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Reporters who busted ACORN did so with an agenda

Monday, October 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

If you follow the news, you probably caught a glimpse recently of the Ghost Of Journalism Yet To Come: It appeared as the “investigative reporting” team of Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe.

The duo captured hidden-camera video of employees of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, advising an ersatz prostitute and her pimp on how to launch a taxpayer-funded venture using underage girls. The footage, from ACORN offices in five cities, first appeared on the right-wing Web site Big Government.com, which then peddled the videos to Fox News.

The fallout from this “reporting” would make any journalist proud: Congress has cut off funding to ACORN, which has received about $53 million since 1994; the Department of Justice is now investigating the organization; and the Census Bureau, which is relying on community groups like ACORN to raise awareness of the 2010 count, has severed its ties with the group, citing “sufficient concern in the general public.”

ACORN responded by firing several employees, ordering additional training for workers and hiring a former Massachusetts attorney general to audit its operations. The organization has also challenged Fox to show “complete, unedited versions” of the videos, which the group says would show Giles and O’Keefe being turned away by workers at seven offices.

ACORN has sued Giles, O’Keefe and Big Government founder Andrew Breitbart, claiming that video captured in ACORN’s Baltimore office was done on the sly. That would be a violation of Maryland law. And it would, for real journalists, be a serious breach of professional ethics.

Nonetheless, the video sting is the latest blight on ACORN’s reputation. For years, the organization has been under attack from the right for alleged involvement in widespread “voter fraud.” The allegations aren’t true, but as a study by Peter Dreier and Christopher Martin for the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College found, that’s beside the point.

Dreier and Martin looked at 647 news stories in 2007 and 2008 and found that the fraud allegations led to “overwhelmingly negative” coverage of ACORN. Yet, with few exceptions, the reporters working the ACORN beat didn’t bother to verify the allegations. Most of the coverage, according to Dreier and Martin, “carried one-sided frames, repeating conservative and Republican criticisms of the group without seeking to verify them or provide ACORN and its supporters with a reasonable opportunity to respond ...”

Martin and Dreier concluded that reporters for the nation’s top news organizations were led on the ACORN story by a “chain of influence” that includes Republican politicians, the banking industry and right-wing “opinion entrepreneurs” — all of whom oppose the organization’s work on behalf of low-income and minority families.

This bog of smear and innuendo no doubt had a certain appeal to Giles and O’Keefe.

Giles, a 20-year-old Florida International University journalism student, said she came up with the sting idea while interning last summer at the National Journalism Center.

The center was founded in 1977 to combat “media bias” by training aspiring journalists in “the values of balanced, responsible, and accurate reporting.” Among its alum is Maggie Gallagher, a syndicated columnist who, while writing for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others, was working off a $21,500 contract from the Bush administration to promote the president’s marriage initiatives. In 2001, the NJC partnered with Young America’s Foundation, which describes itself as “the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement.”

O’Keefe, a 25-year-old “independent filmmaker,” once worked for the Leadership Institute, which grooms future policy leaders committed to core conservative values. Its alumni include Karl Rove and South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, of “You lie!” fame.

The institute’s link in the anti-ACORN chain of influence is a social networking site called CampusReform.org, which has issued a “call to action” to protest banks that continue to fund the group’s “corruption.” (You can also win $100 dollars in a contest where you report leftist abuse on your campus.)

The Leadership Institute is also in the business of disseminating conservative doctrine through the media. Aspiring reporters can attend a two-day Broadcast Journalism School ($75, meals included), which promises to impart “the skills necessary to bring balance to the media.” According to the institute, more than 90 graduates now work for national and local TV news operations.

A couple of observations: first, the Leadership Institute sounds a little like an ACORN for the right-wing; second, the people and institutions who, for years now, have been complaining of media bias now seem to have no problem teaching it.

Unfortunately, we may be in for more of this kind of thing. Stung by criticism that they didn’t cover the ACORN sting with the same zeal as Fox News, the New York Times and the Washington Post have vowed to be more attentive to news that appeals to conservatives. The Times, in fact, has assigned an editor “to monitor opinion media” for controversies “bubbling” in the cauldron of the right.

I’ll admit it bothers me that Giles and O’Keefe succeeded in bringing down an organization dedicated to helping the poor and the working class. But not nearly as much as the fact that they did it under the cover of journalism.

Brian Wallstin is a Columbia resident and a former city editor for the Missourian. E-mail him at bwallstin@gmail.com.


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Comments

John Schultz October 5, 2009 | 3:42 a.m.

I'm curious, is Mr. Wallstin writing with an agenda, or is that OK because he's of a liberal bent and/or published in the paper? Really, what was the point of this piece? "My party ain't as bad as your party?"

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 5, 2009 | 4:29 a.m.

I'm curious, is John Schultz posting here with an agenda?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin October 5, 2009 | 7:33 a.m.

I used to work for ACORN, which means the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, years ago, in my youth. We went door to door organizing tenants' rights groups, protested the unfettered expansion of casinos (this was in Nevada), and engaged in other plain vanilla grassroots community activities.

ACORN has lost its way, just as journalism has lost its way. What is ironic is that the videographers who've helped bring it down exemplify more of what ACORN and journalism used to be than what both institutions have become.

And once again, I'm shocked to see a piece like this, bemoaning the plight of the poor, emanating from an organization -- the MU School of Journalism -- that won't pay writers like Mr. Wallstin.

To me, it's the height of hypocrisy -- not the writing of it so much as the publishing of it.

-- Mike

(Report Comment)
Me Me October 5, 2009 | 9:28 a.m.

"The duo captured hidden-camera video of employees of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, advising an ersatz prostitute and her pimp on how to launch a taxpayer-funded venture using underage girls. The footage, from ACORN offices in five cities..."

Whoa! You make it sound like all five cities captured the same event. They did not! Please review the (partial) transcripts that the "duo" released at biggovernment dot com and you'll see that the conversations in many offices are very vague (almost surreal). Moreover, in the California offices the staff either lied to the pair (not give advice) or collected information that they gave to police. Please let's not let the echo chamber repeat lazily that five offices were caught doing something wrong on tape when that is not what happened. Please correct?

(Report Comment)
James Herring October 5, 2009 | 4:21 p.m.

I love how its always the "right wing" in the media. The left is never categorized like that. Is that fair? Better to leave terms like 'right' and 'left' out of it...oh wait; then it wouldn't be as sensationalized. My opinion.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Thompson October 6, 2009 | 10:29 a.m.

What an exciting tale! The Bobbsey Twins expose Liberal Evil! I guess Giles and O'Keefe will now be honored as Heroes of the Reich!

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 6, 2009 | 9:50 p.m.

Simply put:
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Do the parents of University of Missouri students read and accept Brian Wallstin's output as acceptable and a base from which their children can derive value?
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If Brian Wallstin is not paid, than what to which other outlet is his output valuable?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 7, 2009 | 12:06 a.m.

The Snooper Report
Entries in Obama ACORN (18)
http://www.snooperreport.com/snooper-rep...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 7, 2009 | 4:36 a.m.

>>> If Brian Wallstin is not paid, than what to which other outlet is his output valuable? <<<

It must be valuable to a larger consensus point of view than just the readers here,if you go use any search engine and type in one or two of his own phrases to pull up the search results one might be looking for to agree or not agree with.

Every column is valuable in some sense of the word even if we do not agree with the columnist in question.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 7, 2009 | 6:58 a.m.

@ Ray Shapiro. Thanks for that link.

@ Charles Dudley, I'm not sure what you mean here: "if you go use any search engine and type in one or two of his own phrases to pull up the search results one might be looking for to agree or not agree with."
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Value in any column? I see negative value in columns from non-credible sources; or which are slanted, incorrect and/or misleading. I saw negative value in the recent Franken 'columnn', as the contentions were widely known and credible, about Franken and Secretary of State Ritchie both of whom were backed by Soros and the so-called non-partisan ACORN; as well as ACORN itself. (See Ray Shapiro's link above.)

I see negative value when editors permit same (back to the general press credibility issue).

We are now witnessing the redistribution of wealth that Obama cited should have happened during the civil rights era, brought about by the "community organization" that Obama cited was missing then. This will lead to the total destruction of wealth in America. I see the hundreds of thousands of inner city kids with no education, and wonder where the jobs will be for them, as we spend all our wealth and do nothing to create new wealth. Social programs can only happen in a wealthy society, otherwise all will be poor.

-

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 7, 2009 | 7:06 a.m.

By supporting candidates who promote the redistribution of wealth while opposing the growth of same, ACORN is working against its supposed goals of "helping the poor and the working class".
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Redistribution of wealth destroys jobs.
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Opposing the formation of wealth destroys jobs.
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More jobs equals less poor people. Less jobs equals more poor people. How hard is that to understand?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 7, 2009 | 7:47 a.m.

The goal of today's neo-liberals is the formation of a government dependent class through the destruction of jobs realized through the elimination of wealth via its redistribution in America.
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The fallacy of today's neo-liberalism is that once wealth no longer exists, the government can do nothing to create jobs, or otherwise protect and support the poor.
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What is the future of America if we continue on this neo-liberal path?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 7, 2009 | 8:51 a.m.

>>> I see negative value in columns from non-credible sources; or which are slanted, incorrect and/or misleading. <<<

I see the same thing in those who cannot post under their real name too and your point is?

(Report Comment)
Big Stuff October 7, 2009 | 9:31 a.m.

@ Chuck:

How many times has the Tribune deleted your posts because you were banned and then try to sneak back in under names such as Citizenz Voice?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 7, 2009 | 9:50 a.m.

Big Stuff you neglect to add there that the Tribune does not ask you to use or post under your real name like the Missourian does here.

>>> When you post, please use your actual name. <<<

Alot on the Tribune obviously cannot read while some members here actually can read.

That is the big difference.

Here they want their posters to have some integrity and show some form of accountability where on the Tribune by the endless thrashing and bashing we all see going on daily on most every post,they do not care about much of anything even to their own creditability.

(Report Comment)
Big Stuff October 7, 2009 | 1:43 p.m.

@ Chuck:

The Tribune policy states "You're encouraged to use your real name." Is this polite request not good enough for you?

You also should learn to celebrate diversity of viewpoints instead of condemning people who do not believe as you do. You should seek to be inclusive and welcomning in your posts. View other peoples beliefs as being along side yours, like threads all passing through a loom to create a colorful, wonderful smelling blanket to comfort us all.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 7, 2009 | 1:51 p.m.

>>> You also should learn to celebrate diversity of viewpoints instead of condemning people who do not believe as you do. You should seek to be inclusive and welcoming in your posts. View other peoples beliefs as being along side yours, like threads all passing through a loom to create a colorful, wonderful smelling blanket to comfort us all. <<<

Big Stuff you should pass around more of what you are smoking and help this city to be more diversified and more inclusive.

(Report Comment)
Big Stuff October 7, 2009 | 2:06 p.m.

@ Chuck:

In order to build credibility in the eyes of your fellow posters, you should strive to welcome and take an open mind about alternative views. The electronic equivalent of sticking your tongue out does not further and nurture the types of open minded discussions we as a community should be having.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 7, 2009 | 4:48 p.m.

Big Stuff blogging or forum posting in general is posting your views and sticking by those views no matter what others might think.

Obviously you did not read the Article I was apart of about Freedom of Speech.

http://www.columbiamissourian.com/storie...

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 7, 2009 | 6:35 p.m.

Charles,
Me thinks thou soundeth a bit the hypocrite.

"Just Words, Just Speeches." NOT!

Charles, I'll give you a break as you may not have seen elsewhere where I stated that I have been falsely denigrated by the "author". I'll not allow him to besmirch me so wreckelssly by name.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 7, 2009 | 10:21 p.m.

Careful Big Stuff, Chuck is the real big stuff because he was in an article...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 8, 2009 | 4:41 a.m.

Brian Nitsllaw me thinketh thou art a coward and full of hot air for not coming forth with thy real name.

After all if you cannot stand on your own name then who is holding up what little reputation you might have?

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 8, 2009 | 6:05 a.m.

Charles, read the words, then think, THEN write.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 8, 2009 | 9:17 a.m.

Brian Nitsllaw who are you again?

Obviously not some one of any real interest besides harassing the columnist in question.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 8, 2009 | 9:58 a.m.

Chuck, I'm going to have to ask you to stop the preacher speaking until the Missourian starts printing comments in a Gothic font. It just looks silly otherwise.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 8, 2009 | 2:23 p.m.

The Missourian in Gothic font? The Gospel according to...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 8, 2009 | 2:23 p.m.

John Schultz so do your rattling comments. They remind me of Rush Limbaugh.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 8, 2009 | 2:42 p.m.

At least I don't write funny (not haha) in an effort to make people think I'm Moses...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 8, 2009 | 3:34 p.m.

John Schultz no you just post to make people think that Libertarian view points are actually meaningful.

I get better enjoyment out of reading the ingredients on a cereal box of Captain Crunch.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 8, 2009 | 4:27 p.m.

Chuck, I am terribly sorry that your schooling and life endeavors leave you unwilling to learn more about freedom and liberty. Viva la free cereal!

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 8, 2009 | 8:17 p.m.

Folks, watch the pattern. It repeats. Learn it, and then leave it behind.

Stop looking behind you. Don't waste your effort.

The sole purpose of the noise is to drown out the counter-commentary.

Post your ideas. They stand on their own. And by them we can improve our lot.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 9, 2009 | 3:48 a.m.

John Schultz growing up as I did and where I did I have learned more about Freedom than you ever will your entire life time from any schooling or any text book I can assure you of that and have done it in a shorter amount of time living that Freedom one day at a time.

Too bad you can only learn that kind of Freedom first hand and not from burying your nose in a text book all of your life.

That kind of Freedom you truly and actually live.

I feel sorry for those who will only have a glimpse of what real Freedom is.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 9, 2009 | 9:55 a.m.

So Chuck, please do tell us how your growing up how you did and where you did makes you an expert on freedom and none of us can dare be as free as you are. I didn't learn freedom from a book, but a document called the Constitution and the obvious principles enshrined in it. I can get you a free copy of that, plus a good book on the Constitution called It's Good to be King, but you are obviously too smart to need something created by simple man. All hail Chuck the First, Philosopher King!

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 9, 2009 | 5:37 p.m.

All hail John Schultz chief bafoon of the Libertarian Party of Boone County!!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 10, 2009 | 2:38 a.m.

It might help if you spell your insults correctly, lest you become what you call others.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 10, 2009 | 4:36 a.m.

John Schultz ya we should all be totally alphabetically correct on the internetz. ^_^

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 10, 2009 | 9:34 a.m.

John, just leave it. I have 20 arguments for the like, but it's a dead end. Realize, it's set up just to divert you. Stop the knee-jerking.
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Those who need to resort to anti-civility and name calling don't realize they're actually subtracting from their discussion, and their actions diminish their credibility. Their contributions on a whole then become a liability to the total sum of the ideas they support. Realize, you need not get involved. Engaging them satisfies their need for self-importance, and reinforces their need to confuse and mal-inform the rest of us.
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Let us not forget, the "author" Name-Called Middle Americans, aiming his hate toward the Centrist or Central Right who choose to be peacefully active.
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When I see someone get this miffed at a Libertarian, I want to know more about the Libertarian, not the one making noise. That is, after I snicker a bit.
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his behavior is just like the frankenman, so it's no surprise, right? The frankenman, who also has nothing to offer, and who thinks, by being uncivil and calling people names, that more people will read frankenbooks and vote for frankenmen.
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Unfortunately for America, or at least minnesota, it's true in the frankenman's case. But it's the mal-informed and apathetic who are attracted to a populist or demagogue. They buy the books because the frankenhuckster knows his audience.
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I guess the frankenmen need to be commended in realizing that our educational and cultural systems are turning out those types of people, ready to be exploited by their likes to gain power. frankenmen are now part of the neoliberal machine, and it's in their interest to preserve and grow the ignorant electorate. Their voters will eventually believe only the government can provide sustenance.
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WELCOME TO THE MATRIX! The world of the real. Your world. Your world of frankenmen.

(Report Comment)
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