Why They Won't Cover the ACORN Story

Having just returned form the “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event in Washington, D.C., I was intrigued to check e-mail and discover this from a listener in West Texas:  “…the Statesman finally ran a piece about ACORN.”  She was referring to the Austin American-Statesman, which, up until this point had not run a single article about the ACORN scandals that are so hot in the New Media.

The Statesman is a liberal newspaper in the only liberal big city in Texas, but still… Nothing about ACORN?  And it’s not just one paper in Texas that’s ignoring this story; it’s most of the mainstream media, known on our radio show as the “Jurassic Press” for obvious reasons.  

On WLS in Chicago, one of the anchors of a Big Three network newscast, Charles Gibson of ABC, was being interviewed by Don Wade and Roma, the station’s morning talk team.  Don asks Gibson about the Senate bill cutting off funding to ACORN and about the undercover video of ACORN staffers giving tax advice to hookers on how to set up a brothel with 13-year-old hookers.  

“But nobody’s covering the story,” he says. “Why?”

Gibson laughs it off.  “I didn’t even know about it.  Um.  So you’ve got me at a loss.  But my goodness, if it’s got everything including sleaziness in it, we should talk about it this morning.”

To which Roma replies, “This is the American Way!”

Then Gibson comes back with this classic:  “Or maybe this is just one you leave to the cables.”

Yes, folks, the cables — and by that he meant Fox News, the same network that is part of what we just referred to as the New Media.  Charlie Gibson is the same anchor that looked down his nose at Sarah Palin.  The New Media, including talk radio, cable talk (Fox and Lou Dobbs) and various internet sites, is where big news is broken these days.  The Big Three networks are increasingly unable to recognize a big story when they trip over one.  

The question “what are they thinking?” has finally been answered, and with a tip of the hat to Fred Zipp, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, allow me to clue you in.

Zipp apparently watches more Fox News and listens to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh more than Charlie Gibson does.  While Gibson pleaded ignorance or incompetence — you choose — Zipp professes to know full well what’s going on with ACORN.  But to Zipp, it just wasn’t news.

In the newspaper’s blog, Zipp goes into major detail about why the Statesman has declined to cover ACORN news.  His explanation may serve as a template for other liberal-progressive members of the Jurassic Press who likewise make day-to-day decisions on what we’re allowed to read in their publications.  

In the blog, Zipp admits that the paper had been getting a steady stream of emails and calls about the lack of coverage of ACORN.  Finally, on Wednesday, September 15, the paper printed its first bit of coverage — a nice piece by Mike Ward.  In fact, Ward’s piece was comprehensive enough that it revealed certain connections to Texas — even to the bitter duel for the gubernatorial nomination between incumbent Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.  

This made the Statesman look bad, because Ward’s story was indeed a story.  

There’s an old saying that you should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  But these days, cyberspace is cheaper than ink, and that’s where Zipp shot back at his detractors:  “The ACORN story involves an apparent pattern of petty misbehavior elsewhere,” he wrote, “which makes it of scant interest to a newspaper in Austin.  To the extent it’s a story at all, it’s political in nature, with very little import in the wider world beyond the spin applied to it.”

Naturally, Mr. Zipp got in some digs at Fox News:  “….we along with every news organization I can see except Fox News, see no connection between videos purporting to catch ACORN employees in foolish behavior and President Barack Obama.”

This is something of a new standard.  Let’s see.  Under Zipp-rules, the Rod Blagojevich scandal should not have made papers outside of Illinois unless the whole thing could have been directly related to Barack Obama. Obama is the new standard!

Here’s the part I enjoyed most about Zipp’s “explanation”:  The story is only now beginning to catch fire among the news sources that we trust.”

Oh, so?  Do you think he means The New York Times?  The Times may have set the agenda for generations, but now, Glenn Beck is setting it.  Beck has a lousy airtime at 5 p.m. Eastern and he’s getting more than three million people to tune in.  Move him to prime time and who knows what his numbers would be?   Along with Beck, such names as Limbaugh, Hannity, Greta, Dobbs and Malkin are becoming the news sources that people trust.  

Speaking of Beck, he seems to be getting under the skin of some editors, including Fred Zipp:  “Glenn Beck, among others at Fox, is eager to drag newspapers into the skirmish. His viewers are eager to join the fray; just after he urged them to call their local newspaper…our phones erupted.”

Gosh, Fred, I’ll bet they did.  For some strange reason you can’t seem to fathom, readers of the Austin American-Statesman want to read the news — all of it.  I suspect that people who watch “ABC World News” with Charles Gibson are expecting to see a complete newscast — fair and balanced.  

Contrast all this with an editorial in the Dallas Morning News, a serious newspaper that is still a dependable source for balanced information.  In its September 17 editorial headlined “A Shameful Episode,” the paper writes: “ACORN’s initial response [to the latest controversies] was to scream racism, doctored videos and smear campaigns — while at the same time firing four workers.  This would seem to spit in the face of all legitimate claims of racism, doctored videos and smear campaigns…”

The Morning News sidebarred a little tidbit that also appeared in Mike Ward’s story in the Statesman.  It seems that ACORN has become an issue in the Texas governor’s race with Gov. Perry blasting Sen. Hutchison for skipping a vote on the issue to attend a fundraiser.  Hutchison fought back with a photo of Perry in 2005, surrounded by ACORN members as he signed a piece of legislation.  

Meanwhile, State Representative Debbie Riddle is investigating whether any state money from Texas is going to ACORN, and will ask state officials to determine how any such funding might be stopped.  U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio has called for FBI and Justice Department investigations into ACORN.

Apparently, none of this makes the story appropriate for a network newscast or a major daily newspaper in Austin, Texas.  By the way, I began this piece by mentioning “Hold Their Feet to the Fire,” an event in Washington that had 47 radio talk shows broadcasting from Capitol Hill about immigration policy.  The Jurassic Press ignored the whole thing.  It just doesn’t matter anymore.  The New media was out in force, and millions of Americans followed it as it happened.