Crossposted with the Center for American Progress. With Mickey Ehrlich
One night last week, Jon Stewart asked his audience, "Where were the real reporters on this story?" He meant the exposure of several ACORN employees giving tax advice to a young man and woman pretending to be a pimp and prostitute. The misdirected animosity toward the "real reporters" in this instance was a rare misstep for the usually perspicacious press critic/comedian. When long-time journalists, editors, and educators decry the death of investigative reporting, this Borat-style stunt is certainly not what they have in mind. And yet in this brave new world of anything goes journalism, many in the media have taken up the scandal and accept the videos as incontrovertible evidence of ACORN corruption.
In the October issue of The Atlantic, Mark Bowden explains that the most influential investigative reporting these days is being done by what he calls "political hit men," who circulate damaging information so that newsmen have very little work to do. Bowden uses as his primary example the smear campaign against Judge Sonia Sotomayor, but were the lead time at The Atlantic a bit shorter, the ACORN tapes would have been an even better example to prove his point.
The Washington Post's Darryl Fears and Carol D. Leonnig describe, "The $1,300 mission to fell ACORN." It started with a phone call to James O'Keefe III (the "pimp") from Hannah Giles (the "prostitute"), daughter of a conservative blogger named Doug Giles. The plan from the very beginning was to damage the reputation of the organization. O'Keefe admits that his enmity for ACORN derived from its success helping Democrats win elections, not from any charges of corruption. The Post also points out that in Philadelphia, ACORN employees called the police when the duo left the offices there. The videotape of that encounter has yet to be released, and so the prevailing image of ACORN in the mainstream media has been the one that the video makers, with a vendetta against the organization, wanted out there... You can read the rest of Eric Alterman and Mickey Ehrlich's analysis in their recent article, "Falling for the Far Right's ACORN Agenda."
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals, was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/altercation and is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast. Mickey Ehrlich is a freelance writer based in New York.