NPR logo

ACORN Grapples With Fallout Of Damaging Videos

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
ACORN Grapples With Fallout Of Damaging Videos


ACORN Grapples With Fallout Of Damaging Videos

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We turn now to the community organization ACORN, which is not having a good week. The Senate voted to cut off federal housing grants to the group. Embarrassing videos of ACORN employees are all over cable news and the Internet. As the scandal emerged, the Census Bureau severed its ties with the group. And in Florida, ACORN workers were charged with falsifying voter registration forms.

For its part, the group said it's the target of a broad, right-wing attack.

NPR's Pam Fessler has the latest.

PAM FESSLER: If you watch cable TV at all this week, you've almost certainly seen the images again and again - a young man dressed as a pimp with a young woman posing as a prostitute. They are with ACORN workers who were supposed to be advising low-income people on taxes and home loans, but instead you hear this.

Unidentified Woman: All somebody needs to do is get wind that you've got a house and your girlfriend is over there running a house of women of the night. You will not have a career. You will be smeared and tarnished for life to come.

FESSLER: That's an ACORN employee in Washington, D.C., telling the couple how to buy a house without letting anyone know it's being used for prostitution.

But the man is really a conservative activist and filmmaker, James O'Keefe, with his colleague Hannah Giles. Their undercover videos have set off an avalanche of criticism against the liberal nonprofit, which has long been accused by conservatives of misusing federal funds and falsifying voter registration forms.

Here's Fox TV talk show host Glenn Beck, who's been leading the charge.

Mr. GLENN BECK (Talk Show Host, Fox): This is shocking. It raises serious questions about what is going on inside of ACORN. ACORN say - you watch - oh, just another rogue employee. We had nothing to do with her. Really? How many employees do you have like that?

FESSLER: Hopefully none anymore, says ACORN National CEO Bertha Lewis. She says all the employees involved have been fired.

Ms. BERTHA LEWIS (National CEO, ACORN); We were just as shocked, surprised as anyone. I will not tolerate that sort of behavior on my watch.

FESSLER: She says the group is reviewing its training procedures and will have an independent investigator look into what happened. But the videos have begun something that might be difficult to stop.

Senator MIKE JOHANNS (Republican, Nebraska): This is a group that quite honestly has found a comfort zone in operating outside the boundaries of the law.

FESSLER: That's Republican Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who along with other Republicans has asked the Justice Department to investigate ACORN. He also sponsored a Senate amendment barring the group from getting federal housing grants, and there's a similar move afoot in the House.

Sen. JOHANNS: I just don't believe taxpayers want their money to go to an organization like that.

FESSLER: And in Monday's vote, 82 other senators agreed, including a lot of Democrats. It's the first time such sweeping action has been taken against ACORN. To Bertha Lewis, though, it's all part of something bigger: a well-orchestrated, partisan campaign to destroy her organization.

Ms. LEWIS: This is like modern-day McCarthyism. Do you know ACORN? Do you associate with ACORN? Don't you think ACORN's bad? I mean, we've been doing good works for 40 years.

FESSLER: And Lewis thinks it's that work — pushing for a higher minimum wage, more affordable housing and the registration of low-income voters — that's made ACORN a prime target for the right wing in its battle with the Obama administration over a host of issues. And indeed, Republicans and conservatives have been going after ACORN with a vengeance for years. And more recently, they've been trying to link the group to President Obama. Here's Fox's Glenn Beck on Tuesday.

Mr. BECK: From top to bottom, it's just a corrupt organization, and they're surrounding the president of the United States. He's working with them, side-by-side.

FESSLER: Although there's no evidence that's in fact the case. Yesterday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the behavior of the ACORN workers on the videotapes was completely unacceptable, and that he assumes federal agencies constantly evaluate grants to make sure recipients are fulfilling the requirements.

ACORN has received millions over the years, but Bertha Lewis says federal funds make up only about 2 percent of the group's budget, and that ACORN plans to continue its work helping the poor, with or without government aid.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)


Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.