Pimps, weasels and ACORN

The old aphorism that a lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on came to mind last week when News Hits found a little-noted story about the group ACORN, which we've been keeping an eye on since this rag recently wrote abut the right-wing attack machine's attempts to crush the anti-poverty group.

Many of you have probably seen the videos of conservative operative James O'Keefe dressed in a comically outrageous pimp getup that he purportedly wore last summer while accompanying a woman posing as a prostitute and visiting a number of ACORN offices to seek advice regarding ways to hide their ill-gotten gains from the IRS.

The widely publicized video clips, fueled by the propagandists at FOX News and other right-wing distortionists, went viral. In other words, this deception wore the winged sandals of Mercury while the truth got bogged down in cement overshoes.

The controversy prompted Congress to shut off funding to the group that was created to help poor people and minorities, both with services such as help with things like tax preparation and avoiding foreclosure, and in pulling them together so that their collective voice could be heard through the din of big-money politics.

It didn't matter that a New York court ruled that the way Congress went about cutting off funds to the group was unconstitutional. The government is fighting that ruling, and the flow of funds remains shut off. Even worse is language that threatens the same to any group that even attempts to work with ACORN, a truly crippling blow.

Now, eight months after lawmakers began their attempts to defund ACORN, a bit more of the truth comes limping along in the form of a little-noticed story that appeared last week in the New York Daily News, which reported that, after an investigation that lasted more than four months, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office found no criminal acts were committed by the three ACORN employees who were visited by O'Keefe and his pal.

As for the explosive video shot there, an official with the prosecutor's office said, an unedited version they reviewed showed that the truth had been spiced and diced.

"They edited the tape to meet their agenda," the official said.

Given that O'Keefe was subsequently arrested in New Orleans on felony charges that he allegedly attempted to bug the office phone of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, the revelation that those tapes were less than honest isn't exactly a shocker. For months now, defenders of ACORN have been chipping away at the claim that O'Keefe actually wore his goofy pimp outfit into any meetings with ACORN.

In fact, as The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel reports, O'Keefe "was in reality wearing a white shirt and khakis in the [New York City] ACORN office and posing as a law school student trying to protect his girlfriend from an abusive pimp. The outrageous outfit was shot later and used to promote the video."

But getting that truth out isn't easy when the lie is so much juicier. Just ask Brad Friedman, who has been all over the issue at his website, bradblog.com. Friedman has been mounting a campaign aimed at getting the nation's paper of record, The New York Times, to publish a correction and admit it was wrong when reporting that O'Keefe actually went into ACORN office dressed as a pimp. On his site, Friedman posts an e-mail exchange he's been having with Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the Times.

In defending the paper's decision not to run a correction, Hoyt at one point explains, "The story says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on ACORN counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time."

The emphasis on the word "and" is Hoyt's. No wonder the wonderful Tom Tomorrow rightly skewered him in a recent cartoon for such a weasely parsing of words.

It is, however, anything but a laughing matter to the people who depended on ACORN. As we reported previously, all of the group's offices in Michigan have been shuttered. Affiliates in California and New York have severed ties with the national group and started new organizations. In fact, as vanden Heuvel reports, 17 state groups have done that or will do so by the end of the month.

Saying that they were targeted "because of our successful work to empower hundreds of thousands of low and moderate [income] families as voters and active citizens," ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan told vanden Heuvel, "Hopefully, the [Brooklyn D.A.'s] announcement, and similar results from independent reviews, will make politicians and media examine the facts mores carefully the next time a valuable community organization is attacked."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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