Monday, September 21, 2009
There's been a lot of hubbub in the news lately about Acorn, an organization that helps poor people pursue social justice through voting and other means. It's got me thinking about what constitutes news.
An undercover filmmaker with right-wing connections and a partner recently visited Acorn offices in numerous cities while posing as a prostitute and her pimp. They asked Acorn staffers how to set up a prostitution business, in at least one case involving underage girls. In some cases, the Acorn folks blithely gave advice; in others, they turned the pair away.
Many conservatives have hated Acorn since at least last summer, when they accused the organization of shenanigans involving voter registration. (Indeed there were some shenanigans, so the suspicion is not entirely misplaced.) Acorn voters, after all, are largely minority and largely poor, and stand to vote heavily Democratic.
The story of the filmmakers has been trumpeted primarily by right-wing TV and radio talk show hosts. Most of the mainstream press, though, has been slow to grab onto the story.
Why is that?
Well, depends on who you ask. The Right will say it's because the "liberal media" is trying to cover something up.
Some mainstream editors, on the other hand, have said it's just not much of a story. Here are my personal hunches about why that might be true, based on nothing but my own intuition.
First of all, the filmmaker and his partner were undercover. While some TV journalism is conducted that way, it's generally accepted - especially in print circles -- that reporters should identify themselves as such and get their story without hiding behind fakery.
Secondly, these "journalists" clearly had an agenda. This was not journalism in pursuit of truth; it was journalism in pursuit of ideology. The right-wing media can operate from that point of view pretty comfortably, but the mainstream will be squeamish about a story so clearly driven by partisan goals.
But most of all, the behavior of the Acorn employees seems indicative of nothing more than badly trained (or perhaps arduously open-minded) individuals working in a few Acorn offices. It's faulty reasoning to assume that Acorn or most of its employees support the actions of the "prostitute" -- indeed, the employees who appeared supportive were ultimately fired by the organization.
So where's the news here? Is it news that some workers at a non-profit give bad advice? Not so much.
Perhaps the real story is that some of these Acorn workers have had rough lives, and may not view prostitution through the same lens as the middle-class white guys who host talk radio. The conservatives may be quick to judge -- and, indeed, to scoff at my moral relativism -- but the Acorn folks did not judge their clients. Maybe there's even something commendable in that.
(Photo: SoHo, Sept. 2009)