MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The community organizing group ACORN is under attack after hidden camera videos showed ACORN employees giving advice on falsifying taxes and buying a home. The recipients of that advice were conservative activists posing as a pimp and a prostitute. The Senate voted yesterday to block ACORN from getting any Housing and Urban Development grants. And Republican leaders in Congress are calling for an investigation.
The Census Bureau severed ties with ACORN for all work related to the 2010 census. For its part, ACORN dismissed what it calls a concerted political attack, and it says it plans to sue the activists who made the videos, the Web site that posted them and FOX News, which aired clips.
NPR's Pam Fessler is covering the story. She joins us now. Hey, Pam.
PAM FESSLER: Hi, Melissa.
BLOCK: And these videos show the couple, posing again as a pimp and a prostitute, going into three ACORN offices, one in Brooklyn, one in Baltimore, another in Washington. What happened?
FESSLER: Well, actually, they're really pretty amazing, mostly for their bluntness. This man and woman are - make no secret about the fact that they are allegedly a prostitute and a pimp. And they're trying to get advice on how to get loans, which is something that ACORN usually advises low-income people to do. And they're very up front. And the ACORN workers on the video appear to be advising them on how to conceal their occupation and what to put in their tax returns.
And at one point, one of the women says, well, you don't want to put - not the lady-of-the-night thing, but create a name of a little company. You're not saying it is what she does, you're just saying you just provide a service.
BLOCK: I think she tells them, say you're a marketer, say you're a consultant...
FESSLER: Right, right. So, they're not making - they're not saying, well, look, we can't do this.
BLOCK: At one point, in the Baltimore office, the man who's posing as a pimp also says they want to bring in 13 girls from El Salvador to live in the house, all of them under the age of 15. And the ACORN worker gives them some advice. Let's listen.
Unidentified Woman #1: And you're taking care of them.
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #1: So, you can use them as a dependent.
Unidentified Man #1: What if they're making money because they're performing tricks, too?
Unidentified Woman #1: If they're making money and they're underage, you shouldn't be letting nobody know anyway.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: You shouldn't be letting anybody know anyway. These videos, Pam, were posted on the Web site biggovernment.com, which is a new Web site, started by a conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart, an editor - former editor for the Drudge Report. What can you tell us about the two activists we see on the videos themselves?
FESSLER: Well, we know, it is that O'Keefe is a activist filmmaker and we don't know too much about him, but he has clearly made it a point to try and go around and expose some of the failings in the ACORN operations and has clearly hit a nerve with these videos, which have been repeatedly played now on many talk shows, cable shows and on the Internet.
BLOCK: This is James O'Keefe. For ACORN's part, it says it's fired the employees involved. Are these bad apples? How else are they defending themselves here?
FESSLER: They're certainly saying that there are a few bad apples. I spoke with Bertha Lewis, who's the chief organizer of ACORN. She said that these employees have been fired. They do not - the organization does not condone what they did at all, although the organization at the same time is saying that they believe that some of the videos were doctored and that things were not as bad as they were presented in the video.
Still, they say that the employees were wrong. They also are going over their processes to make sure that other employees know exactly what they should and should not say. This is very much a community organization. It works a lot in poor communities around the country, deals - also has a lot of volunteers. And they've had problems with this kind of thing before, where they just don't have very well-trained people, in a lot of cases.
Bertha Lewis also said that O'Keefe also did the same thing in several other offices around the country - ACORN offices. And they were turned away by their employees. And in one case in Philadelphia, the ACORN employees called the police.
BLOCK: Of course, those videos are not posted on the Web site. ACORN has been dealing before with charges that workers widely submitted false voter registration forms during the 2008 election, Pam.
FESSLER: And ACORN will say that they, again, turned the employees in who have problems, and they consider this part of a larger effort to discredit them by the conservatives and right wings because they deal with traditionally Democratic voters.
BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks very much.
FESSLER: Thank you.