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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The War On ACORN

That's the title of this recent Op Ed in the L.A. Times. (H/T to Patterico) It's good to know that ACORN still has some defenders in the media, be it MSM or otherwise. This op end, penned by Richard Dreier, is a textbook defense of ACORN. First, Dreier paints all those that either attack or investigate (or both) ACORN is right wing ideologues.

Over the years, ACORN has made powerful enemies. Many businesses oppose the
group's efforts to raise wages for the working poor. Banks, mortgage companies and payday lenders have fought ACORN's campaigns to strengthen regulation of the financial industry. Business groups have funded anti-ACORN websites, such as rottenacorn.com, that aim to destroy the group's credibility. Republicans have long opposed ACORN's success at registering low-income, mostly minority voters, who are more likely to vote for Democrats.

Christopher Martin, a journalism professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and I recently analyzed media coverage of ACORN over the years. In our published report, "Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why ACORN Was in the News, and What the News Got Wrong," we found that, despite ACORN's effective community organizing work in more than 70 cities across the country, 55% of the stories about the organization during 2007 and 2008 dealt with voter fraud.

The coverage was largely driven by the GOP. In the third and final presidential debate last October, McCain charged that ACORN was "now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." At rallies and media events, McCain and Palin repeated this charge and demanded that Obama disclose his ties with ACORN -- echoing attacks that first appeared in conservative publications.


ACORN, and its allies, have often turned most attacks and investigations into partisan attacks. If the attacks are partisan, the attacker is marginalized. If the attacker has an agenda, then most dismiss the attack. That's what Dreier does here. In fact, he references the Issa Report as an example.

There are two lessons here. First, ACORN is not a partisan issue. I have said this over and over. It's an issue of corruption. No one should care what ACORN's ideology is. The can be communists, socialists, or even anarchists and that doesn't matter. What matters is that they run their operation in an honest way. That's what is at issue. That's what the Issa Report examined.

Second, that's why both ACORN 8 and Speaking Truth 2 Power are both so devastating here. ACORN 8 are all former members of ACORN's board. Meanwhile, Speaking Truth 2 Power is a group of former ACORN employees. Most are Democrats and all believe in ACORN's cause. All have turned on ACORN, so to speak, and now are actively campaigning to reform the organization. No one in ACORN 8 or Speaking Truth 2 Power has an ideological axe to grind. Instead, from their view from the inside of ACORN, they've all determined that there's something wrong there and now they're trying to reform the group.

Mr. Dreier didn't mention them in his op ed piece. That's because it isn't only conservative pundits and politicians that are troubled by ACORN's corruption. In fact, liberal former board members and former employees are just as concerned. In fact, they are more concerned because they have seen the corruption first hand. ACORN is not an ideological issue. It's a corruption issue. If it's treated as such, then the real story will come out.

Dreier also points out that most of the attacks focused, erroneously, on voter fraud. In fact, there's scant evidence of voter fraud. There's all sorts of evidence of voter registration fraud. Voter registration fraud is not acceptable but it doesn't change elections. Many conservatives have latched onto cases of voter registration fraud, often mislabeling it, and then they often miss the rest of the story. Voter registration fraud is one of many crimes and incidents of corruption that ACORN has been implicated in, investigated for, or admitted to. There's no reason to fixate on voter registration fraud when that's only one piece of a large puzzle in the ACORN story.

Dreier also focuses on ACORN's good work in the community.

For 40 years, the community organizing group ACORN has been a strong and effective voice for low-income Americans. It has registered more than a million citizens to vote. It has provided counseling and other assistance to help Americans buy and keep homes. It has fought on behalf of working people for fair treatment by employers, banks, mortgage companies and payday lenders. It played a leading role in organizing the victims of Hurricane Katrina to gain a voice in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.


That ACORN has built its reputation in America's inner city communities for helping the poor is not an excuse for their criminal and corrupt behavior. The entire aside is nothing more than a trojan horse. We all heard the same thing in defense of Reverend Wright when the explosive tapes came out. People came on television to proclaim that Reverend Wright would often work in the community in similar manners to ACORN. It's not an excuse for ACORN's behavior and nor is it an excuse for the things that ACORN has done. Just because you do good work in the community doesn't mean you have license to do as you please.

Finally, as Patrick Frey of Patterico points out, there's several factual inaccuracies in the piece. First the piece claims that the two investigative reporters, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, went to ten offices and only got two to go along with their schemes. That isn't accurate. Furthermore, Mr. Dreier formerly did consulting work for ACORN and that wasn't disclosed.

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