Now that ACORN has lost its Census Bureau contract and Senate funding, grass-roots conservatives are trying to decide what's more outrageous – the organization's wrongdoing, or the media's blatant reluctance to cover it?
"Truly shocking" is how The Los Angeles Times described the ACORN revelations on Tuesday.
Fox News viewers weren't shocked: They've known about the scandal since the leading cable news network broke the story last Thursday. But the LA Times, the first major newspaper to offer an editorial on the latest ACORN scandal, is actually ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the mainstream media.
In fact, in the 24 hours after the controversial videos were first posted on BigGovernment.com, the collective mainstream response could be virtually summed up as follows: "Story? What story?!?"
Consider: According to Fox News' research, the ACORN coverage aired and posted by the various news outlets in the first day of coverage consisted of: Fox News, 19 stories; CNN, 3 stories; the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal – one story apiece.
MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC offered their online and television viewers exactly zero news stories that first 24 hours, as reports that ACORN employees offered to help a child prostitution ring dupe the IRS rocked viewers around the country – not to mention Census officials and U.S. Senators.
"These people are going to find themselves completely irrelevant very shortly if they don't pick up these stories," Fox News host Glenn Beck told viewers Tuesday. "You can't let these gigantic stories go by in this atmosphere . . . You can't ignore it. It won't make it go away."
"A major national scandal and none of the broadcast networks is covering it," Dan Gainor, vice president for business and culture at the Media Research Center, told FoxNews.com. "This is the news media in the era of Van Jones and President Obama. The major outlets cover what they want and create the themes they want."
The ACORN lapse is but the latest in a series of embarrassments for the mainstream media. Others include the town hall protests, the resignation of Obama "green czar" Van Jones after his conspiracy theories about 9/11 came to light, and this weekend's 912 Project march on the nation's capital — which the networks treated like a third-tier event rather than the grassroots conservative resurgence it so plainly is.
Yet it was the ACORN wrongdoing exposed by twenty-something journalists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, however, that several pundits are now saying revealed an out-of-step mainstream media that has been repeatedly beaten by the very news outlets they try hardest to dismiss.
"Issues initially dismissed or missed entirely by the national media have burst, if only fleetingly, onto the national agenda after relentless coverage on Fox News, talk radio, and in the blogosphere," Politico.com reported.
On Tuesday, five days after the story broke, ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson confessed to a Chicago radio station he didn't even know about the video exposes of ACORN. After giving a hearty laugh, Gibson stated: "I didn't even know about it. Um. So you've got me at a loss. I don't know. Uh. Uh . . ."
Conservative media critic and Fox News commentator Bernard Goldberg blasted Gibson's journalistic faux pas: "Because the story hadn't been in The New York Times, Charlie Gibson didn't know about it. They live in a bubble, a comfortable elite bubble, and inside that bubble, if it's not in The New York Times, it didn't happen. There might have been a time when that was somewhat true. But no more.
"Van Jones resigned under pressure even though The New York Times hadn't run a single word about it," Goldberg tells Newsmax. "Without any press from The New York Times, he still had to resign. That tells you how little influence the media has these days. Charlie, like the organization he works for, is a dinosaur."
The mainstream mishaps could hardly come at a worse time for them. Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported that nearly two-thirds of Americans now believe the news stories they receive are frequently inaccurate. That compares to only 34 percent who believed stories were frequently adequate in 1985. Pew also found that a whopping 74 percent of voters believe news stories tend to favor one side of an issue over another. That's up from 66 percent just two years ago.
Being a day late and a few million dollars of ad revenue short on major stories like ACORN won't help matters, communications experts say.
"It goes back to the newsboys selling newspapers on the street corner," Boston University communications professor Tobe Berkovitz tells Newsmax. "'Extra! Extra! Read all about it.' Journalism has always lived by the scoop. You've now had this repeated problem of the media not recognizing the scoop until they can't avoid it, until it's no longer a scoop. That's what I find interesting."
What's behind this summer's phenomenon of the major outlets' faltering control over the news cycle? A host of excuses have been offered up: Declining news budgets and the constraints of a 22-minute news hole on the nightly news broadcasts among them.
Most pundits tell Newsmax another powerful factor is at work however: The networks and big city newspapers rue the appearance that they're taking their cues from Fox News.
"Clearly, this is a story that broke on Fox News and is being driven for now by Fox News," DePauw University communications professor Jeffrey McCall says. "These other media organizations, it seems to me, don't want get on board with a news story that would essentially have them following Fox News' lead. Most national journalistic outlets still consider, incorrectly, that Fox News is a journalistic lightweight, and they are unwilling to recognize Fox News as a news-agenda setter."
Berkovitz says the series of missed and underreported stories has mainstream media czars reeling.
"I think they're seriously shocked because they've let a front page story not be on their front page," he says. "I think it's the magnitude of the story that shocked them. They had to know this stuff's floating around, unless you are fly-fishing somewhere with no Internet."
Berkovitz contends the traditional news icons have been tripped up by their own view of what is and isn't news.
"They don't want to kick over certain rocks," he tells Newsmax. "Certain rocks they're delighted to kick over. When George Bush was president, no rock was too small to kick over. With Barack Obama, I think what you're seeing in the mainstream media is that, once a really big rock is turned over, and it's unavoidable, then they have to go with it."
Whether that amounts to bias, Berkovitz says, is in the eye of the beholder. But others aren't being quite so charitable.
On his radio show Tuesday, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, told listeners: "If the Christian Coalition in 1995 had a sting operation carried on against it by a liberal group, I guarantee you it would have been front page, New York Times, the next day. And people like me would have been called out, people saying, 'How could you ever, ever justify supporting a group that would teach people how to violate the tax code and promote prostitution.'"
Goldberg, whose latest book on media coverage of the president is titled “A Slobbering Love Affair,” isn't pulling any punches either. He notes that a major theme of the parse ACORN coverage is focusing on the scandal as a conservative smear campaign.
"It becomes a way to avoid what they want to avoid," he says, "that here's a liberal organization corrupt to its core that has ties to the president of the United States."
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