As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Governor Headline Latches On To The ACORN Story

The wingnutosphere has been in high froth the last week or so about ACORN, the community organization dedicated to helping low-income Americans. The freak-out concerns a series of videos showing ACORN employees engaged in nefarious schemes (it took lots of shoots for the right-wing activists to get the footage they wanted, incidentally). This has led to the Census Bureau distancing themselves from ACORN and the Senate to block HUD funding for the group. It's interesting in and of itself that the right has decided the source of all ills in America is a relatively small community organization and not the banking and financial interests who destroyed the economy and took hundreds of billions in bailout money for good measure. But never one to miss a pile-on, the Governor has requested an investigation of ACORN:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently has been captivated by recent news stories about a conservative filmmaker who exposed misdeeds at ACORN, the national organization that serves low-income residents and has been involved in controversial efforts to register Democratic voters.

The Republican governor sent a brief memo Wednesday to Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown asking him to investigate ACORN's activities in San Bernardino. Two conservative activists have posted videos of their visits to ACORN offices around the country in which they posed as a prostitute and a pimp seeking advice.

In San Bernardino's ACORN office, a volunteer who claims to be a former prostitute is shown offering advice to the two activists on how to set up a brothel using underage girls from El Salvador. She tells them that they would be breaking various laws, but also explains ways to get around those laws. At one point, she claims to have connections to various Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature and Congress.

It's amusing that the Governor has honed in on the San Bernardino case. Because that would be at least one instance where the guerrilla filmmakers - and now, the Governor - got totally played. John Santore explains:

Most critically, it is clear that Fox News has made virtually no attempt to verify the authenticity of the tapes before broadcasting them -- something no self-respecting journalistic organization would dare do. Consider the case of the San Bernardino ACORN office, which was featured in the most recent video to be released. The words of ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke appear to be damning. Not only does she offer assistance to Giles and O'Keefe, but she claims that she murdered her former husband following a period of domestic abuse.

On September 15, Beck and Sean Hannity both broadcast Kaelke's assertion. Beck, who had reported breathlessly on the supposed confession during his radio program, added on Fox, "She never spanked her kids, but she did shoot her husband dead." Later that night, Hannity played the same clip before commenting, "Specifically, now, she goes into this scenario about her husband and the killing of him."

The following morning, on September 16, Fox News' Gretchen Carlson repeated the allegation, saying, "She killed somebody? Despite this, some lawmakers want to keep funding the group."

The problem, of course, is that Kaelke was deliberately lying. The San Bernardino Police Department itself has now confirmed that her claim regarding her husband was untrue. A department statement released on September 15 reads: "The San Bernardino Police Department is investigating the claims made regarding the homicide. From the initial investigation conducted, the claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party's known former husbands, who are alive and well."

Furthermore, Kaelke has claimed that when she made the statement, she was seeking to mislead the undercover videographers, whom she was suspicious of. "They were not believable," Kaelke is quoted as saying in an ACORN press release. "Somewhat entertaining, but they weren't even good actors. I didn't know what to make of them. They were clearly playing with me. I decided to shock them as much as they were shocking me."

But none of these simple facts stopped anyone at Fox from running with the story. Any cub reporter would have thought to actually call the San Bernardino police before effectively alleging that ACORN was staffed by murderers. But such an act never occurred to people like Beck, Hannity, or Carlson. (In her defense, Carlson later added that the husband was still alive, "according to ACORN," but ignored the police report.)

Some of the other allegations have shown what may be wrongdoing, if the tapes are legitimate and not doctored (they are certainly edited for effect, and we know they were in some cases obtained illegally and therefore inadmissable as evidence). It may even warrant an investigation. But Schwarzenegger is specifically riffing off the San Bernardino incident, in which the main offense described there has been proven to be a lie. This apparently doesn't matter. I'm wondering what other provable falsehoods have led to the Governor urging a criminal investigation.

This is at least not as embarrassing as Tim Pawlenty, who ordered agencies in Minnesota to "cancel all state funding for ACORN," when there... is no state funding of ACORN in Minnesota. But it's pretty weak nonetheless. And par for the course for a headline-chaser like Gov. Schwarzenegger. But if he wants to get in line with far-right extremists with an obvious racial agenda who want to demonize people of color and the organizations that provide help for them, go ahead. It did a lot for Pete Wilson.

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