Isn't it obvious?
If you believe you're the object of a witch hunt, the first thing you do is stop hanging around with witches. You'd think that'd be common sense, but then, the paradox of common sense is, it's not all that common.
So Bill Clinton, though dogged by a perpetual investigation desperate for dirt, decided to go ahead and play slap and tickle with the hired help. And Larry Craig, though the object of rumors about his hidden sex life, didn't think twice about widening his stance in that men's room stall.
And ACORN, though accused of every act of malfeasance this side of the Manson murders, failed to divest itself of the sort of imbeciles who would give advice — on hidden camera, yet — on how a prostitute and pimp might hide their profits from the IRS.
You are surely familiar with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. It's a nonprofit group, founded in 1970, that advocates for a higher minimum wage and more money for urban schools and also offers free tax preparation, voter registration and mortgage counseling for the poor.
Or, it is one of the five families of the New York Mafia, a vast criminal enterprise specializing in voter fraud, prostitution, drug dealing, armed robbery, jaywalking, spitting on the sidewalk and taking more than ten items into the Ten Items or Less line.
Which one you believe depends on whether you get your news from Fox or from sane people.
This much is inarguable: Because a young lawyer named Barack Obama once represented it in a voter rights lawsuit, ACORN has proven a useful obsession for the president's political opponents. And ACORN has rewarded that obsession, providing the witch hunters a whole coven of witches.
This would include ongoing investigations of alleged voter fraud in Las Vegas and Miami, delinquent taxes, the embezzlement of nearly a million dollars by the organization's former chief financial officer, a decision by the leadership to hide that embezzlement from the rank and file and growing concern that the group may have used tax-deductible charitable contributions for partisan purposes, which is legally proscribed.
So if it's not the Manson Family, well, it ain't the Brady Bunch, either.
Now there's this hidden camera sting wherein two conservative activists, posing as pimp and prostitute, visited a number of ACORN offices seeking advice on how to hide their criminal income from the government. The only thing more ludicrous than the premise is the fact that ACORN staffers actually gave the requested advice without flinching, even when the "pimp" suggested his workforce might include children from El Salvador.
Faced with a loss of government funding, public outrage and a severing of ties by such partners as the IRS and Bank of America, ACORN has filed suit against the two activists, contending that the videos constitute illegal wiretapping.
This, I believe, is called killing the messenger.
Meaning that whatever legal merit the lawsuit has or does not have, it could hardly be more wrongheaded as a response to the burgeoning controversy. It suggests that even at this juncture, ACORN simply doesn't get it.
The issue here isn't a hidden camera sting. Rather, it is ACORN itself. If it is not the cabal of thugs some of its critics contend, it is an organization whose sloppiness and unreadiness for prime time become more manifest each passing day.
The ascension of its one-time lawyer has propelled ACORN irrevocably into the national spotlight, where its performance has been stunningly inept. If it wishes to survive the experience with its mission or its remaining credibility intact, it will accept some friendly advice:
Get "ept" quick.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.