Today The New York Times issued an admission, in the form of a column by its Public Editor Clark Hoyt, that it was wrong in its coverage of the so-called ACORN sting and had been wrong to defend its wording since the truth began to emerge.
ACORN (acronym for The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is defined by Wikipedia as "a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues." Because ACORN has, since its inception in 1970, been very successful in its goals and particularly effective in registering millions of low- to -moderate income voters, it has been the target of conservative attacks because lower income citizens tend to vote progressive and because ACORN promotes racial equality. Despite the fact that attempts at illegal disenfranchisement and voter fraud overwhelmingly originate from the conservative camp, the right-wing noise machine has prevaricatingly smeared ACORN as the source of voter illegality in recent elections.
In this campaign of "stop ACORN by any means", a right-wing con artist named James O'Keefe released video where he (falsely) claimed that he and another person dressed in outrageous "pimp and ho" costumes entered an ACORN office during July 2009 and were secretly taped receiving information on how to conceal illegal activities. The New York Times backed this story without ever viewing the original videotapes. Subsequently, Republicans succeeded in stampeding Congress to cut off all federal funding for ACORN and President Obama immediately signed the bill without batting an eye.
ACORN claimed it was fraud from the outset and demanded to see the unedited original video. They also filed suit for illegal secret videotaping. O'Keefe's employer, rightwing propagandist Andrew Breitbart, appeared in print and on TV repeatedly defending O'Keefe. Breitbart's story began to unravel when O'Keefe and three others were arrested in January after illegally entering the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in an apparent attempt to tap or damage her telephone system. The criminals were "charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony" and are awaiting further legal action.
In December 2009, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshberger issued his results of "an independent inquiry into the organizational systems and processes surrounding the social services of the organization" pursuant to the recent allegations of corruption within that organization in the ACORN 2009 undercover videos controversy". His written report exonerates ACORN from any alleged illegal activity.
Likewise, media watchdog FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) issued an excellent analysis of The New York Times' coverage and concluded it was "wildly misleading" and that the paper had been "duped".
Harshberger's report was cited in the judgment issued ten days ago by U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon, which reversed the act of Congress by granting both declaratory relief and a permanent injunction to ACORN. In her ruling, Judge Herson stated "The government has offered no...unique reason to treat ACORN differently from other contractors accused of serious misconduct or to bar ACORN from federal funding without either a judicial trial or an administrative process applicable to all government contractors."
This means the right-wing can, and undoubtedly will, continue to target ACORN for destruction, but for the time being, actual proof will have to be produced before governmental punishment can be levied. And this assertion of the rule of law no doubt played a strong role in The New York Times' watery admission of error today.
The damage has been done, however. As Hoyt's column points out, "Now Acorn [sic] and its supporters say The Times got the story wrong and, by failing to correct it, has played into the hands of a campaign that has pushed the group near extinction."
These admissions arrive during a week when right-wing dissociation from honesty can be found all over the news. For instance, in a desperate last-ditch effort to derail even a semblance of health care reform, a fake memo was promulgated which "claims to be sent to 'Democratic health and communications staff' and which suggests the majority party leadership wants to make big changes to Medicare next year after health care passes". This memo was ballyhooed by right-wing blogs as proof of Democrat hypocrisy only briefly before it was declared a hoax -- though salivating Republican Congressman Scott Garrett (NJ) couldn't stop himself in time to avoid being revealed as a lying ass in public by Anthony Weiner (N-NY):
We have also learned that the 33 Haitian "orphans" kidnapped by U.S. christianist missionaries turned out to have parents, after all: parents who were devastated by the earthquake and accepted the missionaries story that the children would be taken to a free school where the parents could visit at any time. The children have been returned to their families, and while not enough news outlets are calling this what it was -- human trafficking -- at least the sob stories about how it was "all for the children" have died away.
I wonder if all the money raised by fundamentalist churches to "aid these orphans" will be now directed toward helping their families, or if instead it will go to Laura Silsby's defense costs. I'd love to see a breakdown of how much tax-free income generated by the Catholic Church and fundamentalist Protestant groups has been spent in decades of cover-up and protection of pedophiles. There's a reason why the best place to find a child-sex predator is in conservative Christian strongholds, but I'll save that for another post.
It is important to note here, however, that the subtext which makes sense of why this kidnapping is justified in the minds of the Christian Right is a racist conviction that children of color are always better off beign raised with at least white supervision of their parents, if not white parents. Children of color are presumed to have illegitimate births, lacking proper familial values or documentation by authority. The Right seeks control over families of color, not giving them independent assistance where it might be needed.
Jill Cozzi details recent white-supremacy-driven threats at this week's teabagger bundthall gatherings as further documentation for "GOP: The Party of Legitimized Hate" (see my earlier post on this at Kickin' Ass and Namin' Names). This week saw black members of Congress being called "n****r" by teabaggers as they tried to go about their work. Later they had a big laugh yelling "f****t at Barney Frank, and successfully refused to cease their menacing behavior when a Capitol police officer tried to eject them.
Violence and lying for the cause is not only justified and excused by the Right, it's expected. For the theocrats among them, coercion is part of their mandate from g*d tp prosyletize: Such a mandate is by definition disrespectful of others' right to self-determination. The non-theocrats on the Right have absorbed past lessons from fascism which proves Big Lies backed by localized community violence can dominate nations.
Republican control of public discourse has meant their version of reality has been imprinted on an entire generation or maybe two. One of their lies is that "the media is liberal", when in fact the reverse is true. (Where is OUR Faux News?) Another is that "Americans are mostly to the right of center", when nationwide polls and landslide elections indicate the opposite. (A denied reality which has squeezed the teabaggers out from their "independent" cover.)
A third Republican distortion is the folksy "All politicians lie" with an implicit tag of "and they all equally." I'm not about to argue for the veracity of politicians. I'm not even going to argue that so-called progressives don't engage in the Big Lie from time to time, not when our own President had the nerve to declare in his address to Congress yesterday "You have a chance to make good on the promises you made" the same week that despite running a campaign which included the promise of a public option in health care coverage, it was revealed Obama "made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital lobby that he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation". a deal confirmed by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.
But with the obvious exception above, Democrat political lies usually don't deliberately reverse the truth and project their own actions into Republicans. Progressives who vote Democrats into office don't lie us into murderous, economy-breaking wars. We're educated enough to comprehend the difference between socialism, communism, and fascism, and to know who is/who ain't. We support separation of church and state as it was delierately written into this country's organizing fabric by its founders. We understand that habeas corpus either extends to everyone or we're all living one accusation away from the noose. We know goverment is a safety net for "the least among us" and that it is in everyone's best interest to have good free schools, a functioning infrastructure, public health and safety, clean water and food, oversight for business practices, and, of course, the unimpeded right to vote. We are adult enough to recognize these public goods must be paid for by our taxes, not left to corporate goodwill or other forms of magical thinking.
And being adult is a big part of what differentiates the progressive mindset from conservative thinking. We are not locked into a worldview dependent on fear of authority and hierarchies. We have matured enough to not be overwhelmed by the prospect of pluralism, respectful difference of opinion, or modernity in its unpredictable state. We are much better equipped to deal with real-world ambiguity and conflict. And, as Digby points out, "How the two sides handle defeat is a defining characteristic." Assassination and violence as an excuse for having immature mechanisms for dealing with emotion is typical of the Right, not the Left.
Standing here amid the debris left by the Bush administration, we are like the grown-ups who arrived to rescue the boys in Lord Of The Flies. Our current leaders may be distracted by the "lookit this, some of it's kinda cool" crap left behind by run-amok children, but we in the authentic progressive base know eventually Bush/Reagan fantasyland all has to go in a bonfire. Everybody gets a tetanus shot and we return to the Constitution.
Between then and now, there'll have to be an increasing awakening of a majority of those who thought Ronnie and Dubya at least "meant well". They will need to admit "Wolf!" has been repeatedly cried to keep them from their honest labor and their community values have been exploited to serve the egos of a narcissistic few. This kind of adjustment always occurs, eventually.
And maybe, just maybe, this week we're seeing the actual beginning rivulets of that turning tide.
NOTE: Definitive and often exclusive coverage of the entire ACORN story has been untiringly performed by The Brad Blog, whose dogged persistence can be credited for much of the progress toward justice and exposure found above. Our ardent thanks to them for real truth-telling and an insistence on journalistic integrity.