September 27, 2009

DO WE THINK IT'S THE SOURCE OF THE STORY OR THE SUBJECT?:

Tuning In Too Late (CLARK HOYT, 9/27/09, NY Times)

ON Sept. 12, an Associated Press article inside The Times reported that the Census Bureau had severed its ties to Acorn, the community organizing group. Robert Groves, the census director, was quoted as saying that Acorn, one of thousands of unpaid organizations promoting the 2010 census, had become “a distraction.”

What the article didn’t say — but what followers of Fox News and conservative commentators already knew — was that a video sting had caught Acorn workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes. The young woman in streetwalker’s clothes and her companion were actually undercover conservative activists with a hidden camera.

It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior. An Acorn worker in Baltimore was shown telling the “prostitute” that she could describe herself to tax authorities as an “independent artist” and claim 15-year-old prostitutes, supposedly illegal immigrants, as dependents.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 27, 2009 7:16 AM
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