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How rogue conservative filmmakers took down ACORN

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

For the longest time, conservatives were content to sit around and kvetch about the state of the culture, complaining about the ascendancy of Michael Moore and the double standards of the mainstream media when it came to documenting the foibles of the political parties.

With this week's bombshell release of a series of videos implicating employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - ACORN, for short - in a willingness to engage in criminal activities, it has become apparent that those on the right are learning to play the game just as fiercely - and effectively - as their counterparts on the left.

James O'Keefe is the brains behind VeritasVisuals.com, described as a "collection of satirical short films on newsworthy topics." He and his partner in crime, Hannah Giles, came up with a plan that transcended satire and exposed the seamy underbelly of the community-organizing racket: What would happen if the two of them - Mr. O'Keefe pretending to be a pimp, Miss Giles pretending to be a prostitute - went to various ACORN offices with obviously illegal and morally repugnant requests? Would they find willing accomplices there to help them circumvent the law?

You bet they would.

In video after shocking video, Mr. O'Keefe and Miss Giles hopscotched across America, persuading ACORN employees to aid them in their scheme to import underage girls into the country with the intent of turning them into prostitutes and funneling the profits into a political campaign. They found employees in Baltimore, Washington, New York and San Bernardino, Calif., who jumped at the chance to help make their dream reality.

Outrage was immediate and almost unanimous. ACORN higher-ups fired several of the workers on the assumption that the first video was a one-off occurrence; once they realized the full extent of their problem, they went into damage-control mode, claiming the tapes had been made illegally.

The Census Bureau severed all ties with the outfit; the Senate voted 83-7 to cut off federal funding for the group; the House of Representatives moved toward taking the same step. As outrage grew and pressure on the group mounted, ACORN caved: On Wednesday, it announced it was suspending operations and implementing new training procedures for its employees.

The videos were stunning pieces of citizen journalism: effective, simple and elegant.

Add to that list: almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media.

With the exception of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and this newspaper, the media elites almost entirely ignored the story. The New York Times didn't publish its first staff-written story until Wednesday, almost a week after the initial video was posted on the Internet. The Washington Post was just as negligent.

The silence was somewhat shocking: ACORN, after all, had been tied to President Obama, and it was starting to gain real influence in the federal government. There already had been calls for a federal investigation into allegations of voter fraud by the group during the last election.

Certainly this was a story worth reporting, right?

Nothing.

No matter. Mr. O'Keefe and Miss Giles are just the latest in a line of self-starting filmmakers who have taken advice offered by none other than Mr. Moore. When a young, libertarian filmmaker named Evan Coyne Maloney stopped the director of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the upcoming "Capitalism: A Love Story" on the street and asked him how to break into movies, Mr. Moore responded: "Make your movies, and the people will respond or not respond to them."

Mr. Maloney went into action, making the movie "Indoctrinate U," a blistering look at the problems he perceived on America's college campuses.

Or consider Jake Rademacher. Aggravated by the media coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and curious to learn more about his brothers' motivation for joining the military, Mr. Rademacher made "Brothers at War," the single best documentary about the fighting men and women who constitute the post-Sept. 11 military.

Then there's Stuart Browning, who realized that the next great public battle was going to be over public health care; he put together a series of videos called "Free Market Cure" and put them on YouTube and at his own site in order to counter the distortions he saw emanating unchallenged from his opponents. His "Uninsured in America" does more to refute the mythical "45 million people in America are uninsured" claim than any magazine article possibly could.

The democratization of film production - the relative affordability of new equipment and editing software - enabled these filmmakers to burst onto the scene without the backing of major studios or journalistic outlets.

Sure, these artists all had help in their struggle: Mr. Maloney and Mr. Browning both received technical support through the Moving Picture Institute, while Mr. Rademacher found allies in Jon Voight and Gary Sinise, both staunch allies of the U.S. military. And Mr. O'Keefe has certainly received a publicity boost through his appearances on the Glenn Beck show and on Andrew Breitbart's new blog, Big Government.

But their ideas and their drive to see their vision realized are what motivated them and inspired them to impact the debate. These men are the vanguard of a new front in the battle of ideas: They have realized that the time for whining is over; the time for doing has arrived.