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O'Reilly's ACORN Interview: Was He A Wuss For Real Or Just Playing One On Television?

Reported by Ellen - May 30, 2009 -

Guest blogged by Julie

All these weeks of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly scaring people silly with the thought of ACORN raiding the piggybank, maybe cruising neighborhoods in vans for new recruits... Where, Bill, were your accusations of Hare Krishna-like behavior and Moonie style cult recruitment? Where was your righteous anger over ACORN pulling poor people off the street, exploiting them, paying them for vote-getting and firing them when they didn't perform? Where were the implications that the Attorney General should be looking into ACORN's operation, or, as O'Reilly stated on the Factor on May 20th, “Obviously ACORN employees are not talking – but they should be talking, to the FBI”? Where, by God, was the accusation that ACORN was committing the “biggest financial political con in history,” which you alleged on the Factor Talking Points Memo on May 20th? Please don't tell me that you think those two very pleasant, well-spoken African American women from ACORN were strapped with nines, and that made you afraid. Or did you figure you'd look bad playing the attack dog against those ladies, one of whom was blind, so you decided to play the charming host, thereby conveniently preventing your guests from rebutting most of the McCarthy-ite accusations you've made in the past, and then, at the very end, when you knew there would not be a chance for much discussion, demanded "yes or no" would they open their books to you? Of course they won't. Who would? With video.

“How is ACORN using the millions of dollars it is getting,” was O'Reilly's battle cry Thursday night, May 28, 2009. Sounded really good when he screamed it out like that – too bad he didn't spend much time actually trying to find out from his guests.

“Tens of millions of dollars – much of it tax money – going to the community activist group, ACORN . . . big corporate money is being donated to ACORN as well . . . Bank of America has given $3 million since 2005, JP Morgan $5 million since '98, and Citigroup gave $5,000 to the Baltimore Chapter of ACORN . . . all three of those banks are getting TARP money . . . .”

O'Reilly welcomed Bertha Lewis, CEO and Chief Organizer of ACORN, and Reverend Gloria Swierenga, Maryland ACORN Chairwoman.

“Ms. Lewis,” O'Reilly began peacefully, “As you know, we found out that millions of dollars in ACORN donations are being sent out to 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans, an old funeral home, we went down there, and nobody would tell us very much. So the money goes in there, and then what happens to it?”

Lewis responded, calmly but firmly, and maybe a little amused, “ . . . Let me just set the record straight . . . It's an old address. It used to be our original headquarters, an old converted funeral home , , , and for many years . . . we operated out of there . . . that was where our main headquarters was. And so it isn't like a, a sucking machine where money goes in . . . It was our corporate office.”

“Not only you,” O'Reilly continued in an even tone, “But about 260 other organizations that are tied in somewhat to you philosophically, some financially . . . When the money comes in, it goes to a group called Citizens Consulting, Inc. . . . I can't see their books . . . tens of millions of dollars, some of it my money, Ms. Lewis . . . You have gotten that money through various government programs . . . So where does the money go? Why can't I see how ACORN spends the tens of millions of dollars it gets?” O'Reilly didn't ask, and Lewis didn't mention, that much of the government funding goes to ACORN Housing Corporation, a separate and distinct arm of ACORN that helps first-time home buyers and offers successful foreclosure prevention counseling. In fact, according to Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, ACORN got $13 million from the Bush Administration. ACORN Housing is one of many HUD certified housing counselors eligible to receive funds from the housing bill signed into law in July 2008 by, again, George W. And despite Rep. John Boehner's most strenuous objections, ACORN Housing Corporation received over $31 million in HUD grants since 1998.

“I think you see it every day,” Lewis said calmly. “Most of that money . . . we do foreclosure prevention . . . protect children from lead poisoning, every single day, you know, in fact, helping people stay in their homes, helping folks get affordable housing . . . .”

O'Reilly didn't follow up on the issue of any of ACORN's good works, but instead asked about Dale Rathke (the brother of former ACORN chief, Wade Rathke) who embezzled nearly $1 million dollars from ACORN, and stated that Dale Rathke was not charged: “ . . . Someone like me can say, 'Hey, this organization, ACORN, is not being run responsibly, a guy embezzled a million bucks, they wouldn't prosecute the man' . . . I'm a little suspicious, Madame!” O'Reilly challenged.

“Well, let me just clear it up for you. Number one, I am CEO and Chief Organizer,” Lewis stated unequivocally. “I have zero tolerance for any sort of misdoing . . . .”

“Then why didn't you prosecute Dale Rathke?” O'Reilly interrupted.

“This happened eight years ago,” Lewis responded, “And the Board immediately terminated them.”

“Why didn't you prosecute?” challenged O'Reilly. “A million bucks is a lot of money!”

“And we've recovered every single dime and won't, will not tolerate, any employee on my staff, under my regime . . . .” Lewis stated emphatically.

“That was a major mistake,” interrupted O'Reilly yet again, “To let that man not be prosecuted.”

“I wasn't in charge, but I'll tell you this,” Lewis said forcefully, “Anyone that does wrongdoing, I'm in charge, we will take swift action . . . .”

O'Reilly took this opportunity to mention in passing the prosecutions of ACORN employees in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Washington State and Nevada, but went no further with that. Come on, Bill, I'm sure you remember on The Factor on May 20th when you said, “But all of that [the prosecutions] pales – pales – next to the millions of dollars pouring into an old funeral home in New Orleans.”

Addressing Reverend Swierenga, O'Reilly said, “Your philosophy, your philosophy, okay, of America, is it a socialist philosophy, do you believe that I as a rich man, Reverend, should give my money, or it be taken from me by the government, to poor people, do you believe that, Madame?” Wait, what – socialism? Where did that come from? What happened to the corruption at 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans? Here I am, waiting for the big moment for O'Reilly to pin ACORN people to the wall on 1024 Elysian Fields and ACORN's money being swirled around and funneled into bad places, and crime – jeez, just like a soap opera – and here O'Reilly goes, flipping the script and charging ACORN with something as worn-out and feeble as socialism.

Despite Swierenga's somewhat frail appearance, she responded very firmly, saying, “I believe that America is a democracy and I believe that properly constructed, there is room for everyone to prosper. Part of the problem is our society tends to be structured so that the people on the bottom have a little bit of difficulty finding their way to a better position.”

O'Reilly (not surprisingly, given his watered-down approach when face to face with ACORN spokespeople, as compared with his and Beck's outrage in the recent past) agreed with this, but went on to say, “Now, should the government force then, me, to take more than half my income . . . give it to organizations like ACORN to spread around to the poor. Is that economic justice? Is that social justice, Madame?” We're still on socialism, then – okay, I'm hanging on, but this scary bogeyman stuff going on at Elysian Fields better be coming up soon. I mean, you as much as promised on The Factor that you'd be balls to the wall on this.

“My view of – I'm not aware of the government taking your money and giving it to ACORN,” said Swierenga, giggling. “What I am aware of is that ACORN competes for grants like any other organization . . . .”

“But philosophically should the government have the right to take my money and give it to people who are poor?” O'Reilly asked again.

Swierenga responded gently, “We're not encouraging the government to take your money and give it to anyone. We are encouraging the government to do more than it's doing to have a level societal playing field. We believe that all of God's children deserve a seat in the choir, not just the rich.”

What can you say to a kind, elderly woman who invokes God? O'Reilly decided to direct a similar question to Lewis.

“It seems to me that ACORN is a quasi-socialist organization,” O'Reilly challenged, “That you want to give – it's almost a Robin Hood organization – take from the rich, give to the poor, because that's the only way the Reverend's philosophy can come true . . . so I think you're a quasi-socialist organization, am I wrong?” Man, I either fell asleep for a few minutes or something went horribly wrong with O'Reilly's interview agenda here. Socialism wasn't supposed to be the topic of the day! Give me Elysian Fields! The lying lady in the SUV you talked about on May 20th! Wade Rathke lurking around the corridors of Elysian Fields Avenue maybe hoping to help his brother steal more money that's no doubt just sitting around stuffed in big briefcases there.

“Well, I think you are wrong, Mr. O'Reilly,” Lewis said nicely, “But we have 400,000-plus members all across the country, working people, low and moderate income people, they pay taxes, they work hard, they want to see a good democratic society. And all of these labels that we put on, “socialist this,” I don't know about that, I know one thing – we're proud Americans, we've been doing this work and doing housing work, and working in poor neighborhoods for over 40 years, and we think that the right thing to do is to have a level playing field for all Americans.”

“I absolutely respect your point of view,” O'Reilly stated. Then, as the music began, signaling the end of the segment, he said, “Now I'm going to ask you one question, now, and this is important, Miss Lewis.”

“All of your questions are important, Mr. O'Reilly,” Lewis responded kindly.

“Will you let my investigators see the books of the Citizens Consulting, Inc. operation which takes the money that's given to you and spread around. Can my investigators see your books?”

“Mr. O'Reilly, there you go again,” Lewis said.

“It's a yes or no (answer)” O'Reilly demanded.

Alert! Alert! Danger ahead, Bertha Lewis. O'Reilly plays nice during the interview, waits until the end to ask the question he's going to use against you without giving you enough time to adequately address it.

Unfortunately, Lewis did not seem to see the trap. “We comply with all laws everywhere . . . .” she said.

“Then you should have no problem with letting us see the books . . .,” O'Reilly again interrupted.

“ . . . We make sure that folks do that,” Lewis replied, “And I don't think that, as far as I know, that your investigators are government CPAs or certified public accountants.” Not to mention that, according to a corporate attorney I consulted, there are very few corporations anywhere that would voluntarily, without being legally required to, open their books to the public – and that includes most condo associations (which are largely not-for-profit corporations), municipalities, and charities, to name a few. And despite his deference during the interview, O'Reilly, who has used ACORN the same way he used Ward Churchill, i.e. as a foil to make himself look like a crusader, ACORN has every reason to fear that his “investigators” would be conducting a witch hunt, not a neutral audit. But with the segment wrapping up, Lewis never had the chance to fully address the issue.

“They're the best in the business – so I'm gonna take that as a 'no,' Ms. Lewis, but I'm going to leave the offer open,” O'Reilly said “magnanimously.” “We will be happy to, on a moment's notice, to come down and look at your books so that we can show America and the world that you guys are up and up.”

Sure he would. Even more likely, he'll use Lewis' refusal to rail against ACORN again, from the safety of his own studio, with only like-minded Glenn Beck to egg him on, instead of a real life opponent who might rain on his crusade.

If you can't view the video below, here's a link.