The Rachel Maddow Show: The Truth About The Lies About ACORN

Rachel Maddow breaks down who is behind the smears against ACORN and why, and how dishonest the reporting has been by the right wing media on the topi
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Rachel Maddow breaks down who is behind the smears against ACORN and why, and how dishonest the reporting has been by the right wing media on the topic.

MADDOW: It may seem like the only thing happening in Congress these days is the never-ending fight over and of health reform. But if you happen to be watching the House floor at 3:00 this afternoon, this is what you would have seen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA: Who has consistently called for the clean-

up of the corrupt ACORN, the criminal enterprise ACORN and all of their affiliates? It‘s been people on the Republican side of the aisle that have done that. This is the star of ACORN. He is—he is the lead chief organizer. He is the—he is the person who told the people at ACORN, “I will invite you into the—and we will be setting the agenda for America,” even before he is inaugurated as president of the United States. This is the man who worked for ACORN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: This is the star of ACORN!

That was paranoid Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, today, railing against the community organizing group ACORN, and falsely accusing President Obama of being ACORN‘s lead chief organizer. This sort of animus toward ACORN is something that‘s been percolating on the right for a really long time, but it‘s broken open recently as even Democrats in Congress have decided to go along with efforts to defund and demonize ACORN, and some Republican governors have even enthusiastically defunded ACORN as well, despite the fact that those governors didn‘t fund them in the first place.

Thanks for the right-wing crusade against it. ACORN has become a household acronym, and Republican America‘s most reliable trumped up bogeyman. It was the sixth most covered story in the country last week. ACORN has been caricatured by people, like Congressman King, as a corrupt, criminal enterprise that steals elections and turns a blind eye to prostitution. That‘s the story line the mainstream media has latched on to, as well.

What you might not know from all of the breathless ACORN damnation coverage is what ACORN actually does. They do things like advocating for a higher minimum wage. They do things like helping low-income families file their taxes. They do things like helping low-income families find jobs. They do things like registering people to vote.

That sort of work, as you might expect, has the tendency to rile up the kinds of industries that really don‘t want minimum wage to go up and really aren‘t that psyched about lots of poor people being registered to vote.

And as we discovered most recently in the healthcare debate, when industries sense a threat to their profits, they go into kill mode. They create corporate-funded purportedly grassroots organizations to derail and destroy whomever they believe to be the source of that threat.

Well, in the case of ACORN, I‘d like you to meet Richard Berman. He‘s a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who is essentially a hired gun for corporations.

Say you‘re a company that doesn‘t really want the minimum wage to be raised. But you also don‘t want to be seen fighting ACORN yourself. What you do is you hire Richard Berman. And what you get is “RottenACORN.com,” a grassroots-ish looking Web site dedicated to destroying ACORN and its, quote, “political thugs for hire.”

If you go to the bottom of that Web site, you‘ll see that “RottenACORN.com” is run by something called the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit think-tank that happens to be run by Richard Berman, who also happens to be the man behind grassroots-ish Web sites like the anti-labor one, “UnionFacts.com.” Also, “MercuryFacts.org.” which assures people that there really isn‘t that much mercury in that fish. Go ahead.

Because Mr. Berman‘s organizations are nonprofit, it‘s almost impossible to find out who pays him for his services. Luckily for us, Richard Berman is a bit of a chatty Cathy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BERMAN, LOBBYIST: Businesses themselves don‘t find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect. And I‘m not afraid to do that. You‘re not going to get a lot of companies who want to say that “I‘m funding Rick Berman to go after you.” They‘re just not going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: But go after them, he does. Richard Berman heads a laundry list of more than a dozen front groups that take on causes for business interests, like, say, the food and beverage industry. And of course, it‘s perfectly fine for him to head up all of these nonprofit, purportedly grassroots organizations.

Anyone in America has the right to lobby on anything they want to the all. The problem in the case of ACORN is that the effect of corporate-funded PR efforts like “RottenACORN.com” has been a jihad launched against ACORN by the right-wing media, which has since been joined by the mainstream media, minus any sort of real fact-checking of these corporate-organized facts about them.

A new study just released by a pair of university professors reveals the embarrassing extent to which the media has gotten the ACORN story really, really wrong. As groups like “RottenACORN.com” bought full-page ads in the “New York Times” to hype ACORN‘s voter registration scandal, news outlets picked up the storyline and ran with it.

According to this new study, about 80 percent of stories about ACORN voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was the group that reported the irregularities in the first place.

About 72 percent of stories about ACORN failed to quote anyone from the organization at all responding to the charges against them. And 11 percent of the stories made the blatantly false claim that Barack Obama once worked for ACORN, a claim repeated on the House floor today by Congressman Steve King, a claim that is not true.

The media coverage of ACORN has been driven by a right wing campaign against it, a corporate-funded grassroots-ish PR effort to plant the idea that ACORN is somehow a cancer on the democracy. And it‘s an effort that is working.

Last week, Congress voted to cut off all federal funding for the group. Yesterday, the IRS severed ties with them all together. Today, ACORN laid off all eight employees that it had in the great state of North Carolina.

The people who are paying Rick Berman for his work, those people who think that their profits are threatened by what ACORN does, they‘re getting way more than their money‘s worth, whatever they‘re paying Rick Berman.

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