Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Acorn Shows Common Phases of Denial

When several offices of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) were stung by hidden cameras of James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles seeking tax and housing help to run a prostitution ring including bringing underage prostitutes from El Salvador, the response of Acorn illustrates common phases of denial.

They missed the first, which is the limited hang-out of dirty laundry. It works especially well for politicians, but it can work for non-profit organizations, too. It acknowledges liabilities, coming forward with a partial list. It inoculates against charges about what is hung out. It could have been used when O’Keefe and Giles stung the Baltimore office. Acorn could have inoculated themselves against further damaging stings. That Acorn chose not to hang-out when they could have done so is an error in keeping what might have been a one-day story alive for weeks.

Next is “we did not do it.” Because the evidence was just too large in this case, this phase was not possible. The third phase is “we did not do it and the people who say otherwise are scoundrels.” Acorn seized on this phase, blaming O’Keefe, Giles and the vast right-wing conspiracy of Fox and talk radio. Acorn surrogates say that O’Keefe and Giles are doing the bidding of racists who hate President Barack Obama. Acorn has lurched from this to the fourth phase: “we did it, but it is not what you think.”

Acorn CEO Bertha Lewis has said the tapes were “indefensible actions of a handful of employees” and warranted an independent review of the group’s procedures. “We have all been deeply disturbed by what we’ve seen in some of these videos. I must say, on behalf of ACORN’s Board and our Advisory Council, that we will go to whatever lengths necessary to reestablish the public trust. For nearly forty years, ACORN has given voice to communities, and gotten results. Right now, our nearly 500,000 member are working their hearts out for quality, affordable healthcare for every American and to help stop the foreclosure crisis. We must get this process right, so the good work can go forward.”

Implicit in this statement is the first phase, too, limited hangout. It is too late for that; it is like slamming the barn door after the cows have already fled.

The fifth phase is real reform: “We did it and it will not happen again.” It is deeds, not mere words. The U.S. Government is helping them to get to this phase. The U.S. Senate voted 83 to 7 to prohibit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from giving taxpayer funds to Acorn. The U.S. Census Bureau has dropped Acorn from partnership in the 2010 census.

One should not be surprised if the Acorn board of directors jettisons Lewis in a symbolic move to save the organization and she becomes some sort of czarina in the Obama Administration.

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