A new documentary wants us to revisit the scandal that brought ACORN to its knees.
“ACORN and the Firestorm” revisits how James O’Keefe rocked the community organizing group by dressing up as a pimp straight out of Central Casting.
Those sting videos, featuring conservative activist Hannah Giles dressed as a prostitute, got heavy play thanks to Breitbart News. (Editor’s Note: This reporter worked at that organization for two years)
The videos showed workers at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) offering to illegally help them apply for a housing loan to build a brothel. Other videos revealed ACORN workers captured similar transgressions, such as how the faux duo could “launder their earnings and avoid detection from law enforcement officials while running a prostitution business.”
The scandal’s fallout crippled the organization, which eventually shuttered in 2010.
Enter the new documentary, opening April 6.
Here’s the offiical synopsis:
ACORN, America’s largest grassroots community organizing group, became a major player in the 2008 presidential election that resulted in Barack Obama’s victory. Big businesses, Republicans and Right-wing activists took issue with the group, firing accusations of voter fraud and government waste at the left-leaning organization. The conservative opposition found unexpected allies in a pair of amateur journalists who posed as a pimp and prostitute hoping to expose ACORN via hidden-camera. The ensuing political drama spawned the now-omnipresent Breitbart Media, and served as a prescient foreshadowing of today’s political climate. In an age where fake news and truthiness obscure reality, ACORN and the Firestorm tells a deep, uniquely fair, moving story about what lies beneath a divided America.
The press release proclaims a “fair,” “balanced” take on the material, even while promoting hard-left outlets singing its praises.
The trailer clearly plays sides.
The group’s then-CEO, Bertha Lewis and her colleagues are framed in a positive light. ‘We pissed the wrong people off,” one ACORN supporter says.
“40 years of work called into question for one little video,” Lewis says.
Only it wasn’t just one video.
Will ‘ACORN’ Explain All of This Away, Too?
The scandal reminded the public of other ACORN-related activities which flouted the rule of law.
The group had been accused of serial voter fraud in connection to the 2008 presidential election by helping unqualified voters take part in the process.
The New York Times reports that Dale Rathke – whose brother started the group back in 1970 as a vehicle to help low-income people “take back what’s rightfully theirs” – embezzled nearly $1 million from ACORN back in 1999 and 2000.
How did ACORN handle the crime? By disguising it on the books as a loan from one of its contractors and letting Rathke’s family make restitution at the rate of $30,000 a year. (An anonymous donor reportedly has agreed to pick up the remaining $800,000 tab.)
Incredibly, ACORN kept Rathke on the payroll as a $38,000-a-year employee until as recently as last month – and only let him go when word of his fraud leaked to donors.
A 2010 Fox News story’s headline shares another scary ACORN revelation: “18 Former ACORN Workers Have Been Convicted or Admitted Guilt in Election Fraud.”
ACORN has been implicated in similar voter fraud schemes in Missouri, Ohio and at least 12 other states. The Wall Street Journal noted: “In Ohio in 2004, a worker for one affiliate was given crack cocaine in exchange for fraudulent registrations that included underage voters, dead voters and pillars of the community named Mary Poppins, Dick Tracy and Jive Turkey. During a congressional hearing in Ohio in the aftermath of the 2004 election, officials from several counties in the state explained ACORN’s practice of dumping thousands of registration forms in their lap on the submission deadline, even though the forms had been collected months earlier.”
Will any of these charges find their way into the documentary? For context’s sake they should be.
Community Organizing … on Our Dime?
ACORN clearly had an agenda, one that aligned with Democratic talking points on issues like the minimum wage. The organization still benefited from the federal government’s largesse.
According to a Congressional report, the group has received $53 million in federal funds since 1994. But the nonpartisan Politifact.com reported in May that most of that money went to the ACORN Housing Corporation, one of the group’s many affiliates.
“ACORN and the Firestorm” director Reuben Atlas insists his film is both accurate and fair.
I think advocacy films are critically important, but that’s not what we wanted to do with this film.
All signs point to the opposite, from the left-leaning trailer to the praise Atlas showered upon the now-defunct group in that same interview. Consider this early review of the film from Flavorwire.com, which suggests Fox News is a prime target.
Most of all, it’s a nimble analysis of the FOX echo chamber – and, ultimately, the impossibility of out-shouting it.
Audiences can see for themselves starting April 6.