Weeks out from election day, Fox News has begun devoting extensive coverage to a scandal alleging "deep ties" between Barack Obama and a "radical" group of election thieves. The segments have aired repeatedly on the network's morning show as well as on prime time programs like Hannity & Colmes.
On Friday morning, capping of a full week of coverage on the topic, the hosts of Fox & Friends introduced a segment on Obama and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) by saying:
"The community group ACORN under scrutiny for potential voter fraud issues and Barack Obama's long-term relationship with the radical group also coming more to light. But is the mainstream media keeping both under wraps?" [...]
"Briefly, we have been talking about ACORN, [which] has got a long and storied past involving voter fraud across the country... What is Barack Obama's connection to ACORN?"
The ball was then passed to Seton Motley from the conservative Media Research Center, who charged "three stages of connection" between Obama and ACORN. "He was a lawyer for the organization. He then served his years as a trainer of activists for the organization. And when he was named Chairman of the Board by terrorist William Ayers to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, they funneled money to, amongst many other places, ACORN. So there is three stages of relationship with them."
Hours after the segment aired, the Republican National Committee emailed out the segment and YouTube video to its list of reporters (its 18th email in two months referencing Obama and ACORN).
The Obama campaign already has an entry about the ACORN issue on its "Fight the Smears" website. Broadly, the campaign admits that Obama represented a coalition of groups that sued Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar in order to get him to implement the federal "Motor-Voter" voting access law. However, far from a "radical" collective, even the U.S. Department of Justice joined the raft of groups Obama helped represent in Illinois, and their collective challenge was successful.
So Obama aides say he wasn't "representing" ACORN individually, but as part of a larger coalition. And as ties go, this one isn't particularly deep or damning. It also happens to be the only alleged tie raised on Fox this week that is incontestably true.
As for the other two charges of ACORN ties, an Obama aide calls them complete fictions. "The Republican National Committee is using smoke and mirrors in an attempt to distract from John McCain's more of the same plans in a change election," said spokesman Ben LaBolt. "The fact is, Barack Obama was never an employee of ACORN, he never served as an ACORN organizer or an ACORN trainer. As an attorney, he successfully challenged Governor Edgar to enforce the federal Motor Voter law, making sure voting was as accessible for Illinois residents as the law required. With contorted logic, you can create a tenuous chain of links to connect anybody to anything. Just ask Kevin Bacon."
Seton Motley, reached at his Media Research Center office Friday afternoon, abruptly refused to engage in depth with the Obama camp's response to his Fox & Friends segment (after first saying "I'm all ears").
Asked whether he would similarly condemn the Justice Department for joining ACORN in the suit against Illinois, he said, "well, yes I would, but that's not the issue." Before the Obama spokesman's other charges could be detailed, Motley put the brakes on the conversation. "The name of our group is Media Research Center," he said, noting that the only purpose of his effort on Fox was to draw attention to a lack of stories on the matter. "I'm not going to be able to respond to challenges from the Obama campaign."
Instead, Motley recommended that any interested person check out Stanley Kurtz's long article from May in the National Review -- headlined "Inside Obama's Acorn."
But while Kurtz's piece is stuffed with innuendo and plausible-sounding arguments that ACORN and Obama share some broad political objectives, it notably does not prove that Obama ever worked for the group, helped them organize, knew about any instances of voter fraud, or condoned their controversial demonstration tactics.
In fact, the article sometimes suggests the opposite. "Does that mean Obama himself schooled Acorn volunteers in disruptive 'direct action?' Not necessarily," Kurtz judges. Pretty spicy stuff. Elsewhere, when trying to compare Obama's community organizing work to that of ACORN, Kurtz can only manage a weak equivalence: "Part of Obama's work, it would appear, was to organize demonstrations, much in the mold of radical groups like Acorn."
And though Kurtz marshals a lot of material about friends of Obama who are or were active in the group, he never provides any evidence that Obama "worked" or "organized" for them -- the key charges being repeated so often on Fox News this week.
However, it's likely that the strategy behind the smear is not to prove the charges alleged, but rather to have an excuse to mention key phrases like "community organizing," and "Bill Ayers." Judged by that standard, the ACORN attack is indeed a smash of a smear.