Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TV NEWS and the ACORN Scandal

"What we have a failure to communicate." actor Strother Martin in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

If events of the last couple weeks have shown anything, it is that the mainstream media is not up to the job of keeping the American public informed. Neither is it capable of digging into a story to get the facts. The traditional media leaves the profound impression that they will first seek permission or await instructions concerning which stories to cover and what to say about them.

In quick fashion we’ve seen the Van Jones story missed, the Tea Party march on Washington ignored, and now we’ve had a week of silence on the ACORN sex-sting tapes. What are we to make of this?

As someone who used to work in media I’ll give you my conclusion right up front:

TV news is to news, what a TV dinner is to dinner.

Both are conveniently packaged, pre-digested, bland, and shot-full of additives. They are an insult to both the stomach and the brain.

About a week ago Fox News covered a story, broken earlier in the morning by a web site, Big Government. I happened to catch 30 seconds of the initial Fox coverage on my way out the door to work.

A hidden camera-sting inside the Baltimore office of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) showed a young woman talking across a desk with a couple other women who were representatives of ACORN. The young woman was dressed like the hookers who used to work the streets near my old neighborhood in Venice, California.

Closed-captioning clarified what was being said on camera while the Fox newscasters commented on the footage. As I bagged up my lunch for work I formed the impression that the prostitute had been caught on hidden camera, along with her slime-ball pimp-lawyer-boyfriend, negotiating with ACORN representatives. The plan was to use tax money to buy a house to use as a brothel. The brothel would feature a dozen young girls, age 13-15, which the pimp had already arranged to be shipped in from El Salvador. Banks won’t lend money for this kind of enterprise. No problem with ACORN. They are open for business and they have lots of money.

That’s all I saw or heard of that first report. It was grim and it reminded me of the movie Taxi Driver, of the social rot that movie depicted, and the feeling that everything is for sale, and at not too high a price, either.

My immediate reaction was a wave of melancholy. I felt sorry for the girl and for any family members she might have who would surely see this footage, if not now, in all the re-runs. The ACORN people were seen on camera conferring with other staffers on how to fudge the nature of the business on the paperwork, how to hide the profits, even offering suggestions how to get a couple of those underage El Salvador working girls listed as “dependents” on the tax rolls. ACORN clearly offered One-Stop Shopping. I bought the ruse just like the ACORN people did.

When I got in my car I found that talk radio was blazing with the story. Details that I had misunderstood were clarified. The prostitute, it turned out, is really a college journalism student, Hannah Giles. The guy posing as the young pimp/lawyer is a 25 year-old filmmaker named James O’Keefe. The whole thing was a sting designed to document the rampant corruption within ACORN. It was a 100% gutsy move and it succeeded brilliantly.

The Wall Street Journal, the go-to paper I read, has been covering ACORN’s shady activities for years. In fact you can go to today and read John Fund’s article “Acorn Runs Off the Rails” if you want to get a brief overview of some of the group’s activities. For example, ACORN is currently under investigation for voter fraud California, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona and in a number of other states. It worked hard on behalf of Al Franken in his narrow, 200 hundred vote “win” in the Minnesota US Senate race last fall, registering non-existent voters by the thousands. And, the man who made “community organizer” a household word, President Obama himself, used to work for ACORN and has surrounded his administration with ACORN staffers and sympathizers. Up until a few days ago ACORN was going to be a key contractor in taking the 2010 US Census.

So there they are on camera, tax-funded ACORN employees, telling a hooker how to deal with the issue of the underage girls transported across the border to be sexually abused for money. They do not discuss how to educate the girls or give them a good home or get them started in happy productive lives, but, rather, how to exploit them and keep the profits away from the taxman.

Given the very recent news-context of the eleven year-old girl in California who was kidnapped and held as a sex slave for 15 years you’d think this story would be news --- Big News. You have sex, money, and corruption all under an oily cloud of sleazy politics. What’s there for any newsman not to like? You’d think reporters would be wrestling each other for dibs on being the first to ask the President what he thinks about all of this.

But, alas, nothing but silence. And such a silent silence it is. You can hear a pin drop.

After that first report, last week, other tapes were released every couple days. Now, along with the ACORN office in Baltimore there is footage from inside offices in New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles. Are there more?

The tape from LA is a doozy. An ACORN worker literally brags on-camera how she killed a man and got away with it. Here. Like some low-life bottom feeder you'd see in Pulp Fiction, she casually discusses with the pimp how he can make a lot more money if he goes for the rough-trade. This ACORN representative then reveals that she “talks to Congressmen, Senators and Assembly people everyday”. She even names a few -- Oops -- in case investigators need a road map, or California voters want to know who not to vote for. This is bad stuff.

Still... not even a whisper in the establishment press.

This brings us up to September 15th, a week into the ACORN/prostitutes story, when ABC News anchor, Charlie Gibson opened his mouth in front of a microphone and out came an amazing statement.

Gibson is a weekly call-in guest on the “Mornings with Don Wade and Roma Show” on WLS-890 in Chicago. He engages in light weight chit-chat and plugs his quote-unquote evening “news” show. Only this time I’m sure he spilled his coffee when host, Don Wade, veered away from “happy talk” and asked Gibson this question:

Don: “We got the embarrassing video of ACORN staff giving tax advice on how to set up a brothel with 13 year old hookers. It has everything you could want; corruption and sleazy action at tax funded organizations that’s got government ties. But nobody’s covering that story. Why?

Charlie Gibson: (laugh) I don’t even know about it. Uh, so you got me at a loss, I don’t know.”

Think about that statement for just a moment…A story concerning underage hookers and political corruption is all over competing news media and the main anchor at ABC doesn’t “even know about it”?

That’s not just hard to believe, it's impossible to believe. It is Charlie Gibson’s job “to know”. He has staff who's job it is to know. I’ve worked in a few TV stations over the years and every one of them had banks of monitors tuned to the other channels in order to keep an eye on their competitors. How could he not know?

How could he not report a week’s worth of breaking-news regarding a
major cog in the Washington wheel? Unless he didn't want to know...Unless this is a rigged game staring back at us from our TV screens. (Refer to my PlumwoodRoad essay, The Confidence Men, from August 26th)

You can rest assured that not only does the establishment media know about this story, but it knows other things as well. It is all their jobs to know. They know who in Congress benefits from relations with ACORN. They know that just this past April Democrats in the US Senate over-powered opposition objections and inserted a $7 Billion Dollar "ear mark" for ACORN into that $847 Billion Dollar Stimulus Bill. And, they know that miles of video footage exists of the President speaking glowingly of ACORN and other marginally savory organizations.

The mainstream media also knows that in order to push through the President's bloated, intrusive Health Care plan, they have to tamp down public concerns about governmental competency, corruption, and fiscal irresponsibility. Then along came a couple of self-appointed journalists who kicked over a rotten log and then took pictures of all the taxpayer-supported cockroaches they found crawling around. It couldn't have happened at a worse time.

Here is the media's Plan-B:

Right now the networks are trying to remain silent. That's proving hard to do; Charlie Gibson's comment, for example, or Jimmy Carter's even worse comment last night. The longer this thing drags on, the more likely someone else will say something stupid. Networks are scrambling behind the scenes to write the “spin” they need to contain the damage. That’s a tall order. Aiding the sexual abuse of young girls is going to be hard to mitigate, even in today's anything-goes culture.

And though they may not know it yet, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles are under a microscope. Right now State bureaucrats are fingering through their files and school records, somebody is busy hacking into their computers, investigators are tracking down every date they ever kissed, and their parents are being checked for embarrassing information, too. Remember "Joe the Plumber" last year?

By remaining silent the media hopes to get past the shock-value of the story and prevent it from resonating into the broader public consciousness. But, they must maintain the black out until all the the tapes are released and all the information is out. Like a slick legal defense attorney, once they have all the information they will know exactly how to tailor their message. The mainstream press can then step forward and take control of the story. They can then launch a cleaned up version with a plausible exculpatory angle. But they have to wait until they're certain the shoes have stopped dropping. No surprises.

This is what press agents and publicists do all the time. Books have been written on the subject. It's called "managing the news". But it is not what a healthy, free press does. It is what propagandists and apparatchiks in The Ministry of Information do. And, that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the most disturbing element of the ACORN story.