ACORN and the Birth of Douchebag Journalism A pimp and his prostitute walk into an office building. It is the Baltimore office for ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now,) a nationwide, federally-funded, community organizing group. They say that they want to start an underage prostitution ring using girls from El Salvador in order to fund the pimp‟s future congressional campaign. To their credit, the advisors behind the desk are extremely helpful. They advise that the prostitute refer to herself as a “performing artist” on tax forms so she can write off clothing, condoms, and other tools of the trade. One ACORN employee suggests that they list a few of the girls as dependents in order to apply for child tax credits. Unfortunately for ACORN, the whole thing is being recorded on a hidden camera. This video is the first of a series of stings at various ACORN offices ranging from Baltimore, to Brooklyn to Washington DC, each potentially more damning that the last. An advisor at the Brooklyn office suggests that the couple hide their income in a tin can and bury it in the back yard. So, alleged support of illegal activity by an organization partially funded by taxpayer dollars. Here‟s the twist: it wasn‟t uncovered by the Washington Post. It was 25 year old law student James O‟Keefe and his 20 year old Facebook friend Hannah Giles. Both right wing activists, O‟Keefe and Giles spent six months and $1300 planning the ACORN sting. Pimp and prostitute costumes were pieced together from friends‟ wardrobe, save O‟Keefe‟s pimp jacket, which was on loan from his grandmother. Their goal, as described by O‟Keefe in a FOX News interview, was to get a “gotcha moment” out of the employees there. The videos were posted online before being aired by FOX News. The conservative media in the United States had been suspicious of this organization ever since the 2008 presidential campaign, when the Obama-backing ACORN was (falsely) accused of massive voter fraud. O‟Keefe and Giles‟ little stunt confirmed, in the eyes of the right- wing, long-held suspicions of wrongdoing, making them the new rock stars of a conservative media who now tout them as a young Woodward and Bernstein. Or maybe like a young O‟Reilly and Coulter. O‟Keefe can be seen regularly on right-wing television, sometimes wearing the very pimp costume he used to break the story. “I think journalism is dead. It‟s dead.” O‟Keefe said on FOX News, “this is the future of investigative journalism, and it‟s the future of political activism.” To their credit, the duo did what the mainstream media did not: expose a legitimate story of public concern within ACORN. But is this stunt; this deliberate sandbagging of a left- leaning organization for political reasons really the future of journalism as O‟Keefe suggests? Does award winning journalism involve a feathered cap and cane? No. Well, let‟s hope not. In a CNN interview, ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson described this approach to story-breaking as a “right-wing set up”, and “an attempt at „gotcha‟ journalism” that is more about “creating the news rather than reporting the news.” Though O‟Keefe and Giles‟ efforts resulted in the firing of those featured in the undercover videos, ACORN is threatening legal action against the pair. O‟Keefe‟s response: “Bring it on.” I struggled to place O‟Keefe and his methods into a category of journalism. An investigative model comes to mind, but these journalists don‟t seem to care about what ACORN actually does, or what public implications there may be. The „gotcha‟ method implied above almost fits the mould, though it would not account for the blatant partisanship and shameless self-promotion seen both in the videos themselves, and in the media coverage that resulted. No, an entirely new form of journalism has emerged out of these videos: something I am dubbing “douchebag journalism”. I think this moniker embodies these subjects and their work pretty accurately. The douchebag journalist acts independently, is driven by bias, and employs a slash-and-burn approach to storytelling. O‟Keefe has promised that these videos are only the beginning, and that several more ACORN employees in different locations will soon be on the chopping block. “Why go after ACORN?” Giles asked herself in a New York Post interview, “Because I love America”. Now isn‟t that a perfect answer from one of douchebag journalism‟s proud founders?
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