Fallen ACORN

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — better known as ACORN — has agreed to give up its license to conduct business in Ohio and to not return to the state under another name.  The agreement was part of an otherwise confidential settlement that resolved a civil lawsuit brought by an Ohio group that contested ACORN’s voter registration practices.  The AP story on the deal is here.

ACORN’s spokesman, quoted in the linked article, downplays the significance of the agreement, saying that ACORN was winding up its operations in Ohio anyway and it therefore made no sense to spend money defending the lawsuit, which ACORN contends was baseless and brought merely for harassment purposes.  That may well be the case, but it raises the question of why ACORN would be winding up its operations in Ohio with some significant statewide elections fast approaching.  You would think that, given Ohio’s difficult economic and employment outlook, Ohio would now be fertile ground for ACORN’s advocacy.  The fact that ACORN is leaving the state, for whatever reason, says a lot about much the climate has changed since 2007 and 2008, when ACORN was flying high and community organizers were viewed with much more favor.

How far ACORN has fallen since those days!

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The Budding Power Of New Journalism

Back in the 1970s, when I was a student at the Ohio State University School of Journalism, there was a lot of talk about the “new journalism.” At that time, “new journalism” referred to writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson who wrote from uniquely personal perspectives and, in the case of Dr. Gonzo, was an integral actor in his articles. Their pieces were characterized by strong, colorful language, ample irony and humor, and a willingness to express their own opinions about what they were experiencing. Two of my favorite books ever — The Right Stuff and Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72 — were written by these larger than life personalities.

In the past 10 days we have seen a confirmation of the extraordinary power of the newest form of “new journalism,” through the hidden camera videos exposing the rank practices and activities of ACORN employees in offices across the country. As new, ever more shocking videos are posted to websites, we have seen the Census Bureau cut its ties to ACORN and, today, the House of Representatives vote to cut off all federal funding for ACORN.

What is amazing about this story is that two young people — aged 25 and 20 — armed only with a hidden camera, an idea, and a willingness to take a few risks — have brought low a well-funded organization that was strongly supported by many politicians. Their videos were posted on a few websites and went “viral.” No established news media outlets were involved; indeed, the networks and large newspapers largely were oblivious to the story. Average Americans, however, were not oblivious. They saw the videos on the internet and were stunned by them.  Their disgust was quickly communicated to their elected representatives, who did not even attempt to defend ACORN or slow efforts to strip ACORN of government funding. It is an amazing example of how, in some ways at least, the internet has changed the world.

What does it mean? It means Americans no longer are solely dependent on established members of the news media for information. It means that individuals are far more empowered than they were before the internet made it possible for an average citizen to communicate to millions of total strangers with a few strokes of a keyboard. And finally, it means that organizations like ACORN will have to be mindful the next time a self-proclaimed pimp and prostitute walk into their offices seeking aid and advice.

The ACORN Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, in their "pimp" and "hooker" costumes

James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, in their "pimp" and "prostitute" costumes

Here’s another article and video featuring ACORN staffers — this time in Brooklyn — advising a self-proclaimed pimp and hooker on how to get a house, fail to disclose their income, and otherwise game the system to set up a house of prostitution.   This is the third ACORN office, after Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in which the same “pimp” and “hooker” have found ACORN staffers perfectly willing to help them in their unlawful schemes, and from the sounds of it videos on two more ACORN offices are soon to be released.

What kind of organization is ACORN that it employs such people, who have no problem advising people how to realize their goal of engaging in illegal conduct?  The old saying is that the acorn does not fall far from the tree.  What does it say about ACORN, the national organization, when ACORN staffers in three different local offices take similarly receptive approaches to strangers proposing criminal activity?  And what does it say about ACORN that a significant part of its response, as the linked article indicates, is to threaten the individuals who exposed how its staffers improperly conduct ACORN business with some kind of lawsuit?

Bad ACORN

The recent stories about ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — are pretty amazing.  Only days after one story showed an ACORN staffer in Baltimore advising a would-be pimp and prostitute about how to prepare their taxes and disguise the nature of their business comes a new story about ACORN staffers in Washington, D.C. advising the claimed pimp and prostitute on how to obtain a loan to buy property to set up a brothel.  The scandals have caused the U.S. Census Bureau to nix a plan under which ACORN would have helped the Bureau conduct the 2010 census.

It just goes to show that relying on community organizations can be a risky business.  ACORN calls itself a network of families “working together for social justice and stronger communities,” but in these two cases the actions of its staffer belie its noble-sounding purpose — unless there are people out there who actually think that helping pimps and prostitutes builds “stronger communities” and promotes “social justice.”