The War on ACORN

The political and media war against ACORN continues. In an article published today on the Web site of Editor & Publisher, the well-known magazine about journalism and for journalists, Chris Martin and I ask, “Have the Media Falsely Framed ACORN?”

In this article, Chris and I summarize our September report,
Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why ACORN was in the News and What the News Got Wrong, which carefully analyzed media coverage of ACORN during 2007 and 2008, especially during last year’s presidential election.

Our Editor & Publisher article also brings this story up to date, with the most recent attacks on ACORN by the right-wing echo chamber, and the news coverage of the so-called “video” scandal by the mainstream media. We also examine the repurcussions for ACORN’s political and foundation support and its very survival.

The misleading stories planted during the election season yielded a bountiful crop of misinformation. Now, in November 2009, a national poll reveals shocking public misperceptions about ACORN: more than half of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of ACORN, and 52 percent of Republicans, 18 percent of independents, and 9 percent of Democrats think ACORN stole the election for Obama.

How is it that after laboring in relative obscurity as a community organizing group for almost 40 years, ACORN was so falsely framed in news stories that many Americans believed the absurd and alarming notion that it stole a presidential election? The answer is a tale of not only how the Republican Party and conservative news media framed ACORN, but also how most mainstream journalism organizations were negligent by repeating rather than fact-checking the spurious allegations.

The attacks on ACORN continue. ACORN’s staff and volunteer leaders are trying desperately to respond, but they lack the resources to do so effectively. The biggest victims of these attacks are the nation’s low-income families for whom ACORN has been an effective voice in addressing the nation’s economic, social, and political injustices.

If you want to learn more about ACORN, John Atlas’ book on its history, Seeds of Hope, will be published early next year by Vanderbilt University Press. Robert Fisher’s edited book, The People Shall Rule: ACORN, Community Organizing, and the Struggle for Economic Justice, was published a few months ago, also by Vanderbilt University Press. Fisher, a professor of social work at the University of Connecticut, is the author of Let the People Decide, the best one-volume history of community organizing in the U.S. His new book about ACORN, The People Shall Rule, is an important source of information to put the current debate and criticisms surrounding ACORN in a broader context. Chapters examine ACORN’s campaigns around living wages, voter registration, and predatory lending, as well as other issues, and look at ACORN in terms of the evolution of community organizing and of the broader progressive movement.

For more information, see the Vanderbilt University Press Web page

Peter Dreier is professor of politics at Occidental College and has contributed to Shelterforce since the 1970s. He served for many years on the board of the National Housing Institute and was a founder of the Massachusetts Tenants Organization in the 1980s and has worked with housing activist groups since then.


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