After 18 months of screaming headlines and attacks vilifying the anti-poverty group ACORN–attacks reminiscent of a New McCarthyism that threatened the group’s very existence–it’s clear now that this was a right-wing witch-hunt which, sadly, too many Democrats and the mainstream media failed to fact-check.
In December, the Congressional Research Service cleared ACORN of allegations of improper use of federal funding and voter registration fraud. The latest to weigh-in on the controversy is Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. After a four-month investigation Hynes declared "no criminality has been found" with regard to the conduct of three ACORN employees in the infamous and–turns out–misnamed "pimp-prostitute" video.
In fact, a law enforcement source told the New York Daily News that the unedited version of the video which caused all the outrage "was not as clear."
"They edited the tape to meet their agenda," said the official.
Conservative operative James O’Keefe–who was later arrested after an alleged attempt to bug the office of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans–was in reality wearing a white shirt and khakis in the ACORN office and posing as a law school student trying to protect his girlfriend from an abusive pimp. The outrageous pimp outfit was shot later and used to promote the video.
"O’Keefe and the Fox attack machine targeted ACORN because of our successful work to empower hundreds of thousands of low and moderate families as voters and active citizens," said ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan. "Hopefully [the DA’s] announcement, and similar results from independent reviews, will make politicians and media examine the facts more carefully the next time a valuable community organization is attacked."
The damage already done to ACORN includes severely curtailing its work helping low-income people with tax preparation and obtaining the Earned Income Tax Credit, fighting foreclosures, and investigating wage and hour exploitation of workers. The hysteria has also driven away private funding, and there is "defund ACORN" language in the recently signed Omnibus bill that ACORN and the Center for Constitutional Rights are fighting in court.
As a result of the funding struggle, local chapters of ACORN are now reconstituting themselves as separate, stand-alone organizations with their own names. 17 state groups have either done that or will do that by the end of the month.
Fox and tabloids like the New York Post did a hatchet-job on ACORN that too many in the mainstream media were eager to run with. It seems to me those outlets have a special obligation to now step up and tell the full story. Also, contact New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, and other major newspapers. Tell them their publications should run front-page retrospectives on the ACORN story–how and why the media and politicians got it wrong and what the consequences have been to ACORN.