Inside the Glorious Nation of ACORN

Posted: Sep 17, 2009 12:01 AM
Inside the Glorious Nation of ACORN

I would not go see the film "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" because I found more cruelty than humor in deliberately exposing unwitting civilians to the easy ridicule of smug sophomores.

Now the right has its own Borat-style entertainment. Equipped with a video camera, conservative activists James O'Keefe, 25, and Hannah Giles, 20, sought the answer to this question: "What if a 'prostitute' and her alleged law school boyfriend walk into ACORN seeking housing for an underage brothel to fund his future congressional campaign?"

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The answer, they discovered, was that some of the folks who work at ACORN (the left-leaning Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) were overly adept at looking the other way -- even after O'Keefe and Giles told them that Salvadoran girls as young as 12 would be working as prostitutes in their brothel.

One ACORN worker told the couple they could list the under-aged prostitutes as dependents "because they live in your house, especially if they're under 16." Some organizers emphasized that it was not their job to judge others. A Baltimore worker tried to sign up the couple as dues-paying ACORN members.

ACORN has reacted by charging that the videotapes were "doctored" and charged O'Keefe and Giles with trolling for damning material. ACORN also claims the couple is not airing tape from offices where they were shown the door. The Philadelphia Daily News, for example, reported that the local ACORN office kicked out O'Keefe and Giles and filed a police report.

On Saturday, ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis said in a statement that she would not defend actions of the now-fired workers. She also charged that O'Keefe and Giles broke the law -- "and we will be taking legal action against Fox (News) and their co-conspirators."

But what of CNN and other new organizations that have reported on this story? The prank is paying off. On Friday, U.S. census director Robert M. Groves terminated the bureau's (nonpaying) partnership agreement with ACORN.

On Monday, the Senate voted 83-7 for a measure by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., to prohibit granting federal housing funds to ACORN. California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- yes, Barbara Boxer -- voted for the measure.

This is progress. As recently as March, however, the Senate tabled an amendment banning federal funding for ACORN -- which has received $53 million directly from Uncle Sam since 1994 -- despite several state investigations into ACORN voter registration. Last year, ACORN was forced to acknowledge that election officials rejected 400,000 of the 1.3 million people the group had tried to register.

Congress should pass a measure ending federal funding for ACORN, and President Obama, who represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit, should sign it.

But I won't join those who are hailing the enterprising O'Keefe and Giles for doing the sort of work "60 Minutes" should have done. But there was so little fact-checking in this exercise that Fox News' Glenn Beck ran a video in which a San Bernardino ACORN organizer said she had killed her husband -- when she had not.

Conservatives, beware. Any activist can grab a camera, head for a church or a campaign, and record some stupid quotes. When they do -- and they will -- the right will complain that it is wrong to brand a cause by the careless comments of a handful of disciples.