Commentary

Entrapping ACORN

OKeefe-on-FOX-200x200ACORN, an umbrella organization of community groups that serves poor people in major cities across the country through housing, legal advocacy, family services, and higher wages, has lost all federal funding, after decades of working for low-income, disadvantaged Americans.

That the House of Representatives has moved swiftly on anything is stunning in and of itself. More stunning, this is in response to a single independent report by conservative activists, with no follow-up investigation, no hearings, not even being provided a copy of the full, unedited video tapes shot by conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles at a couple of ACORN offices.

This is serious stuff here. This is not a game of gotcha, of cheap political points, of practical jokes — not when this is money that helps in many real ways in impoverished communities around our country.

It is vital to assess how this backlash was accepted so quickly in light of videos that were from someone whose films are funded by conservative backers, videos that misrepresented ACORN through editing and not disclosing other failed attempts at their desired response, and may well have been dubbed over, if O’Keefe would dare to release the unedited tapes in their real context to prove otherwise.

A significant reason that this ACORN backlash has moved through Congress like Montezuma’s Revenge is that this particular hidden camera stunt had the ring of “child prostitution” in it, which most politicians of either party would run from rather than dispute its irrelevance. “Anyone defending ACORN is for child prostitution” is an immediate fallacious meme. It’s not like we’re talking about the Catholic Church here, which still gets federal funding.

Noteworthy is that there have not been any previous allegations between child prostitution and ACORN. In this weekend’s LA Times, O’Keefe himself asserts that this ruse had nothing to do with prostitution, importing underage sex workers, or tax help for starting up a business.

“Politicians are getting elected single-handedly due to this organization,” he said. “No one was holding this organization accountable. No one in the media is putting pressure on them. We wanted to do a stunt and see what we could find.”

That’s what this is really about: the elections, and the threat that has been hyped tirelessly that ACORN is in some way stealing your vote.

Before I digress into the long campaign to smear ACORN because of its successful voter registration, I don’t want to be accused to changing the subject to the elections. O’Keefe clearly stated that is what these stunts were about from the beginning.

There is much to dispute in O’Keefe’s quote. There is no evidence whatsoever that politicians are getting elected single-handedly by ACORN, and it is a wild exaggeration. Many claims of voter fraud are made, few instances ever occur.

What has been distorted is that these allegations surround voter registrations, not actual votes, and that ACORN has regularly flagged forms that were incomplete, duplicate, or unverifiable. By law, anyone collecting voter registration forms has to turn in all that are used, even if they know the forms will not be processed.

Far-fetched is the idea that no one in the media has been putting pressure on ACORN. That O’Keefe would even think ACORN could elect politicians single-handedly is because of FOX News’ rampant coverage and conflation of ACORN conspiracies and allegations, to the extent that John McCain worked it into his stump speech by the end of the 2008 Presidential Election.

The red herring of voter fraud as an excuse to deny others the right to vote is a well-worn claim. Voter suppression, specifically using the fear of “voter fraud” to advance voter suppression, is a topic I have explored and documented in-depth in my documentary FREE FOR ALL! which you can see online for free right now. I also produced a video about ACORN with Video the Vote focusing on the fraud of voter fraud.

David Iglesias, a Republican U.S. Prosecutor for New Mexico, investigated allegations of voter fraud throughout the state at the urging of Republican leaders, and when he found no evidence and would not prosecute falsely, he was fired, as asserted by David Iglesias in his testimony before Congress and emails recently declassified from Karl Rove.

But again, I don’t want to be accused of dodging the issue–I am just looking to rebut the persistent falsehood which directly affected this kid’s motivation to punk a community organization into losing millions of dollars to help the poor.

O’Keefe is comparable to the FBI informant who brought down the Bronx terrorist plot — only that there would not have been any actual plot were it not for this FBI informant actively recruiting mentally challenged Muslims from Mosques for this plot, which apparently involved entrapping people who were dumb enough to listen to him.

O’Keefe could well have actually attempted to show something about ACORN’s voting registration controversies–like speak to registrants who admitted falsifying voter registration forms, or followed up on who registered and who voted, or even interview ACORN directly. But none of those would have involved a minister’s daughter dressing slutty, so you can’t really blame him.

So it came to pass that in this effort to dispute voter registration that Giles and O’Keefe conceived of the worst sounding scandal they could invoke, and traveled the country to ACORN offices across the country to find someone to take their time to humor them in the improv game of “Yes, And.”

And they eventually found some clueless ACORN employees, people far too eager to offer good customer service than employ any common sense. A couple of workers comply with O’Keefe’s outlandish inquiry for underage brothels in dispensing tax advice.

The well-publicized clips are shocking enough, and have been exploited as much as any couple of minutes of video can be. Glenn Beck taunted other networks for not covering it. Even Jon Stewart bunted on it, as if his guest interview were Sistah Souljah. As a potent testament to Stewart’s “Most Trusted Newsman” gatekeeper status, the House next day voted to cut all federal funding for ACORN.

It is worth noting here that what transpired on O’Keefe’s videotape were conversations about hypothetical situations–not actual prostitution, no actual crime, and not proof of an agency-wide policy or program involving prostitution or illegal immigrants. In fact, O’Keefe’s experiment proves this–that several other ACORN offices would not be ensnared by their absurd scenario, and turned away these provocateurs. One office in Philadelphia filed a police report because they were alarmed by the pair.

Ironically, the only thing illegal in some of these tapes is that O’Keefe is filming illegally. States like California and Maryland have strict consent laws about surreptitious recording, which is why the news and entertainment industries have long figured out workarounds for hidden cameras. (Hint: Vegas.)

As the crankosphere raves over how the Media didn’t uncover this, it is worth pointing out that not only are the tactics against the standard of journalism, the lack of disclosure and misrepresentation pushes this expose well out of the range of journalism and in to the realm of entrapment.

As it was, O’Keefe had to misrepresent a conversation where a woman stated up front that their inquiry was illegal, but played along because she figured it was a gag. Another misrepresentation by FOX was the breathless uproar about a woman who joked that she had killed her husband–well after it was established that her husband was alive, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and others kept repeating the ridiculous claim for another day, demanding an investigation, since they obviously didn’t have the resources as a major news network to confirm that this guy was alive.

Nor is this O’Keefe’s first foray into being the Tucker Max of conservative hacks. He pulled a stunt on Planned Parenthood entrapping receptionists and donation reps into conversations where he said he wanted to kill off black people, while his compatriot Lila Rose called and claimed to be underage to see if the clinics would report statutory rape. (Lila Rose just recently called for abortions to be held in public squares to create the mass gross-out that would therefore make them all illegal)

In a detailed response from Bertha Lewis and Steven Kest :

O’Keefe has a sordid history of preying on receptionists and other front-line service workers for respected organizations. In 2008 he pulled a similar stunt on Planned Parenthood when he and another female colleague secretly recorded phone conversations with staff who handle fundraising calls at a few of the organization’s affiliates. During the calls, O’Keefe pretended to be interested in setting up funds for low-income women in need of health care. Once the conversation hit a comfortable stride, O’Keefe would change his tune and explain, in explicit language, that his real intent was to target women of color in an effort to control minority populations. The audio recordings were edited in an attempt to make it appear that Planned Parenthood was complicit in accepting donations for racist purposes. O’Keefe’s intent then, as it is now, was to entrap an organization whose mission he is ideologically opposed to, and masquerade his efforts as investigative journalism rather than the propaganda videos they are.

This effort caused a conflict with a collaborator over misrepresenting their targets, as reported by the New York Times:

Not everyone among Mr. O’Keefe’s acquaintances agrees. Liz Farkas, a Rutgers student who called Mr. O’Keefe “a nice guy and a loyal friend,” said she grew disillusioned after he asked her to help edit the script of a Planned Parenthood sting.

“It was snippets to make the Planned Parenthood nurse look bad,” Ms. Farkas said. “I said: ‘It has no context. You’re just cherry-picking the nurse’s answers.’ He said, ‘Okay’ — and then he just ran it.”

Asked whether the left-leaning documentaries of Michael Moore do not do the same, Ms. Farkas said: “Michael Moore goes after the rich and powerful. James isn’t doing that. He goes after low-level bureaucrats and people who are trying to help low-income people.”

And in college, O’Keefe showed women their place with his video wit, as reported by Media Matters:

As a Rutgers University undergraduate, O’Keefe videotaped a classmate distributing to a Women in Culture and Society lecture a handout that emphasized that a “good wife always knows her place.”

And most tastefully of all, O’Keefe drove around posing as a Publisher’s Clearing House van offering big checks to people, only to taunt them that the money is what was going to bank bailouts. Black people sure are suckers for that one!

Do not-so-subtly racist or sexist stunts count as courts of law? Shouldn’t there be a requirement that they at least be funny, besides mean for the sake of mean?

Is this same adolescent accountability accepted by defense contractors, when Blackwater and its owner Erik Prince are implicated in murder? He just keeps getting contracts. Rep. Darrel Issa from San Diego sent out a letter bragging of cutting ACORN’s money for all of us, then asked us to give him money. San Diego has had political scandals that have led to actual convictions, not simply recordings of speculative conversations. Isn’t it time to slash San Diego’s federal funding? All of this is not to get off subject, though. Whatever angry conservatives want to insist the subject is.

It is natural for many to shirk away from defending ACORN in light of this footage. But this particular exchange is not just cherry-picked—it was planted, nurtured, and harvested, the latest to take down an organization that empowers the numbers that vote Republicans out of office.

John Wellington Ennis is a filmmaker whose most recent documentary, FREE FOR ALL! was hailed by critic Roger Eberg as “engrossing, even enraging.” His production company Shoot First Inc., in Beverly Hills, specializes in unscripted entertainment, such as documentaries, reality TV, comedy, and live music. He blogs at johnennis.tv.

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23 Responses for “Entrapping ACORN”

  1. Jose says:

    Entrapment only protects against the government, not private citizens.

    There have been over 70 ACORN guilty verdicts in 12 states with many more underway.

    The damaging videos simply added fuel to a fire that had already started.

    Smart Democrats have already distanced themselves from ACORN. It is only a matter of time before ACORN is toast.

  2. Jose, where on earth did you get the information about “70 guilty verdicts” in 12 states? Guilty verdicts on what charges? Supply the evidence to back up your claims.

  3. Jose says:

    Search Google News on

    acorn 70

    One reputable publication is here:

    http://atlanta.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2009/09/14/daily91.html

  4. dobropet says:

    The only guilty submission I can find is the plea from Christopher Edwards for “conspiracy for organizing a scheme” and not much else.

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2009/aug/acorn-director-pleads-guilty

    Although there are pending investigations in several states.

  5. Thanks for the links dobropet and Jose.

    Jose, you are citing Republican talking points peddled by the likes of Rep. Darrell Issa and talking heads like Glenn Beck.

    And the statement by the governor in the article you cite is so irresponsible he should be forced to apologize.

    I would advise you to do some fact checking beyond what is being disseminated by the right-wing.

    A good place to start is here: http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/acorn_accusations.html

  6. Jose says:

    First paragraph in the link I cited:

    Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said the state will not renew a contract with the controversial Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), after 70 ACORN employees were convicted of crimes committed in the course of their work.

  7. Jose says:

    The link you cited at factcheck is almost one year old!

  8. I recommended that you read the entire article, not just the date.

  9. Jose says:

    So, a lot has changed in one year.

  10. Jose says:

    If there is a Republican talking point that says entrapment only protects against the government, then I guess I am repeating it.

    Is it really one of the talking points?

    Is there another talking point that says ACORN has over 70 guilty verdicts? If so, I apologize and will try to find something that is not a talking point.,

  11. Eric Jaffa says:

    When an organization hires thousands of workers to help people fill out voter registration forms, some of them write-in “Mickey Mouse” because it’s easier.

    ACORN doesn’t want registration forms which say, “Mickey Mouse.”

    It fires those workers and calls the cops on them, and then some of those former ACORN workers are convicted.

  12. Classic case of guilty in the public eye though media manipulation. Rather than investigation then action taken this is where Congress has failed in it’s duty.

  13. There are in fact ZERO GUILTY VERDICTS AGAINST ACORN the organization.

    How convenient to leave out the FACT that it was ACORN who immediately fired and turned in the vast majority of lawbreakers who were subsequently convicted on evidence supplied mostly by ACORN.

    If you want to get up in arms over election fraud, then you need to be aware of ESS, the company that controls most of the fraudulent touch screen voting machines, still easily hackable by anyone with half a brain.

    But let’s also talk about Halliburton, you know them. They are lead by dick Cheney the war criminal. Under his misleadership, dozens of military men lost their lives in Iraq due to Halliburton’s war profiteering. They purposely gave tainted food and toxic water to our soldiers. Plus their electrician subcontractors connected ground wires to water pipes that led to shower stalls, which then electrocuted not one, but several soldiers.

  14. Recording conversations without permission in Maryland and California is a crime. So why are criminals allowed to get away with producing criminal propaganda? Why aren’t they behind bars where they belong?

    Why are they allowed to destroy a nonprofit organization that does more good to help out the poor and disadvantaged in America than all the Republicans combined?

    Oh… I just answered my own question!

  15. Fabiana says:

    Finally! Somebody tells the truth!!

    I called my representative, a Democrat who voted to strip funding away from ACORN and I asked her to tell me why she did this. She said it was because of the recent “media” reports. I asked her if she bothered to look into those reports to see if they were true and she said no. I also asked her to tell me why they took this action without any investigation. She had no answer for me. I then told her that I was completely disgusted with her for going along with a slime bag like Darryl Issa. Again, she had nothing to say.

    Anyway, I really appreciate this article and will pass it on!

  16. Charlene says:

    Is it safe to assume that as Americans/human beings that we all want the same thing? No race, party, etc. just want and expect honesty and our Gov to do what is right?
    Why all the fighting between the R’s and D’s? Would it not make more sense to come together and clean up the system no matter who or what they are?

  17. dobropet says:

    Gotta break the ice:

    While the election 2008 controversies over electoral fraud efforts “have been indelibly imprinted in the public consciousness,” Vadum said, that work is only a “smidgen of what ACORN actually does.”

    This year, it boasted of registering 1.3 million new voters but had to backtrack and admit only a few hundred thousand registrations actually were valid.

    Some of the other “activities” cited by Vadum:

    Having 500 activists storm the Washington Hilton and forcing then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to cancel a speech.

    Pressuring Congress and financial institutions for a social basis for mortgages, rather than determine loans by a borrower’s ability to repay. Critics say this is a large part of the reason for the Wall Street meltdown in the past few months.

    Disrupting a congressional panel considering changes in the Community Reinvestment Act.

    Harassing motorists waiting for traffic at intersections with donation campaigns.

    Staging protests outside the home of the chairman of San Diego Gas & Electric that were so disruptive a judge issued a temporary restraining order to keep them away.

    Dumping garbage in front of Baltimore’s city hall and demonstrating outside the mayor’s home, terrifying his wife and children.

    Suing the state of California seeking an exemption from a requirement to pay its employees minimum wage.

    And turning in hundreds of thousands of voter registrations that have been tossed by election officials.

    The report also cited ACORN’s refusal to follow basic civil rights laws or pay required taxes.

    From a report by -Matthew Vadum, a senior editor for the Capital Research Center.

    —Just to recite, another report from the House Committee on Government Reform shows— “that ACORN has repeatedly and deliberately engaged in systematic fraud and that the group hides behind a paper wall of nonprofit corporate protections to conceal a criminal conspiracy on the part of its directors, to launder federal money in order to pursue a partisan political agenda and to manipulate the American electorate.” – Judicial Watch

    Simply because one group helps out the underpriviledged doesn’t allow for it to go unchecked.

  18. InYourFace says:

    Charlene – you’re absolutely right, but to do that is to get the masses of people out of their precious comfort zone of sacrificing hours of research a week seeking the truth. They would prefer the “truth” be placed in their lap by someone else while they sit there and do shit. What’s wrong is wrong no matter who is involved.

  19. PunkyAmerica says:

    dobropet, you really must stop. The biggest problem with people like you spewing ‘facts’ is that you think conflict of interest is a virtue, so the more probable your source is to be biased and playing loose with those facts (as in the rightwing think tank Capitol Research Center or the rightwing activist org Judicial Watch), the more credibility you assign them. Bad news if your real goal is reality, good news if you’re just trying to be Right.

    Here’s something to look up: Mark Jacoby, GOP registration fraudster, and Nathan Sproul, GOP registration fraudster. That’s just for starters. All this hysteria about ACORN is a smokescreen to distract from some of the real election fraud that’s been taking place.

  20. dobropet says:

    I’ll entertain an idea.

    Where do I start, oh yeah “facts” as you call it. I’d imagine I’d have to cite the relevant info to elucidate these “facts” so he we go.

    From the Judicial Watch website:

    “Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation’s public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.”

    :You’re right, certainly seems partisan, so I guess the lawsuit to access the files and meetings of the SPP are partisan tactics as well, huh?

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/6376.shtml

    Or the information regarding Abramoff and his Democratic ties, oh wait he’s been labeled a Republican operative, still looks partisan right?:

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2009/sep/sen-reid-threatens-newspaper
    http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2008/jun/top-congressional-aide-guilty-lobbying-scandal

    Wow, “facts” have a way of turning up in the most right places:

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/files/2007/0408FECComplaintMcCain.pdf

    :yeah, I’d imagine we’ll agree to disagree, as I cite relevant information, and you threaten with a road sign. “Stop” I’m sure I can make that determination myself Punk.

  21. Recce1 says:

    Could some liberal please explain to this Neanderthal conservative how stating facts is a smear? How is it unfair, racist, and un-American to reveal the truth about politicians and their corporate and foundation enablers, whether they be Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, or liberals?

    Could it be that speaking the truth about liberals like Obama, Pelosi, ACORN, or Frank is dishonest while making up lies about conservatives like Limbaugh, O’Reily, and Hannity is honest? I guess we’ve arrived at the Animal Farm in a Brave New World.

    Sieg Heil Comrades

  22. none says:

    Well, the above is a smear, since it is not factual at all, and refers to bogus conspiracy ideas about “corporate enablers”

    Above your comment, Dob has a better standard of facts. His definition includes “True”.

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