In Maryland, Holding Anti-ACORN Activists Accountable

Posted by John Atlas on December 13, 2010

A group of activists are fighting back against the Glenn Becks, Andrew Breitbarts, and the rest of the Fox News propaganda machine who have worked tirelessly to spread lies about ACORN. Last week a new watchdog group, www.IndictBreitbart.org, launched a campaign to encourage Baltimore’s new State’s Attorney to prosecute Breitbart, James O’Keefe, and Hannah Giles for violating a Maryland law that prohibits surreptitious recordings and disclosure of those recordings.

If the group is successful, it will be a step toward stopping the conservative media’s modus operandi of using lies, half-truths, and video deception to attack everyone from George Soros to ACORN, from unions to civic organizations and their innocent members. It might also help discourage the mainstream media from repeating their false accusations, as they did in the case of ACORN.

IndictBreitbart claims that when O’Keefe and Giles secretly recorded Maryland ACORN’s employees after entering their office, during the summer of 2009, and then publishing their highly edited videotapes online at Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com in order to harm ACORN, they broke Maryland’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act. The tapes helped to destroy ACORN, which at the time was the largest and arguably the most successful anti-poverty group in the country.

ACORN, which had registered millions of poor, minority, and young voters, had been under siege by the Republican Party and Fox News, which falsely accused the group of widespread voter registration fraud. After several misleading and doctored videos recorded by O’Keefe were released on Breitbart’s Web site, and played round the clock by Fox News, and then reported in The New York Times, CNN and other media outlets, the tapes caused such a sensation that a decades-old campaign by conservatives to destroy ACORN finally succeeded. The campaign led by conservative Republican and their business allies, who opposed ACORN’s fight to increase worker’s wages, forced the group into bankruptcy. ACORN closed its doors on November 2, 2010.

According to IndictBreitbart group spokesperson and attorney Kevin Zeese, the campaign is a grass-roots effort to let law enforcement officials in Maryland know that ordinary citizens want Breitbart, O’Keefe, and Giles held accountable for violating Maryland’s law. If convicted, the three could face a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine. IndictBreitbart organizers include Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America, and Mark Crispin Miller, a Professor of Culture and Communication at NYU.

ACTION

They are asking citizens to sign a letter to state’s attorney Gregg Bernstein, which will be hand delivered the week he is sworn in January 2011. Bernstein, 55, defeated the city’s longtime prosecutor, Patricia C. Jessamy, to win the Democratic nomination by a margin of just under 1,200 votes and ran unopposed in the general election.

Since the Maryland ACORN taping, O’Keefe has been arrested and convicted of entering federal property under false pretenses when he attempted to embarrass Senator Mary Landrieu because of her support for the health care legislation. He is also under investigation for attempting to lure a female CNN reporter on to a boat in Maryland to seduce and embarrass her.

In addition to helping bring down ACORN, Breitbart became famous for posting an edited recording of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, which led the Obama administration to fire her and then offered to rehire her when the tape turned out to be doctored.

Last month, O’Keefe released a set of YouTube videos titled Teachers Union Gone Wild featuring various New Jersey teachers giving their opinions about Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, using crude language, and criticizing the state’s teachers unions.

One of the teachers heard on the video, Alissa Ploshnick, known for her teaching skills and commitment to her students, was secretly recorded saying she saw another teacher refer to a student using the n-word, that the teacher was demoted, but was allowed to continue to teach.

Following the release of the video, she was suspended for seven days and denied a pay raise for being recorded using the n-word. Ploshnick, whose strong interpersonal skills and dedication made her especially adept at helping youngsters overcome dyslexia, had to hire an attorney to resurrect her reputation, which she felt was recklessly damaged by the conservative activist O’Keefe.

In each of these incidents, the mainstream media quickly published the false accusations by the conservative activists resulting in harm to those they attacked. The organizers of the IndictBreitbart campaign believe that the enforcement of Maryland’s law will help prevent secret taping and the smearing of innocent groups and citizens who can easily fall prey to the antics of smear artists parading as journalists.

This new campaign will face an uphill battle since state’s attorney Bernstein promised that his top priority would be on boosting the conviction rate for those charged with murder and other violent crimes. But by going after some of the worst right-wing media deceivers, just the threat may help. And according to the new group, over 2,000 people have already signed the letter to Bernstein since the launch of this campaign.

To learn more, go to www.IndictBreitbart.org.

About the author more »

John Atlas is president and one of the founders of NHI. Atlas is the author of Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group (Vanderbilt University Press, 2010), a story about one group’s efforts to reduce inequality. Atlas lives in Montclair, NJ, and is working on an upcoming theatrical documentary funded by the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and PBS.

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