Thursday, September 24, 2009

ACORN's Problems Are Very Real -- But Conservatives' Expose Is Clearly Biased

Let's Not Kid Ourselves: What ACORN Staffers Did When Two Conservative Activists Showed Up At Their Offices Posing As a Prostitute and a Pimp Was Incredibly Stupid -- and the Agency is Long Overdue for a Major Housecleaning -- But Make No Mistake: The Activists' Video Expose is Part of a Years-Long Right-Wing Campaign to Destroy ACORN -- and Was Likely Conducted Illegally


ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- has long been he target of ire by Republicans and conservative activists, who have for years sought to have the community-based organization prosecuted for, among other things, voter-registration fraud -- including an FBI investigation in 2008 -- mainly because its political arm has been very active in getting low-income Americans to register to vote -- most of them racial minorities who tend to vote for Democrats. ACORN has a whole host of serious problems that it has to deal with, including the alleged embezzlement of of nearly $1 million in 1999 and 2000. But the current uproar over a videotaped expose of the organization is ignoring the fact that it wasn't conducted by journalists, but by two conservative activists, who were clearly motivated by partisan political bias -- and likely broke the law in doing so. (Photo courtesy ABC News)

(Posted 5;00 a.m. EDT Thursday, September 24, 2009)
(Updated 7:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, September 24, 2009)



The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), 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 videotapes shot by conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles at ACORN offices in New York, Baltimore and Washington.

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.



WASHINGTON -- The IRS announced Wednesday it was severing ties with ACORN, joining a growing list of government agencies to end relationships with the community activist group.

At the same time, ACORN filed suit in Baltimore against the conservative duo who shot hidden-camera videos that are damaging the organization's reputation and the Web site that aired them.

The lawsuit accuses James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles of violating Maryland law that requires two-party consent for electronic surveillance. It also names as a defendant the consevative Web site that first posted the video.

The pair posing as a pimp and underage prostitute videotaped ACORN workers in Baltimore advising them how to cheat on taxes and loan applications.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service said it would no longer include ACORN in its volunteer tax-assistance program. The program offered free tax advice to about three million low- and moderate-income tax filers this past spring. ACORN provided help on about 25,000 returns, the IRS said.

ACORN said it had already suspended its tax program, raising questions about who broke up with whom.

-- Associated Press and The Washington Times



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 Los Angeles 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. Attorney 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 Iglesias in his testimony before Congress and e-mails recently declassified from former White House Deputy Chief of Staff 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 speaking 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 the 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 was filming illegally at ACORN's Baltimore office. 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: Las Vegas.)

As the right-wing 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 News 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 representatives 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 ACORN's chief executive, Bertha Lewis, and its executive director, 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."


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 Clearinghouse van offering big checks to people -- nearly all of them black -- only to taunt them that the money is what was going to bank bailouts.

Do not-so-subtly racist or sexist stunts count in 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 Eric Prince are implicated in murder? He just keeps getting contracts.

Representative Darrel Issa (R-California) sent out a letter bragging of cutting ACORN’s money for all of us, then asked us to give him money. Issa's hometown of 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 attempt 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 Ebert 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 This commentary first appeared at

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Volume IV, Number 72
Guest Commentary Copyright 2009, The Public Record. Re-posted by permission.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Letter From the Editor: Limbaugh Claim of 'Buses' Remark as 'Parody' Pure B.S.

When Right-Wing Radio Talkmeister Said 'We Need Segregated Buses' After Incident on an Illinois School Bus, He Not Only Told His 'Dittohead' Listeners a Bald-Faced Lie About What Happened, He Also Crossed a Red Line By Openly Advocating the Direct Flouting of More Than 50 Years of Federal Laws and Court Rulings That Ban Racial Segregation


An open call to violate the law: That's what right-wing talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh did on Tuesday when he said "we need segregated buses" in response to an incident aboard a school bus in Bellville, Illinois in which two black teenagers attacked a white teenager. The incident was at first thought to be racially motivated, but videotape recorded by an on-board security camera led local police to rule that out. Not only did Limbaugh falsely accuse other black students aboard the bus of cheering the attackers on for racist reasons, but in saying "We need segregated buses," Limbaugh also openly advocated the reimposition of race-based segregation -- which has been illegal under federal law and a host of court rulings for more than half a century. (Photo Courtesy Premiere Radio Networks)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, September 21, 2009)


Rush Limbaugh has gone too far.

The right-wing radio talk-show host has been sounding increasingly belligerent in the past year toward liberals, Democrats, women and racial and ethnic minorities. But last week, he crossed a legal "red line" he should not have crossed when he called for publicly-owned school buses to be racially segregated.

"We need segregated buses," he said, commentating on an incident aboard a school bus in which a white teenager was attacked by two black teens.

Seizing upon the incident to fire yet another slam at President Obama, Limbaugh said, "I think not only it was racism, it was justifiable racism. I mean, that's the lesson that we're being taught here today. [The] kid shouldn't have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses -- it was invading space and so forth. This is Obama's America."

Limbaugh -- never once referring to the president by his official title, or even by his first name -- continued, "In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, 'Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on!'"

But Limbaugh told his "Dittohead" listeners a bald-faced lie -- and the proof that he lied is on videotape.


In the incident, which was captured by an on-board security camera, two black high school students pummeled a white student while on their way to school last Monday morning in the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois.

The attack was initially labeled as racially motivated, but local police later backed away from that assessment.

According to a Fox News report fed to local Fox network affiliates, Belleville police said kids on the bus repeatedly told the 17-year-old victim he could not sit beside them, so he finally pushed aside a backpack and sat anyway.

The network quoted Belleville Police Captain Don Sax as saying that the incident was "an extreme case of kids behaving poorly."

After the white student sat down, "Pretty soon the kid who he sat next to is pushing him, trying to push him out of the seat and the next thing you know he starts punching him and choking him and punching him some more," Sax said. "It's ridiculous."

Four minutes after the first attack, the victim was pummeled again by a second student.

Neither the 17-year-old victim nor his alleged attackers, aged 14 and 15, were identified, but his assailants were expected to be charged in Juvenile Court with assault.

Sax told Fox News that because the victim was white and his attackers black, "It's a strong suggestion that it was race-related." But after examining the videotape, police ruled out a racial motive for the assault.


In his Tuesday broadcast, Limbaugh claimed that the black students aboard the bus chanted "'Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on!'" while the white student was being pummeled.

But a close examination of the audio portion of the video -- which is available for viewing on YouTube and other Web sites, including Limbaugh's -- shows that Limbaugh lied. There was no "Right on!" chant -- although it did pick up one student yelling "Kick his ass!" just prior to the initial attack and shouts of "Get off the bus!" during it.

More importantly, the video clearly shows other white kids cheering on the victim's attackers, as the driver shouted frantically at the teenagers to return to their seats. Other students seated at the front of the bus -- black and white alike -- can be seen reacting with shock at what was going on.


Limbaugh point-blank used the Belleville incident to engage in deliberate race-baiting. According to a transcript of his Tuesday broadcast posted on his own Web site, the right-wing commentator said:

"Hey, look, folks, the white kid on that bus in Belleville, Illinois, he deserved to be beat up. You don't know about this story? Oh, there's video of this. The school bus filled with mostly black students beat up a white student a couple of times with all the black students cheering.

"Of course the white student on the bus deserved the beating," Limbaugh continued. "He was born a racist. That's what Newsweek magazine told us in its most recent cover.

Limbaugh's rant continues: "It's Obama's America, is it not? Obama's America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama's America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, "Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on," and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he's white."

When a caller reminded Limbaugh that Sax "did not comment on anything other than he said more investigations shows that [the incident] was not racially motivated," the right-wing talkmeister replied, " I think the guy [Sax] is wrong. I think not only was it racism, it's justifiable racism."

Then came Limbaugh's stunner: "I mean, that's the lesson that we're being taught here today. [The] kid shouldn't have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses. It was invading of space and so forth. This is Obama's America."


Reaction to Limbaugh's rant was swift and furious. Appearing Thursday night on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," former Democratic national chairman Howard Dean compared Limbaugh to another notorious right-wing radio demagogue: Father Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest who in the 1930s used his radio program to issue blatantly anti-Semitic commentary and to rationalize the policies of Hitler and Mussolini.

"There's a lot of money to be made in passing out hate of the kind that Rush Limbaugh is just doing," Dean said. "He's always an entertainer, but he's way over the line. And this is a long -- there's a long, unfortunate American tradition of this, going back to Father Coughlin and people before that. They appeal to the very worst in people."

On the same program, Mark Potok, a spokesman for the anti-racism Southern Poverty Law Center, said by arguing that school buses be segregated, as far as Limbaugh was concerned, "this is the only way, I suppose, that white people can be protected from black people.

"I think when we have characters like Limbaugh saying that on the air to millions of Americans -- many of whom actually revere the man -- it's not surprising that people feel that 'the race wars around the corner' and that we're allowed to say these kinds of things," Potok said.


Not surprisingly, Limbaugh fired back on Friday. "This whole race tumult is being orchestrated and run out of the White House straight out of [chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel and [senior advisor David] Axelrod's office. They are promoting it; they are encouraging it. Isn't it amazing? You have black kids who beat up a white kid on a school bus. That's not racism. You have half the country criticizing a socialist health care plan, and that is racism."

Limbaugh took dead aim at Potok: "So I'm doing a total parodic rant. I mean, the sarcasm is dripping -- and this bottom-feeder at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Potok, is putting it out there that I made a call for segregated buses. You know what this is like?"

"Parody," my ass. Pardon me for using blunt language, but Limbaugh's claim that his call for "segregated buses" was a sarcastic "parody" is a crock of pure, unadulterated bull----. He knew what he was doing when he said it.

I've never bought Limbaugh's namby-pamby excuse that he's "just an entertainer." Bull----! He's a demagogue. He meant what he said.


By calling for "segregated buses," Limbaugh has used his radio platform to openly advocate the re-imposition of racial segregation in a public accommodation -- which has been illegal under a host of court rulings and a passel of federal and state laws for more than half a century.

Rosa Parks -- whose refusal to yield a front seat to a white man in 1955 led to the Montgomery bus boycott that kicked off the civil rights movement -- must be turning over in her grave. Ditto Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Ralph David Abernathy, Roy Wilkins, Bayard Rustin and scores of others who devoted -- and in many cases, sacrificed -- their lives to bring an end to the evil of America's apartheid based on race.

Limbaugh has the unmitigated gall to employ reverse psychology again and again and again to not only deflect longstanding complaints against him as a demagogue, but to accuse his critics of being demagogues themselves.

But this time, Limbaugh has gone too far. He has called for the open flouting of the law.

The First Amendment bars the Federal Communications Commission from taking punitive action against Limbaugh for violating its rules that strongly condemn the use of the airwaves to promote illegal activity. But that does not mean that Limbaugh cannot be held accountable.


Not by the FCC, but by the advertisers who buy time on his show to air their spots -- a fact that Fox News host Glenn Beck has learned the hard way after his blatantly slanderous and defamatory attack on President Obama as a "racist who hates white people" without providing a scintilla of evidence to prove it.

Now he's costing Fox News hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost advertising revenue -- despite a big spike in Beck's ratings -- thanks to a advertiser boycott of his show.

Money talks and bull---- walks. It took an advertiser boycott to bring down Don Imus after he made a highly inflammatory remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. The multimillionaire Limbaugh can be hit where it really hurts -- in his massive bank account.

Limbaugh's show is syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks, which is owned by Clear Channel Communications. Premiere also syndicates Glenn Beck's radio show, as well as that of Sean Hannity.

I see no reason why the advertiser boycott of Beck's TV show should not spread to his radio show as well. Nor do I see any reason why there shouldn't be an advertiser boycott of Limbaugh. He's a demagogue who's called for the deliberate flouting of laws banning race segregation.

If I were an advertising executive, I'd think twice before having my client's product associated with race-baiting demagogues like Limbaugh and Beck.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 71
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. all rights reserved.


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