On Wednesday morning, the ACORN scandal finally blossomed into an actual print story from an actual Times reporter. Previously the Times had almost totally ignored the blossoming scandal, even as the Census Bureau cut ties with the controversial left-wing housing activist group and the Senate voted overwhelmingly to withdraw the group's funding.
Scott Shane's "Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe" hit the high points butoverplayed the ideological angle, as the headline hints. There are six conservative labels in the story, not including the headline, andShane portrayedthe scandalin pure political terms, with"the right" as "gleeful" in claiming its "latest scalp,"as opposed to expressingoutrage over a tax-funded leftist organization with connections to the Census Bureau and IRS (!) encouraging tax evasion and child prostitution.
Shane couldn't even bring himself to call the housing activists at ACORN leftist; instead he said "the right" are trying to weaken Obama "by attacking allies and appointees they view as leftist." Yet he had no problem applying the "conservative" label to Fox News host Glenn Beck and others.
For months during last year's presidential race, conservatives sought to tar the Obama campaign with accusations of voter fraud and other transgressions by the national community organizing group Acorn, which had done some work for the campaign.
But it took amateur actors, posing as a prostitute and a pimp and recorded on hidden cameras in visits to Acorn offices, to send government officials scrambling in recent days to sever ties with the organization.
Conservative advocates and broadcasters were gleeful about the success of the tactics in exposing Acorn workers, who appeared to blithely encourage prostitution and tax evasion. It was, in effect, the latest scalp claimed by those on the right who have made no secret of their hope to weaken the Obama administration by attacking allies and appointees they view as leftist.
The Acorn controversy came a week after the resignation of Van Jones, a White House environmental official attacked by conservatives, led by Glenn Beck of Fox News Channel, for once signing a petition suggesting that Bush administration officials might have deliberately permitted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Even before Mr. Jones stepped down, Mr. Beck had sent a message to supporters on Twitter urging them to "find everything you can" on three other Obama appointees.
Conservatives believe that they have hit upon a winning formula for such attacks: mobilizing people to dig up dirt, trumpeting it on talk radio and television, prompting Congress to weigh in and demanding action from the Obama administration.
I'm of two minds about Shane harping on the ideological clash. Conservatives will surely be pleased to take the credit for causing ACORN serious trouble and be pleased at the novelty of the guerilla theatre from James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, posted on BigGovernment.com. But would the Times make the ideological point so sharply if this had been a liberal sting at the National Rifle Association or an organization with a conservative bent?
Playing catch-up, Shane relayed the allegations curious people with access to the Internet already know:
In response to the Acorn videos, an instant hit on YouTube, the Senate voted 83 to 7 on Monday to prohibit the Department of Housing and Urban Development from giving federal housing money to the organization. The bill's advocates said the group had received $53 million in such financing since 1994.
Last Friday, the Census Bureau dropped Acorn as one of 80,000 national unpaid "partners" helping promote the 2010 census, saying the group's involvement might "create a negative connotation" and discourage participation in the population count.
The undercover videos showed a scantily dressed young woman, Hannah Giles, posing as a prostitute, while a young man, James O'Keefe, played her pimp. They visited Acorn offices in Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Bernardino, Calif., candidly describing their illicit business and asking the advice of Acorn workers. Among other questions, they asked how to buy a house to use as a brothel employing under-age girls from El Salvador.
ACORN workers, after being told "the pair were engaging in prostitution, explained how to disguise their activities in dealing with bankers and the government." Shane did allow a Heritage Foundation spokesman to criticize the media's slowness:
Mike Gonzalez, vice president for communications at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the episodes simply reflected a Web-based democratization of investigative reporting, made necessary in part by the failures of the mainstream news media. "It should have been '60 Minutes' doing this stuff - not two people whose combined ages are 45," Mr. Gonzalez said.
During the presidential campaign, Shane wrote a notorious gloss on Obama's allegedly "sporadic" relationship to domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, cofounder of Weather Underground.