When the officials don’t care or are turning a blind eye and the media are not interested, the average citizen can feel a bit powerless in the face of injustice and corruption at the state level. One often wonders what one do do? In the age of the blogger it turns out one can do quite a bit actually.
Some of you might have followed the ACORN controversy in the US. ACORN is an acronym for the Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now; it is a liberal left advocacy group that has advocated in favour of gun control, better housing, assistance for hurricane Katrina and has endorsed Democratic Candidates including Barack Obama. Controversially it pushed for voter registration and has been associated with some scandals involving voter fraud in support of democratic candidates. It also held a lucrative state contract helping economically disadvantaged people into their own homes. It was this service that was at the centre of the controversy; a controversy that has seen ACORN lose much of its state funding at the hands of two bloggers and a video camera.
The Washington Times summed it up nicely,
Do you think your tax dollars should be used to help those who want to open a house of prostitution [note: illegal in the US] and illegally bring underage girls into the United States as “sex workers”? As you may have seen on television over the last few days, the taxpayer-funded ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been doing just that.
Who exposed this latest bit of corruption at ACORN? — The FBI? The local police? A congressional investigating committee? The mainstream media? No, no, no, no. It was a 20-year-old-girl named Hannah Giles and a 25-year-old law student and investigative journalist named James O’Keefe. [The bloggers]
The article went on,
Ms. Giles suggested to Mr. O’Keefe that she pretend to be a prostitute and that he play the part of her pimp to see if ACORN would help them set up a house of prostitution. Mr. O’Keefe liked the idea and agreed to work with Ms. Giles.
Using a hidden mike and camera, they first went to the ACORN office in Baltimore, and were quite stunned that the ACORN officials offered to help them — even though they made it very clear that they wanted to set up an illegal house of prostitution and bring in underage girls from Central America to work in the house. (The video tapes of their meetings in ACORN offices can be found on www.biggovernment.com.)
Emboldened by their first success and wanting to make sure the Baltimore ACORN office was not a fluke, they then went to ACORN’s office here in the District, then to Brooklyn, San Bernadino, Ca., and other cities around the country. They were given detailed legal instructions on how to avoid problems with the police and tax authorities while running an illegal operation in each location, and even made other offers of help. They funded all of their travel and other expenses out of their own pockets without any organizational support.
Lawyers, who have reviewed the tapes, believe the ACORN officials may have violated dozens of laws and regulations, and perhaps even the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes against racketeering …
The full transcripts of this investigation are here and are worth a read as the ACORN staff members are caught giving all sorts of advice as to how to break the law and cheat the state scheme. The pair broke the story on their blog and initially it looked like it was going to flop because ACORN ran with the hang-the-staff-member-out-to-dry-routine, you know ‘that staff member was new,’ ‘they don’t represent our law abiding position,’ ‘that’s not how our trained staff operate’ and so on.
Smartly the pair had not played their full hand; they had only released the footage of the first sting, so they were able to respond with the ‘oh really’ routine, releasing the next lot of footage from the next office and then the next and the next and so on, systematically destroying ACORN’s credibility. The upshot was a huge controversy and ACORN lost most of their funding and suffered a major setback. Score one for the bloggers and the taxpayers.
What I found interesting when I first heard about it from David Farrar at last weeks bloggers drinks is that the story seemed familiar. It reminded me of the sting Matt referred to in Genocide ! Who Cares? Tell them about Crazy Falwell and Tinky Winky, a post he wrote about a year and a half ago.
In that story, a couple of student journalists did an investigation into Planned Parenthood to see if they would accept donations for abortions that were earmarked by race on racist grounds. They chose to do this because they had read up on Planned Parenthood’s eugenicist founder Margaret Sanger and had heard the claims floating around to this day that the organisation still secretly has a eugenicist agenda.
They phoned several Planned Parenthood offices, spoke to a range of staff in authority, they asked if they could make donations specifically to help black women obtain abortions as they wanted to “lower the number of blacks in America”, “to reduce the number of black babies”, to “fight affirmative action” and so on. Not one Planned Parenthood representative in all the different branches expressed a flicker of concern at the racism behind donations; all happily accepted them. What was worse, was that the staff members expressed agreement with the racist sentiments being expressed!
They taped the phone calls and placed the transcript and the calls on You Tube. At that time we linked to the You Tube clip but it has since taken down. The New Zealand media did not pick up the controversy but the US media did, you can still find remnants if you google. So when David Farrar told us about the ACORN scandal, we wondered if the two were connected. Today I checked and sure enough, one of the people responsible for exposing ACORN is the same person behind the Planned Parenthood tapes, James O’Keefe.
I read up a bit about O’Keefe and his friends other escapades over the years (there were not the only two) and the thing that really comes through is just how much smarter and savvier they have learned how to play their stings as they have gone on and how powerful something as simple as an internet connection, a computer and blog can be.
No editors to bypass to achieve publication; as long as you package your news smartly and clearly you can get picked up anywhere – look at kiwi blogger, Trevor Louden, whose blogpost ended up travelling from his computer in Christchurch the scalp of Barack Obama’s most recently outed bad choice in appointee, Van Jones.
Hat tip: David Farrar