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TOUGH NUT TO CRACK: Harshbarger Report Clears ACORN Of Illegality In ‘Pimp & Hooker’ Gotcha Videos

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SEIU: Today, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger released his report on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN) following an independent and aggressive review of the organization. Mr. Harshbarger deserves thanks for not only having the ability to see past the sensationalized headlines, but for recognizing and reporting on the steps that ACORN had already taken to acorn_30227_lg.thumbnail.gifaddress management weaknesses it had identified earlier. It is striking that despite the news coverage, Mr. Harshbarger found no pattern of illegal conduct by the staff of ACORN targeted in the ‘sting’ operation, even in cases that looked clear cut from the so-called undercover videos. In fact, the Harshbarger Report reveals that the tapes contained a number of discrepancies and distortions that went unreported by the media. What Mr. Harshbarger did find is something the media should have caught: the freelance ‘sting’ operation that did so much damage to ACORN’s reputation last fall is deeply suspicious and deserving of increased scrutiny. Given the transcripts released by the videographers themselves contradict what the manipulated videos say, it is reasonable and fair that ACORN’s accusers now cooperate and provide the full, unedited tapes for a complete investigation. MORE

HARSHBARGER REPORT: “While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal acorn_30227_lg.thumbnail.gifconduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers.The report contains nine recommendations for improving ACORN’s management and six comments on the videos (page 12).  The report notes on page 11 that “The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms.Giles’s comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.” MORE

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT: An Independent Governance Assessment of ACORN [PDF]

DOWNLOAD: Analysis Of The Video Transcript [PDF]

PW: Why The Right Hates ACORN, How They Took Them Down, And Why Philly Didn’t Take The Bait

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[Illustration by ALEX FINE]
meAVATAR2_1.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY There’s an old joke that goes like this: A pimp and a prostitute walk into an ACORN office and ask for advice setting up a brothel and smuggling in underage Salvadoran girls to whore out for fun and profit. The punchline is the pimp and the prostitute were in fact a pair of twentysomething right-wing media provocateurs armed with a hidden camera.

Over the summer James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles visited an undisclosed number of ACORN offices on the East and West coasts—including Philadelphia. While the Philly office didn’t take the bait, ACORN office workers in Baltimore; image4_1.jpgWashington, D.C.; Brooklyn; San Bernardino and San Diego did appear to offer a sympathetic ear and helpful advice, including how to disguise illegal income from the IRS and where the best places are to smuggle illegals across the border.

Fox News thought this joke was very funny—not so much haha funny, but conservative agenda-advancing, score-settling, Democrat-hurting, Obama-bashing funny—and so they repeated the joke across the full spectrum of their broadcast platform, rolling out a new gotcha video every day for almost a week. It was, among other things, a potent antidote to the momentum the president was gaining for his health care reform initiative in the wake of a persuasive and well-received call for action before a joint session of Congress.

Hours before Obama addressed Congress and the nation on Sept. 9, Glenn Beck took to Fox’s airwaves and teased the ACORN stink bomb he was planning to drop on the following day’s program: “Tomorrow—tomorrow, things change,” Beck promised. “I think things change a lot for those in power. The tides are about to turn, and that will be on tomorrow’s broadcast,” Beck hinted ominously, adding: “Trust me. Everybody now says they’re going to be talking about health care. I don’t think so.”

The next day Fox devoted 17 segments on six programs— Fox & Friends; America’s Newsroom; Happening Now; Live Desk; Glenn Beck; and Special Report —to the ACORN gotcha footage, which soon went viral on the Internet. Eventually the scandalous story migrated to the more centrist precincts of mainstream media and soon even the reality-based community of the great American middle was in on the joke.

image4_1.jpgThe fallout was almost immediate: The U.S. Census Bureau announced it was severing ties with ACORN, as did the IRS, which had previously partnered with the organization to provide free tax preparation services for the poor. The House of Representatives voted 345-75 to defund ACORN. Smelling blood in the water, Republicans went on the warpath and Democrats ran for cover—including Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Rep. Joe Sestak, two democrats whose districts include Philadelphia, who voted to defund. Bank of America, whose partnership with ACORN Housing began in 1990 and helped make 55,000 low-income people first-time homeowners, announced that it too was severing ties with ACORN. Even President Obama, who once provided legal representation to a coalition that included ACORN in a case regarding enforcement of Illinois’ National Voter Registration Act, called for an investigation into the grassroots group.

With little more than a reported $1300, grandma’s fur coat, a micro mini-skirt, a few leading questions, a lot of nerve and a hidden camera, O’Keefe and Giles did what the Bush White House, Karl Rove, the Gonzalez-era Justice Department, a dozen federal prosecutors, Fox News, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the entire right wing blogosphere had been trying unsuccessfully to do for years: drop a poison pill in the Olympic-
sized pool of good deeds ACORN has done for the poor and the disenfranchised in the course of its nearly 40-year history. According to the political Geiger counters of every partisan stripe, ACORN was officially radioactive.
 MORE

PREVIOUSLY: The Nutcracker Strikes Back!

PREVIOUSLY: WHAT HE SAID: Cracking The Nutcracker

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PREVIOUSLY: Why The Right Hates ACORN, How They Took Them Down, And Why Philly Didn’t Take The Bait

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A: With ACORN Founder Wade Rathke

PREVIOUSLY: BRAVE NEW FILMS: How Fox News Slimed ACORN

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