“The Unmooring of Politics from Facts” – Maddow on ACORN Tapes, ‘Climategate’ Report

Two of the most notorious right-wing memes of the past year were exposed for their complete lack of credibility last week.  Indeed, it turns out that two of the talking point bonanzas employed by conservative activists, pundits, on up to the GOP leadership were either, severely misrepresenting the facts, or entirely contrived.  

First, an investigation into circumstances surrounding the “Climategate” scandal didn’t reveal what climate science skeptics had hoped.   British lawmakers released their findings March 31:

The 14-member parliamentary committee said in its report it had found nothing to challenge the “scientific consensus” that global warming is occurring and influenced by human activity. It also declared that the scientific reputation of Phil Jones, the head of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), remains “intact.”

The second debunking came from California’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown Jr.  He had been investigating ACORN’s California operations at Governor Schwarzenegger’s behest following Sept. 2009 release of James O’Keefe’s notorious “pimp” videos:

Evidence obtained by Brown tells a somewhat different story, however, as reflected in three videotapes made at ACORN locations in California. One ACORN worker in San Diego called the cops. Another ACORN worker in San Bernardino caught on to the scheme and played along with it, claiming among other things that she had murdered her abusive husband. Her two former husbands are alive and well, the Attorney General’s report noted. At the beginning and end of the Internet videos, O’Keefe was dressed as a 1970s Superfly pimp, but in his actual taped sessions with ACORN workers, he was dressed in a shirt and tie, presented himself as a law student, and said he planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress. He never claimed he was a pimp.

“The evidence illustrates,” Brown said, “that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.”

It’s worth noting that critics of ACORN and CRU will find a number of items within the above mentioned reports to support their arguments.  The California AG report, for example, “uncovered ‘likely violations’ of state law, including dumping 500 pages of confidential records into a dumpster…”  CRU was chastised within the parliamentary committee report “for what they said was a culture of withholding information…”  Finding these examples insufficient for provoking outrage, O’Keefe and his patrons, as well as the CRU hackers, invented the controversies which would have the desired, scandalous, effect.

Rachel Maddow nailed it during her April 2 broadcast:  “What we are dealing with here is the unmooring of politics from facts.”

The activists pushing the ACORN scandal knew it was fake. After all, they faked it. But it made a political impact anyway, so they win, right?

The climate-gate scandal, not an actual challenge to the homogenous consensus of decades of climate science but it could have a political impact, so go for it. It might work.

If the triumph of fake politics or advantage gleaned from stuff that’s not real – and who cares if it’s not real or if it has a political impact?

Maddow follows this with an exhaustive list of similar conservative memes, past and present, all of them divorced from reality, and often peripheral to the political issues which they’re intended to impact.

Here’s the clip.  More after the jump:

What’s most tragic about the fraudulent claims against ACORN and CRU is that they were wildly successful.  Perhaps it’s an indicator that ACORN didn’t possess a fraction of the influence critics credited them, but ACORN is no more.  And thanks to just a handful of misrepresented documents, global warming deniers feel fully justified sticking their heads a little deeper in the sand.  

While it’s satisfying for me to read and disseminate reports illustrating the false nature of such claims, I find it disheartening that the truth, particularly as it applies to ACORN, has come too late.

But, is it too late for the rest of us?  Returning to the April 2 Maddow segment, she concluded by making a larger statement about the nature of dissent and its necessity in American politics:

Dissent is not the aberration in a democracy. Dissent is the norm. Our political vitality depends on dissent. No one expects that the president is going to have the whole country agree with his options and his priorities.

Nobody expects Americans to share the same political opinions.

But has there ever been a time when we shared so few political facts? Let’s argue. Let’s have the great American debate about the role of government and the best policies for the country. It’s fun. It’s citizenship. It’s activism. It makes the country better when we have those debates. And your country needs you. It needs all of us.

But two things disqualify you from this process: You can’t threaten to shoot people and you have to stop making stuff up.

Admittedly, I’m a fan, but I find her assessment to be an incredibly rational prescription, applicable to all regardless of ideological affiliation.  Yet, the question remains:  When propaganda masquerades as news, and more importantly, when it’s as successful as O’Keefe’s ACORN hatchet-job, how can we expect any rational debate to take place?


  • Watch Maddow’s April 6 follow up to the above segment.  Maddow displays the most controversial of the ACORN tapes, comparing them with the unedited footage made available by the California AG.  It’s a must see, particularly for regular consumers of Fox News Channel.
  • Brad Friedman has been demanding corrections from the NYTimes and other publications which fell for O’Keefe’s pimp act.  Check out his latest at BradBlog.com.

Editorial Cartoon, courtesy of AlexRaffi.com


Vivian E.
Vivian E.7 years ago

Its hard to argue with the video against acorn.
We all know it was planned entrapment. Doesn't
change that acorn people fell into the trap.
Sorry, Maddow is wrong and really is lacking in ethics.

Judith H.

Carl Rove tactics are all over the place. That guy has hurt politics so badly, and I blame him because of the involvement he had with Bush during the war, and his attitude that all is fair in war and politics. The conservative right is ruining this country, and their little tea party idiots are just puppets for corporations, especially the insurance industry at this time. ACORN should sue. They were instrumental in getting low income and poor districts registered to vote, something that Bush and his cronies tried to stop during his second election. Just too much corruption which makes me worry about what kind of country my grandchildren will be living in. Carl Rove should be prosecuted for his part in the War in Iraq, and locked up.
For all anyone knows maybe there are several people named Elmer Fudd. I used to know a man named Harry Ball.

Lynn U.
Lynn U7 years ago

Nobody says it better than Rachel. She puts the facts out there in a calm and rational way. No theatrics, no disdain. I wish every channel had commentators like her.

David Steele
David Steele7 years ago

I wonder if there is any way that Acorn could sue the pants off of these lyers. There has to be an public accounting and setting of the truth here. It is time that these distrortion the truth for polical grain come to an stop. The news media and reporting agcencies must be held accountable for what they report and a correction of lies made. Congress should act in a good way and somehow have an hearing on what happened to Acorn and restore it's good name. If we are to be a free people, the lying must stop, now. The good moral health of our nation depends upon it. Fox news and other media must be made to report truth and not shup to the mud.

Bruce D.
Bruce C D7 years ago

Sheila L-
Once again, you show your partisan bias and disdain for or misunderstanding of the facts. It's both sad and ironic, since this is basically what this article and Maddow's segment directly references, something you apparently failed to comprehend also.

ACORN does much good in getting people to vote. The more people taking part in our democracy, the better for everyone. ACORN's biggest problem is that they strive to get minorities and the poor to vote, and because those voters trend towards voting Democratic, they get unfairly attacked by conservatives.

As was pointed out already, ACORN didn't commit voter fraud. ACORN also screens out invalid voter registrations, alerting election officials.

Linda M.
Linda M7 years ago

everyone, please sign and share:


thanks so much

Donna Vandunk
Donna Vandunk7 years ago

Rachel is right on SOOO many levels- thanks for the article!

Abo Ahmed r.
Abo r7 years ago

Noted thanks

Sue D.
Susan L7 years ago

Joseph A. Huh???? Please try to think before you ramble a comment - not much of anything you said makes sense, in fact, I don't think it's clear at all what you are getting at.
Wowsux- every comment I have ever seen you post is derogatory, rude and uninformed. You have been in a dark hole too long and are not interested in any kind of facts. Yes, it is true (as you said) "Desperation is sooooooo unattractive...."

Ronald N.
Ronald N7 years ago

I enjoyed Rachel Maddow's "Let Them Eat Fake". It is a true perspective of a person who has been able to melt through the facade of the right wing and deliver to us how these extremists work in altering truth. I like'n them to a pack of wolves. Not to pick on wolves. These extremists are more liable to kill wolves.