In that Thursday op-ed ("The war on ACORN; Conservatives are distorting and playing up the community organizing group's so-called scandals"), Dreier parroted ACORN CEO's now-discredited claims that "not a single person who signed a phony name on a registration form ever actually voted," and that undercover filmmakers James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles were only able to get help from two ACORN offices in starting up their proposed prostitution enterprises involving the importation of immigrant girls.
In running Dreier's op-ed, the Times miscalculated at least twice:
- First, the paper failed to disclose Dreier's past relationship with ACORN as a consultant, something that is right there in his Occidental College bio, and that readers had a right to know.
- Second, the Times somehow thought Dreier's propaganda would get past LA blogger and certified Times nemesis Patterico aka Patrick Frey. That was the far more serious blunder.
The attack on ACORN is not really about bogus names on voter forms or about staffers encouraging people to lie on their tax forms. Rather, it is part of a broader conservative effort to attack progressive organizations and discredit President Obama and his liberal agenda.
Over the years, ACORN has made powerful enemies. Many businesses oppose the group's efforts to raise wages for the working poor. Banks, mortgage companies and payday lenders have fought ACORN's campaigns to strengthen regulation of the financial industry. Business groups have funded anti-ACORN websites, such as rottenacorn.com, that aim to destroy the group's credibility. Republicans have long opposed ACORN's success at registering low-income, mostly minority voters, who are more likely to vote for Democrats.
Christopher Martin, a journalism professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and I recently analyzed media coverage of ACORN over the years. In our published report, "Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why ACORN Was in the News, and What the News Got Wrong," we found that, despite ACORN's effective community organizing work in more than 70 cities across the country, 55% of the stories about the organization during 2007 and 2008 dealt with voter fraud.
The coverage was largely driven by the GOP. In the third and final presidential debate last October, McCain charged that ACORN was "now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." At rallies and media events, McCain and Palin repeated this charge and demanded that Obama disclose his ties with ACORN -- echoing attacks that first appeared in conservative publications.
.... Did ACORN engage in election fraud? Absolutely not. As part of its highly successful voter registration drive, the group -- like many others -- paid outside contractors to gather signatures. A few of them turned in bogus forms, registering names such as "Mickey Mouse" or "Donald Duck." ACORN's staff did what was required by law and promptly reported the questionable names to authorities. In some cities, those local officials -- mostly Republicans -- turned around and accused ACORN of voter fraud.
Our study documented that many news outlets reported the voter fraud allegations without attempting to verify them. Had they done so, they would have discovered that not a single person who signed a phony name on a registration form ever actually voted. What occurred was voter registration fraud, not voter fraud, and it was ACORN that exposed the wrongdoing in the first place.
.... And what about the prostitute-and-pimp video? It also isn't quite what Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly would have you believe. Two "gotcha" right-wing activists showed up at about 10 ACORN offices hoping to entice low-level staff to provide tax advice for an illegal prostitution ring. In most ACORN offices, the staff kicked the pair out. In a few cities, staffers called the police. In two offices, however, the staff listened and offered to help. That was wrong. But ACORN immediately fired the errant staffers.
Patterico pounced. First, he debunked the obvious misstatements to be detailed shortly. He then documented Dreier's undisclosed ACORN relationship (I suspect that a further look would reveal that other organizations on Dreier's list have ties to ACORN). Finally, the LA blogger fired off a letter to the editor demanding a detailed retraction of misstated facts and disclosure of Dreier's ACORN relationship.
As to Dreier's errors, let's start with the "not a single person who signed a phony name on a registration form ever actually voted" claim.
Tell that to ACORN Cleveland and Darnell Nash, as documented by Matthew Vadum at the American Spectator:
As to the O'Keefe-Giles video stings:
The conviction of Darnell Nash, apparently known by several aliases including Serina "Sexy Slay" Gibbs, is hugely significant for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that ACORN has long maintained that vote fraud, as opposed to the lesser crime of voter registration fraud, essentially never happens.
.... While ACORN has not yet been charged in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, the fact that an individual voter registered by ACORN has been convicted of actually casting a fraudulent ballot appears to be a historic first for the embattled radical advocacy group.
.... (Cleveland prosecutor Bill Mason's spokesan Ryan) Miday explained that Nash was registered nine times to vote with the assistance of what the spokesman called "ACORN outreach workers." Nash repeatedly used different names and different addresses to register to vote. He was indicted by a grand jury earlier this year.
Nash cast a fraudulent ballot at the local board of elections office, Miday said.
Nash entered a guilty plea to one count of casting a fraudulent ballot and to several counts of false registration on August 5. On August 19 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo.
- Dreier says, "In most ACORN offices, the staff kicked the pair out." He refers to 10 offices visited by O'Keefe and Giles (how he knows this is a mystery, but stick with me). We know now that in six cities (Baltimore, DC, Brooklyn, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Philadelphia, the pair were not kicked out. That only leaves four cities out of 10. Last time I checked, 4 is not "most of" 10.
- Dreier asserts, "In a few cities, staffers called the police." As far as I know, that has only been shown to be the case for Philadelphia, the site of the latest proven example of a successful O'Keefe-Giles sting -- and in that case it would appear that the cops were only called after the pair had departed ACORN's premises.
- Dreier further dissembles by saying that "In two offices, however, the staff listened and offered to help." As already noted, the number of instances where "the staff listened and offered to help" is six -- so far.
- Dreier wanders into the neighborhood of the truth when he writes that "ACORN immediately fired the errant staffers." But then, the awful fired staffers in Baltimore became parties in ACORN's lawsuit against O'Keefe and Giles. That's an odd way to punish malfeasance.
As its circulation in March showed yet another steep decline compared to the previous year, one thing the Times doesn't need is Patterico with a laundry list of perfectly valid complaints. But he's got 'em, and I don't think he'll let go.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.