ACORN Busted For Offering Advice

Watching this caused me to find and watch the infamous ACORN sting videos. Stuff like this is the reason I call it Faux Noise:


In case you haven’t heard, Faux Noise has been at the ACORN story hard this past week. An intrepid young pair of investigative journalists, we are told, pulled off a spectacular sting operation of what Michelle Malkin calls “a criminal organization.” Entering ACORN offices dressed in costumes and armed with a microcamera, they uncovered “evidence” that ACORN gives advice to prostitution racketeers.

Beck, Hannity, et al are depending on America to accept their highly-edited version of these videos. Few will bother to watch the full, unedited takes. Here are the ones from ACORN’s New York City office; my description is below the fold. You’ll notice that the video’s creators open with the advice to keep cash in a tin can, then cut back to the beginning; there’s still a Faux Edit™ going on in these “unedited” videos:



Did you catch that around the 9:00 mark of video one? Hannah Giles — the notional “prostitute” — asks for advice on how to escape abusive pimps. Offering no judgment of her (which is really not her role), the ACORN employee offers suggestions on avoiding abuse and coping with abusers. As the Daily Doubter put it, this is not evil.

In fact, it’s not even illegal: if your pimp hits you, hide some money and get away is not a criminal suggestion. It’s good advice. Sure, you could offer easy moralisms; but to what end? If Hannah and James wanted that kind of advice, they would visit a church.

Contrary to the portrayal these videos have gotten on Faux Noise, ACORN is a service organization that helps millions of Americans buy and stay in their homes, register to vote, start small businesses, and deal with finances. These are desperately needed services in America’s poorest communities.

Moreover, as you’d expect from such an organization, ACORN allows anyone to enter and ask for these services. Quite likely, ACORN’s policies strongly prohibit the staff from ejecting anyone who remains polite, however outrageous their pretext. The video makers took advantage of that openness to come in and ask these questions. When they asked advice on pimping, what were the ACORN employees supposed to do?

James O’Keefe, inspired by a previous success in another city, asks whether the staff can suggest an alternate title for Hannah’s “job,” which he calls “performing tricks.” The euphemism is too clever; suspicious, the ACORN employee taps her fingers and avoids eye contact for a long time. She seems quite aware her leg is being pulled, but has no grounds on which to eject the couple.

That entire moment is the result of her caution that the couple “can’t say what you do for a living.” Moreover, at this point the paperwork disappears; for the duration of the video, no forms are filled out. The scene has become a conversation.

Indeed, I’ll give the “intrepid young couple” some props for this. I’ve worked in the investigative field, and the first principle of undercover direct contact work is to remain polite, upbeat, and likable. When the ACORN employees enthusiastically smile and shake hands at the end of the interview, it’s a tribute to the couple’s skill at pretext interviews.

There are some other revealing moments. When James asks for information on maintaining plausible deniability (in expectation of a future run for public office, yet another step too far), both ACORN employees are clearly brainstorming a hypothetical: the discussion is the very first time this has come up.

The other ACORN employee has an interesting response to Hannah’s question about bringing in girls from El Salvador. Sure, ACORN can help, she says — “if you can provide the paperwork.” This is a dismissal, not an invitation.

There are other videos. I have not taken the time to watch any others. But this one not only shows no evidence of ACORN employees abetting illegal activity at the New York City office, it presents quite the opposite picture. The parting admonishment that “it’s your business how you want to live, but live well” is anything but criminal.

Nor should the ACORN employees in these videos feel the least bit embarrassed. If there is anything embarrassing about these videos, it is James and Hannah. Why are they so eager to bust a social service organization that helps inner-city people to improve their lives? What would propel them to dress up so obscenely for these ends?

In Hannah’s case, it turns out her father is a pastor prone to spouting anti-Obama rhetoric. This is not a journalistic operation; I’ve got a bad feeling Hannah and James are true believers, unquestioningly swallowing and regurgitating Beckian nonsense.

More on these videos as I have time to watch and analyze them.

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About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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  • mary b

    Matt,
    You should really watch the mashup that Jon Stewart did on the Daily Show about this. I didn't catch the whole segment but when he put up a clip of Faux Noise interviewing the guy who was supposed to be a pimp……well lets just say it was quite unbelievable and funny as hell!

  • Matt Osborne

    mary b, I saw that mashup. And while I appreciate Stewart's intent of exposing the MSM as a bunch of worthless hacks, the segment was totally unbalanced by context.