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Conservative Media Concocts Phony Mainstream Media Conspiracy over ACORN

September 21st, 2009 · No Comments

ACORN Story Grows but Mainstream Media Refuse to Cover It.”

That complaint from a Fox News headline nicely sums up conservative allegations of a mainstream media conspiracy:  there is a huge story about ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) that Fox is covering, but the mainstream media are not covering because (in the words of Fox News talk personality Glenn Beck) “they’re lying to you, they’re part of it” and “they refuse to bring you the truth.”

It’s disappointing that Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander is buying this argument in his recent column “Wrongly Deaf to Right-Wing Media?”  Alexander ignores plenty of research that convincingly argues that although journalists may be personally more centrist or left in their politics, news corporations are generally more conservative, and when it comes to doing your job (any job, for that matter), you stay within the limits of the corporate politics.  Moreover, Alexander ignores the entire history of conservatives and Republicans trying to pin something–anything–on ACORN for years.  This story about ACORN has some truth to it, but the story and the charges that the mainstream media aren’t covering it desperately need the political context from which the sting operation and conservative complaints emerge.

I’m no apologist for the mainstream media.  Their corporate owners are often more interested in profits than good reporting, and it shows, especially in these times of lean news budgets.  And I’m not an apologist for ACORN.  From what we know now, hiring practices and oversight in some of their local offices is terribly negligent.  Unqualified and unethical employees shouldn’t be on the frontline of a community organization involved in social justice.

But Beck is flat out wrong in his suggestion that the mainstream media have ignored ACORN.  In fact, the mainstream media have given plenty of coverage to Republican and conservative media allegations, particularly during the final month of the 2008 elections (allegations of ACORN “voter fraud” were the Republican “October Surprise” of the election).

In a study I co-authored with Peter Dreier that will be released this week, we show that there were 4,468 total stories mentioning ACORN in the LexisNexis “U.S. Newspaper and Wire” database from 2007 to 2008.  The single month of October 2008, with fraud allegations driven by Republicans and the conservative media (John McCain charged in the final televised presidential debate that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy”), accounted for 39% of those stories.  During the campaign season, the mainstream media routinely picked up the same allegations and ran them without any substantial fact-checking.

Putting unchecked allegations at the top of the broadcast and on Page One is exactly what Fox and Glenn Beck want, but that’s not news, that’s propaganda.

Consider the journalistic task with the ACORN video case: Determine the veracity of the allegations of selectively edited videos by an avowed conservative videographer who used questionable hidden camera methods to acquire video that was posted to a partisan web site and is then hyped by a conservative radio/TV talk show host who is part of a cadre of conservative media who have been railing about ACORN for years.

Given that conservatives and Republicans have cried wolf about ACORN many times before (the “fabric of democracy” as McCain saw it has not been destroyed, although Beck keeps pushing the idea that corruption like that of ACORN has put our country on the verge of destruction), some real reporting and fact checking is in line.  That’s what journalism is all about.

Tags: ACORN · Cable Television · Journalism Ethics · Television News

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