted as unimpeachable proof that all of ACORN is equally corrupt — all 1,200 chapters and hundreds of ACORN employees. It was the opposite of how a credible investigation is supposed to function, in which conclusions are withheld until after all the facts are in. By comparison, here, the conservative media had a few isolated facts but were willing to extrapolate an entire thesis from them.
More important, Fox News failed to vet the tapes. This was made painfully clear with the case of the San Bernardino ACORN office, which was featured in the fourth video to be released. In the footage, ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke claimed that she had murdered her former husband following a period of domestic abuse. On September 15, Beck and Sean Hannity both broadcast Kaelke’s assertion. Beck, who had reported on the supposed confession during his radio program, added on Fox, “She never spanked her kids, but she did shoot her husband dead.” Later that night, Hannity played the same clip, and in a rare moment of intellectual curiosity, asked about the veracity of the murder claim. “We’re working on it,” Giles said, which was enough for Hannity. The following morning, on September 16, Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson repeated the allegation, saying, “She killed somebody? Despite this, some lawmakers want to keep funding the group.”
But Kaelke’s ex-husbands are alive. The San Bernardino Police Department confirmed this simple fact on September 15, releasing a statement that read: “Investigators have been in contact with the involved party’s known former husbands, who are alive and well.” (Kaelke was soon quoted in an ACORN press release saying that she had made the claim because she was seeking to mislead the undercover videographers, whom she was suspicious of.) In spite of these developments, the next day, Hannity was still treating the San Bernardino tape as fully credible. He even hosted Giles again but failed to ask her about her own investigation into the truth of the claim. (Here’s a full timeline of the attention the San Bernardino video received.)
In the meantime, another pivotal hole in the story began to present itself. During interviews, Breitbart, Giles, and O’Keefe had all asserted that the undercover team had never been kicked out of an ACORN office. Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s CEO and chief organizer, had already said this was a falsehood by the time a Philadelphia ACORN employee, Katherine Conway Russell, publicly claimed to have done just that, adding that she had filed a police report after a visit from the conservative pair. The police report was soon produced, raising further serious questions about the credibility of the entire ACORN exposé. It was another major side of the story that Fox News simply hadn’t cared to look into.
On the offense, Breitbart has lashed out at the mainstream media for supposedly burying the story. “The behavior of Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN,” he said on Friday, “has been despicable during this.” Many mainstream reporters were indeed worthy of criticism, but for the opposite reason that Breitbart cited. Their real failure was discussing the ACORN issue on Fox News’ terms and ignoring the network’s role in pushing the smears.
The New York Times covered up conservatives’ well-documented ACORN obsession in its reporting. In their reports, all three network evening news broadcasts — ABC’s World News, NBC’s Nightly News, and the CBS Evening News — left out substantive facts about the incidents that mitigate the accusations, exonerate ACORN employees, or undermine the credibility of the filmmakers. Moreover, none reported that Fox News, in its aggressive promotion of this story, had made false accusations.
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews was content to report that the right had simply “claimed another victim,” as if the campaign had been entirely legitimate. “They know what they are doing because they are getting an audience from this,” he added, uncritically. And MSNBC’s Dylan Rattigan allowed conservative activist Carter Clews of Americans for Limited Government to ask Bertha Lewis, “How much money did Barack Obama funnel to you … with his buddy-boy Bill Ayers?” David Shuster and Juan Williams provided some of the week’s few media bright spots by focusing on Fox News itself and providing the story with some perspective.
Fox News is already teasing its next round of ACORN attacks. If credible journalists don’t stand up for their craft, then Fox News will keep enjoying its position in the driver’s seat.
BTW, there were a lot of links in this article that didn’t copy over, so go to MediaMatters to get them.