CBS and NBC Finally Catch Up to ACORN Scandal; Express Sympathy for the Left-Wing Group

Cynthia Bowers, CBS In the first story on CBS since the scandal broke last week, on Tuesday’s Evening News, anchor Katie Couric reported: "The grassroots community organization called ACORN helps low-income Americans find affordable housing and gets tens of millions of dollars in government funding. But as Cynthia Bowers reports, that may be coming to an end after a scandal caught on tape."

After showing undercover video of ACORN workers across the country advising filmmakers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, who posed as a pimp and prostitute, on how to run an underage prostitution ring, Bowers explained: "ACORN says the workers caught on tape were fired but contends the videos were illegally obtained, doctored and deceptive, and is threatening legal action against the undercover filmmakers posing as the couple...No matter who’s to blame, long-term damage to the reputation of the poverty rights organization may already be done." The CBS story failed to identify ACORN as a liberal organization.

NBC did not get to the ACORN story on Tuesday’s Nightly News, but did cover the scandal on Wednesday’s Today, with co-host Meredith Vieira reporting: "And now to the scandal involving the community organizing group known as ACORN. Over the years, it has received tens of millions of dollars in federal housing money, but now hidden camera videos have led to the U.S. Senate voting to cut off funds to the group."

However, in the story that followed, correspondent Lisa Myers portrayed the group as a victim of conservative attacks: "ACORN has long been a target of conservatives, who’ve claimed for years that the group engages in shady practices. Now these videos have provided critics with new ammunition and stirred enough controversy that even ACORN’s friends are keeping their distance." While Myers used the conservative label five times in her report to describe ACORN’s critics, like CBS’s Bowers, she never described the community organization as liberal.

Lisa Myers, NBC Also like her CBS colleague, Myers made sure to repeat ACORN accusations that the undercover videos were a conservative "smear":

ACORN’s CEO says this is a smear campaign and that some of the videos have been doctored. She threatens to sue the filmmaker and conservative media which has extensively aired the videos....ACORN, which says it delivered more than a million votes in the last election, also claims it’s being attacked as a way to hurt President Obama. Now, political analysts say this is largely driven by conservatives longstanding distaste for ACORN but that President Obama’s history as a community organizer is one reason this story is getting so much play, Meredith."

The only mention of the ACORN scandal on ABC occurred on the Saturday broadcast of Good Morning American in a two-sentence news brief by correspondent Ron Claiborne: "And the Census Bureau has cut off ties to the community group, ACORN for the 2010 census. This comes after a video surfaced this week, showing an ACORN worker receiving, giving tax advice to a man and woman posing as sex workers. ACORN has also been under fire from Republicans, after some workers submitted false voter registration forms last year."

ABC’s World News is set to air a full story on Wednesday night. Outgoing World News anchor Charles Gibson was apparently unaware of the ACORN scandal, as he revealed in a recent radio interview. Speaking to Politico.com, World News producer Jon Banner attempted to explain ABC’s lack of coverage: "There’s a tremendous amount of – for lack of a better word – ‘noise’ out there. We’re not in the business of noise."

In that same Wednesday Politico article, veteran journalists Michael Calderone (formerly with the New York Observer) and Mike Allen (the Washington Post and Time magazine) suggest that the media fell down on the ACORN story because "most reporters for establishment news organizations do not follow the conservative media," and thus failed to even notice the unfolding story:

The dearth -- and tardiness -- of coverage by the traditional media is explained in part by the fact that most reporters for establishment news organizations do not follow the conservative media. They tend to consider many of the more outlandish charges from the right to be plain loony -- which they often are. And ACORN has long been an obsession of the right, with some of past criticism taking on racial overtones. So reporters, being used to tuning out charges against ACORN, were slow to realize that this was a time when the group’s opponents had the goods.

Here is a full transcript of the CBS Evening News story:

KATIE COURIC: The grassroots community organization called ACORN helps low-income Americans find affordable housing and gets tens of millions of dollars in government funding. But as Cynthia Bowers reports, that may be coming to an end after a scandal caught on tape.

CYNTHIA BOWERS: The videos – reportedly recorded in late July and early August – appear to show ACORN employees in several big cities – including Baltimore, Washington, and New York – advising a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And don’t say that you’re prostituting or whatever.

BOWERS: The employees are heard telling the couple how to avoid paying taxes-

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Don’t worry, you’re fine.

BOWERS: -and how to qualify for a mortgage on a home the couple plans to use as a brothel.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: -so stop saying "prostitution."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Got it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Okay?

BOWERS: ACORN says the workers caught on tape were fired but contends the videos were illegally obtained, doctored and deceptive, and is threatening legal action against the undercover filmmakers posing as the couple.

BERTHA LEWIS, ACORN, CLIP #1: We are experiencing the modern day version of McCarthyism.

LEWIS, CLIP #2: Have you now or have you ever been associated with ACORN?

BOWERS: No matter who's to blame, long-term damage to the reputation of the poverty rights organization may already be done.

SENATOR MIKE JOHANNS (R-NE): -and I don't believe it was accidental that this video caught ACORN employees delivering the same message in different cities.

BOWERS: Last night, the Democratic-controlled Senate voted 83-7 to deny ACORN access to millions of dollars in federal housing funds.

JOHANNS: They magnify a troubling, systemic and a criminal pattern.

BOWERS: Just last week, the Census Bureau severed its ties with the organization, meaning ACORN workers won't be part of the 2010 Census count. For its part, ACORN says it registered 1.3 million new voters just last year and has helped hundreds of thousands of families buy and keep their homes. But critics point out ACORN also faces voter fraud charges in nearly two dozen states.

STEVE STANEK, THE HEARTLAND INSTITUTE: It has no business trying to organize voter registration because it has shown time and time again that it cannot be trusted to do that.

BOWERS: According to a Web site that tracks government grants, ACORN has received $53 million tax dollars since 1994, and many now want to know exactly where those millions wound up. Cynthia Bowers, CBS News, Chicago.

Here is a full transcript of the NBC Today story:

7:16AM

MEREDITH VIEIRA: And now to the scandal involving the community organizing group known as ACORN. Over the years, it has received tens of millions of dollars in federal housing money, but now hidden camera videos have led to the U.S. Senate voting to cut off funds to the group. NBC’s senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has details. Lisa, good morning.

LISA MYERS: Good morning, Meredith. ACORN has long been a target of conservatives, who’ve claimed for years that the group engages in shady practices. Now these videos have provided critics with new ammunition and stirred enough controversy that even ACORN’s friends are keeping their distance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [ACORN WORKER]: We’re looking out for you.

MYERS: The seemingly damning hidden camera videos involve ACORN workers in four cities. The most recent one from San Bernardino, California.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B [ACORN WORKER]: I have some experience in – in how not to get caught.

MYERS: A conservative independent filmmaker and a friend poses a pimp and prostitute and are advised by ACORN workers how to evade the IRS.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN C [ACORN WORKER]: Honesty is not going to get you the house.

MYERS: Even how to handle an underage prostitution ring.

JAMES O’KEEFE: What if they’re making money, because they’re performing tricks, too?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN D [ACORN WORKER]: If they’re making money and they’re underage, you shouldn’t be letting nobody know anyway.

MYERS: ACORN says all employees involved have been fired or suspended, except the ACORN worker in the California video, who says she was just playing along.

WOMAN B: You can mold this into anything you want.

MYERS: But conservatives are having a field day.

PATRICK MCHENRY [REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN, NORTH CAROLINA]: I think it shows that they’re willing to commit fraud and encourage fraud.

MYERS: The Census Bureau has severed all ties with ACORN.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [U.S. SENATE]: Senators voting in the affirmative.

MYERS: And the Senate, controlled by Democrats, voted overwhelmingly, 83-7 on Monday night, to cut off any further housing grants to ACORN.

MIKE JOHANNS [REPUBLICAN SENATOR, NEBRASKA]: I would suggest, obviously, this is a pattern of very rotten behavior.

MYERS: By one estimate, ACORN has received $53 million in federal money since 1994. ACORN’s CEO says this is a smear campaign and that some of the videos have been doctored. She threatens to sue the filmmaker and conservative media which has extensively aired the videos.

BERTHA LEWIS: We are not going to take this lying down. We believe that – in fact, we know – that this was a form of entrapment. And yes, we’re going to go after this videographer and Fox.

MYERS: ACORN, which says it delivered more than a million votes in the last election, also claims it’s being attacked as a way to hurt President Obama. Now, political analysts say this is largely driven by conservatives longstanding distaste for ACORN but that President Obama’s history as a community organizer is one reason this story is getting so much play, Meredith.

VIEIRA: Alright. Lisa Myers, thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC