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Hullabaloo


Sunday, January 31, 2010

 
Too Little Too Late

by digby


Here's an interesting story in today's NY Times about the teabuggers. It discusses the interlocking relationships among the men an specifically notes the involvement of the Leadership Institute, which will be very familiar to longtime readers of this blog. Evidently, even Morton Blackwell eventually thought their "activism" was a bit much.

This story obviously wasn't that difficult to unravel. But the press didn't bother to do it until these guys were arrested on a federal offense. Instead, they flagellated themselves for failing to take the "reporters" as seriously as Fox news took them. Remember this?

ON Sept. 12, an Associated Press article inside The Times reported that the Census Bureau had severed its ties to Acorn, the community organizing group. Robert Groves, the census director, was quoted as saying that Acorn, one of thousands of unpaid organizations promoting the 2010 census, had become “a distraction.”

What the article didn’t say — but what followers of Fox News and conservative commentators already knew — was that a video sting had caught Acorn workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes. The young woman in streetwalker’s clothes and her companion were actually undercover conservative activists with a hidden camera.

It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior. An Acorn worker in Baltimore was shown telling the “prostitute” that she could describe herself to tax authorities as an “independent artist” and claim 15-year-old prostitutes, supposedly illegal immigrants, as dependents.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

Some editors told me they were not immediately aware of the Acorn videos on Fox, YouTube and a new conservative Web site called BigGovernment.com. When the Senate voted to cut off all federal funds to Acorn, there was not a word in the newspaper, although a report in the Caucus blog that day covered the action. When the New York City Council froze all its funding for Acorn and the Brooklyn district attorney opened a criminal investigation, there was still nothing.

[...]


I thought politics was emphasized too much, at the expense of questions about an organization whose employees in city after city participated in outlandish conversations about illegal and immoral activities. (Acorn suggested some videos were doctored but fired or suspended many of the employees.)

[...]

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.

Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, said he has studied journalists for years, and though they are more liberal than the general population, he believes they are motivated by the desire to get good stories, not to help one particular side. Conservatives who believe The Times isn’t critical of Democrats forget that the paper broke damaging stories about the personal finances of Representative Charles Rangel and the hiring of prostitutes by Eliot Spitzer.

But Rosenstiel said The Times has a particular problem with conservatives, especially after its article last year suggesting that John McCain had an extramarital affair. And Republicans earlier this year charged that the paper killed a story about Acorn that would have been a “game changer” in the presidential election — a claim I found to be false.

“If you know you are a target, it requires extra vigilance,” Rosenstiel said. “Even the suspicion of a bias is a problem all by itself.”

A little extra vigilance might have been useful in the follow-up to the ACORN "revelations," in which it was revealed that the tapes had been doctored. (It turns out that the O'Keefe gang had done a similar "expose" on Planned Parenthood, in which that organization had been forced to apologize to end the phony controversy, a fact which was also taken as an admission of guilt by the press.)Had they done that rather than fold under criticism by conservatives, they would known that all of this was done by acolytes of the Leadership Institute, run by the original dirty trickster, Morton Blackwell.

Instead, they promised to be more vigilant about following Fox News and talk radio's lead so they wouldn't miss out on these important "scoops" in the future. No wonder newspapers are dying.


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