On Friday’s American Morning program, CNN correspondent Carol Costello referred to the liberal organization ACORN as merely "a group committed to registering minority voters," and highlighted how it’s "trying to quiet what it calls ‘hysteria,’ coming from conservative circles" who "charge it’s... guilty of voter fraud." The on-screen graphic accompanying her report, which was the last full segment during the 6 am Eastern hour of the CNN program, exclaimed that "ACORN Fight Back: Says Conservatives Creating ‘Hysteria.’"
Despite playing two clips from Republican presidential candidate John McCain and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who both criticized ACORN, Costello played three clips from two individuals who sympathized with the organization. The first two clips came from former U.S. attorney David Iglesias, who was one of eight U.S. attorneys who were controversially fired by the Justice Department in 2006. He compared the GOP’s focus on the liberal group to the "Red Scare of the 1950s." During the third clip, Michael Waldman, a former speechwriter for President Clinton who now directs the Brennan Center at NYU’s School of Law, emphasized that "voters should know is that when someone registers under a fake name, that doesn’t mean they can vote under a fake name." Costello identified Waldman as merely as an "elections expert," and repeated his talking point twice at the end of her report.
Costello began her report with her reference to ACORN as a "a group committed to registering minority voters." She didn’t mention once during her report that this "group" has a "liberal political agenda and ties to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama," as the Las Vegas Review-Journal mentioned in an October 9, 2008 article about Nevada authorities’ raid on their office in Sin City.
The CNN correspondent then detailed the liberal organization’s efforts in "trying to turn the tables on Republicans who charge it’s not only guilty of voter fraud, but of trying to swing the election Obama’s way." After reading ACORN’s "hysteria" line, Costello referred to the group’s "TV ad touting its mission to sign up minority voters, and accusing Republicans of suppressing votes." She then played the clips from McCain and Limbaugh, followed by a look at Lake County, Indiana’s "ACORN problem," in which an unidentified election official in the county confirmed that nearly half of the voter registration forms turned in by the organization were "bad."
Near the end of her report, Costello played Iglesias and Waldman’s clips:
COSTELLO: Federal law requires organizations to turn in all completed forms, phony or not. ACORN said it’s fired some of its employees for putting fake names on registration applications, and some of its workers have been charged or convicted for what they did. But former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias says that does not prove voter fraud.
DAVID IGLESIAS: This current scare makes me think a little bit about the Red Scare of the 1950s. This is a blue scare of the 21st century.
COSTELLO: Iglesias says Republican charges against ACORN sound awfully familiar. Back in 2006, he and eight other U.S. attorneys were improperly fired by the Bush administration for political reasons -- among them, according to Iglesias -- his refusal to pursue voter fraud charges against organizations like ACORN.
IGLESIAS: It's easy to make accusations. But ultimately, a prosecutor has to prove that case beyond reasonable doubt in federal court.
COSTELLO: And elections expert Michael Walden [sic] says phony registration forms don't mean that phony voters will actually cast a ballot.
MICHAEL WALDMAN: The key thing voters should know is that when someone registers under a fake name, that doesn’t mean they can vote under a fake name. Mickey Mouse is not going to be able to vote without showing some I.D.
Waldman worked for Ralph Nader’s organization Public Citizen before being hired by the Clinton administration, first as Special Assistant to the President for Policy Coordination between 1993 and 1995, and then as Director of Speechwriting from 1995 until 1999, according to his biography by the Brennan Center.
After the clip from Waldman, Costello stated how both sides in the debate over ACORN agree that the liberal organization "does need to be more careful about how it hires its employees." She then continued by repeating Waldman’s point: "But again, just because it has sent in these phony names on registration forms does not mean that voter fraud will be committed at the ballot box." When co-host John Roberts asked whether the debate over ACORN is an "an issue of perception," Costello agreed and then repeated Waldman’s talking point again: "Oh absolutely, because Republicans absolutely think ACORN has done wrong. But Democrats feel that it’s been overblown. So, you’re right. It's a very partisan issue. But, again, at the ballot box, it doesn’t mean that voter fraud will be committed."
This isn’t the first time American Morning has tried to shroud ACORN’s political agenda and connections to Obama. On October 9, co-host Kiran Chetry didn’t even mention the organization's name during a news brief about "a community organization that helps organize voter outreach."