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Right-Wing Smear Machine: They'll Be Back | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Right-Wing Smear Machine: They'll Be Back

The footage of a supposed “pimp and prostitute” soliciting advice from ACORN employees in San Diego on how to smuggle underage girls into the US was shocking. So shocking it was played ad nauseam on FOX, contributed to a hysteria that led Congress to quickly--and, turns out, unconstitutionally--pass legislation to defund ACORN. The subsequent loss of foundation money has forced ACORN to close its state chapters across the country.

The rightwing echo chamber got exactly what it wanted--an end to a community-based organization that registered millions of voters, was instrumental in rebuilding homes for lower-income families post-Hurricane Katrina, worked on wage and hour enforcement, and helped hundreds of thousands of people facing foreclosure, among other issues.

As Bill Moyers said, “More than any group I’ve covered over my long career in journalism, ACORN was devoted to helping poor people become their own best champions.”

But what's most outrageous is that the video was a fabrication. As Rachel Maddow recently exposed on her show, the San Diego video was misleading and downright fictional--as were others filmed by rightwing operatives James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles.

It turns out the ACORN employee in question--portrayed as aiding and abetting the smuggling operation--was indeed pressing for information. He did so because after the conservative operatives left, he immediately phoned the San Diego Police Department to alert them to a possible human smuggling case. But FOX’s Sean Hannity and his witch hunt brethren ran with their heavily edited, fantastical story anyway.

These facts were revealed in a report earlier this month by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who had been investigating ACORN’s California operations since September at the request of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Brown was able to obtain a complete set of unedited tapes from O’Keefe and Giles in exchange for granting them immunity from prosecution for unauthorized taping of individuals. They can still be sued in civil court, however, and it’s important that justice is done to redress what happened to people like the San Diego ACORN employee who tried to break-up the prostitution ring O’Keefe and Giles described to him.

“The evidence illustrates that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality,” said Brown. “Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.”

Brown joins the Congressional Research Service, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in finding no criminal wrongdoing. (CRS also found no instances in which ACORN violated the terms of its federal funding in the last five years.) In all, ACORN has been subjected to at least 46 federal, state, and local investigations, according to CRS.

Maybe it’s Sean Hannity who should be fired for demonizing so many workers who were, in fact, innocent of the charges against them.

Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the handful of legislators who didn’t get caught up in the FOX-fueled hysteria; he voted against defunding ACORN.

“ACORN has had its share of problems, as have dozens of other organizations funded by the federal government, including some of the largest defense contractors and drug companies in the world,” he told me. “What is distressing is that the Senate was steamrolled into voting to strip ACORN of its funding based on an apparently distorted video played over and over again on Fox.”

Sanders noted that the ACORN fiasco “followed the same forces drumming Van Jones out of the White House.”

“The rightwing echo chamber is two for two,” he said. “And no one should have any illusions that it won’t be back again.”

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