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Everyone now knows that Department of Agriculture employee Sheryl Sherrod was unjustly forced to resign and vilified as a "reverse racist" by the Obama Administration and even the NAACP. Ms. Sherrod, who is Black, was filmed giving a speech at an NAACP banquet in March where she recounted how her work with a poor white farmer taught her to care about the have-nots of this country, regardless of race. This speech was then edited into a version that looked as if Sherrod was saying she discriminated against this farmer because he was white.
And who ran this highly edited and completely untrue version? None other than Andrew Breitbart and our friends at Big Government. The same lovely people who created the total lie that ACORN was not an anti-poverty group, but rather a human trafficking ring! And the result was what? Oh yeah, the defunding of ACORN by Congress, the vilification of the organization in the mainstream media, and the long lasting lesson on the part of the far-right that the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are so easily scared into submission that all it takes is some bad video and some ridiculous lies to get them to comply.
Over at Big Government, they're not even apologizing for the "mistake" they made with the video. Instead, they're saying there is all sorts of proof that the NAACP encourages racism and that the mainstream media is ignoring it. And although the Department of Agriculture has apologized to Sherrod as has the head of the NAACP, I don't hear the mainstream media that ran with this story- AGAIN- even after they realized the ACORN story was highly orchestrated propaganda- apologizing?
Although CNN and the Atlanta Constitution Journal correctly reported that the video was a misrepresentation of the full speech, Fox News and the right-wing GOP noise machine started the drum beat and the Dems did what they always do- they caved. According to Yosi Sergant, it is time for Obama and the Dems to "grow a pair." Sergant would know what it's like to be thrown under the bus by the Dems and this administration, since he himself was also misrepresented by Breitbart of Big Government when Breitbart misrepresented his work as trying to use the National Endowment for the Arts to support the Obama Administration.
Let's pretend that the Dems are actually capable of learning from their past mistakes (no evidence yet) and say they do learn to "grow a pair" or perhaps more accurately and less sexist- get a spine- and begin to stand up to the absolute hate and propaganda that is Big Government, Fox "News," and the rest of the noise machine. It could involve not just funding good organizations like ACORN and holding onto good employees like Sherrod, but perhaps even not caving on Afghanistan, Iraq, Gitmo, Iran, healthcare, financial reform and whatever other disasters the right seems intent on getting us into.
Now that would be worth the pain of living with this spinelessness. To find that the Dems actually can find their spine and stand up to the ballsy nut jobs over at Big Government and Fox News.
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Founded in 1970, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, is finally shutting its doors and the far right wingnuts are celebrating. After all, the far-right, which represents the interests of a certain subgroup of non-urban, straight white Americans best illustrated by the Tea Party, does not like ACORN and the work they have done. It is not in the interest of white supremacists to have poor Blacks and Latinos registered to vote, campaigns against predatory lending practices, or taxpayer money being spent on rebuilding New Orleans.
Of course, the majority of Americans are not white supremacists. The majority of Americans want everyone to vote, want tax dollars to be spent on creating a more fair and just society, and support the work of organizations like ACORN. Sadly, however, a right-wing smear campaign convinced ordinary Americans that ACORN was bad, worse than Haliburton bad, and had to be shut down.
The height of this campaign happened six months ago when James O'Keefe, the Borat of the Right, released videos that supposedly showed ACORN employees supporting prostitution and tax fraud. Although the employees were fired and ACORN was cleared of any wrong-doing, the mainstream media continued to act as if O'Keefe were a "journalist" and the videos were "reporting." Congress responded by blackballing ACORN from receiving any Housing and Urban Development funds. A judge has since ruled Congress's defunding of ACORN unconstitutional.
But what are truth and the Constitution when it comes to the far-right's effort to shut down democracy? Over at FOX News, they are gloating that
The once mighty community activist group ACORN announced Monday it is folding amid falling revenues — six months after video footage emerged showing some of its workers giving tax tips to conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute.
And at Big Government, the site that first aired O'Keefe's "journalism," Kyle Olson suggests that ACORN timed its announcement that it's closing its doors to coincide with the passage of healthcare (for what is unclear? to pacify the right wing-nuts so they don't take up arms... yet?).
ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis acknowledged that the closing was the result of
a series of well-orchestrated, relentless, well-funded, right-wing attacks that are unprecedented since the McCarthy era. Our effective work empowering African-American and low-income voters made us a target. The videos were a manufactured, sensational story that led to rush to judgment and an unconstitutional act by Congress.
But it wasn't just the right that brought down ACORN. It was mainstream media that circulated O'Keefe's work as if it were journalism when they would never circulate Sacha Baron Cohen's work as if it were journalism. And it was Congress's willingness to defund ACORN, despite evidence and constitutionality, that destroyed the group. Ultimately, the people in charge in Washington and in the press are uncomfortable with the promise of radical democracy that ACORN represents. When ACORN registered historic numbers of African American voters and helped elect Barack Obama, they put what is primarily a white media and a white Congress on guard.
Radical democracy involves all Americans voting and all Americans engaged in the political process. That is not something that a lot of powerful people feel completely comfortable with. The attacks on ACORN are evidence of this. Whatever corruption existed in the organization it was nothing compared to military contractors and the banks. And ACORN wasn't making bombs like General Dynamics or a bundle like Citibank. They were trying to help poor and underrepresented Americans get involved and shape their world and our country. They were trying to inculcate democracy.
In other words, ACORN is closing because it was so successful in getting Obama elected. ACORN is closing because real democracy is not something that people in power in the America actually support. I can only hope that from the fall of ACORN, a stronger movement for radical democracy will spring up.
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Remember James O'Keefe, III, the ultra-right "merry prankster" who dressed as a "pimp" and brought along a friend to be his "ho" and went into an Acorn office and asked for help starting a brothel?
Ah, the most fun I've ever had writing on True/Slant was calling O'Keefe's piece "fantasy" not "news." Calling him the "Borat of the Right," I pointed out that Mr. O'Keefe's video of Acorn employees supposedly supporting prostitution rings was no more "true" than a Sacha Baron Cohen piece.
Sadly, most of the media and nearly all our national politicians saw Mr. O'Keefe's highly-edited clip of Acorn employees trying to respond to his "pimp and ho" routine as an actual indictment of the organization.
The website Big Government, who gave Mr. O'Keefe support and a national platform for his "reporting," linked my piece so that I received a lot of hate mail and more than a few death threats. Less amusing were the people who called my employer and insisted I be fired.
Now Mr. O'Keefe is in deep doo doo and I find myself both wanting to defend his right to be a pain in the ass that is power AND thinking he needs to learn the difference between a prank and journalism.
It seems that O'Keefe and a merry band of pranksters went to New Orleans and dressed up like telephone repairman to get "gottcha" footage of Senator Mary Landrieu's staff.
Mr. O’Keefe, 25, ...and three other men... were arrested and charged with a federal felony, accused of seeking to tamper with the office telephone system of Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. Two of them were impersonating repairmen in the senator’s New Orleans office and were caught after being asked for identification.
Mr. O’Keefe said Friday that the four men had been trying to determine whether Ms. Landrieu was avoiding constituent complaints about the Senate health care bill after her phone system was jammed in December. (Her office said no calls had been intentionally avoided.) On reflection, he said in a statement, “I could have used a different approach to this investigation.”
It's funny, right? I mean, you're suspicious that a Senator is lying about "phone problems" and so you dress up as phone repairmen and ask the staff what problems they're having with the phones. If you're lucky, you catch them saying "we're not having problems." Hilarious.
But it's not journalism, is it? It's protest and activism and possibly even a joke and this is where O'Keefe steps over the line of "funny" and "right on" into "stupid" and "send him to jail."
There is very little that I would be willing to die for, but our right to protest power while getting a laugh is worth dying for. We have an obligation to point out the abuse of power. We have a sacred duty as citizens to do so in the most entertaining manner possible.
I myself have staged drag queen bake sales for peace or dressed up like an ultra conservative housewife who believes all our rights should be based on our marital status, including our right to vote.
But I have never pretended as if this is "true" or "journalism." It's protest. That's the point. It's clearly absurd. Even the people who are the butt of my jokes--like Family Research Council representatives responding to my "Heterosexuals for Mandatory Marriage Manifesto"-- know that it's a joke and that the joke's on them.
O'Keefe's protests cross the line between staged absurdity and absurd entrapment. They are less a question of First Amendment rights and more "Boy, do you know there is such a thing as ETHICS, even with your enemies?"
So although I support O'Keefe's right to stage as many absurd protests as possible, to throw metaphorical and even actual pies in the faces of his enemies, I must draw the line at presenting these protests as journalism. I must also draw the line at breaking and entering under false pretenses.
There is nothing wrong with standing up in public space and screaming "look the Emperor has no clothes." There is something sleazy about sneaking into the Emperor's closet with a hidden camera.
So although I hope O'Keefe and his merry band of ultra-right pranksters get off with a slap on the wrist, I also hope they learn that there is a difference between protest and journalism, staged absurdity and truthful reporting.
And that they learn the lesson that even our worst enemies deserve to be let in on the joke, especially because the joke is on them.