The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


The "a few bad apples" defense

A local columnist summarizes the current rap against ACORN:

...consider the ACORN videos, in which a fake pimp and prostitute seek help from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to set up a brothel, commit tax fraud, and engage in sex trafficking of underage illegal immigrants. ACORN employees at five offices seemed happy to help.

He goes on to say racism is a bogus defense that an ACORN board member used. From what I've seen of the case, I agree with the columnist that racism appears to be completely irrelevant to the launching of the sting operation. For me the question is: Just how much of a problem did the sting operation uncover? ACORN's CEO, Bertha Lewis, said:

Well, when you run an organization, what you need to do is to make sure that everyone knows your standards and everyone is trained to understand how to do intake. I think, in the end, most of these employees just felt like, well, I have to talk to whoever comes in here. However, that cannot trump common sense and also it cannot trump someone going to their supervisor and saying this is unusual, what do I do? So, in any case, though it's indefensible, that's why I terminated everyone. And I am making sure not to take this lightly. My board was outraged, and I think I owe it to the other employees that did the right thing. It's just a handful of folks out of hundreds and hundreds of employees.

The use of "It's just a handful of folks..." raises immediate red flags because we heard that for the Roman Catholic priests who were engaged in pedophilia. Father John Geoghan was identified as a child rapist by the alternative newspaper The Boston Phoenix in March 2001 (The Boston Globe followed up in January 2002 shortly before Geoghan was convicted, whereupon the case came to the attention of the public at large). A major aspect of the case from the very beginning was that Father Geoghan's activities were so extensive that it was suspected immediately that his activities had to have been known of by his superiors. He was "suspected of fondling, assaulting, and raping hundreds of children over three decades." And, "parents had complained to Geoghan’s superiors about his behavior with children as far back as 1973."

During the investigation and trial, Fitzpatrick, among other victims, charged that top Church authorities at the Diocese of Fall River had known about Porter’s behavior all along. ... Cardinal Law infamously blasted reporters for focusing on what he termed “the faults of a few”: “We deplore that.... By all means we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.” ... At the time Law made these remarks, Geoghan had already been placed on temporary “sick leave” at least once, according to the Official Catholic Directory. This leave of absence, as alleged in court records, followed a complaint of abuse against Geoghan by one mother of an alleged victim from Jamaica Plain.

Since then, pedophile priests have shown up in Ireland - In April 2002, the Irish government began its own investigation and issued its report in October 2005 and in Italy - The Meter Association, founded by Italian Father Fortunato Di Noto announced the existence of "A hundred online pedophile communities" in September 2009 and said they'd be dismantled and prosecuted.

Defenders of pedophile priests certainly tried to claim that the problem was limited to "a few bad apples," and while it's certainly true that it's wrong to physically attack priests "As if all priests are pedophiles. As if all priests are perverted. As if all priests are immoral, or corrupt, or just bad" (emphases in original), it was clear from the very start that the problem was an institutional one, that it wasn't just a couple of rogue individuals.

Torture at the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib was also allegedly limited to "a few bad apples," but the US made a very poor case for that owing to the lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq in the first place and again, the problem didn't trace back to just a few rogue individuals. The historical roots of the practice of torture with American assistance traced back to the Shah of Iran and his agency SAVAK. The Red Cross had found serious problems with US treatment of and policy towards Iraqi detainees as early as March 2003, the month that the US invaded Iraq. By March 2006, the website Salon had collated a list of government and private investigative reports.

It was also confirmed in May 2009 that the Bush Administration had a few low-level employees write out some torture-justifying memos, memos that opined on the authority of the President to order the lawless abuse of helpless prisoners at will. As the blogger Christy Hardin Smith put it:

The ACLU has put together a video of these words of tortured logic being read aloud. Watch it.
The words you are hearing were written by and for the US government. As guidance for governmental agencies acting in all of our names.

So, again, we're not dealing with just a couple of rogue individuals, we're dealing with an institution that went seriously off the tracks.

Back to ACORN, do we have any evidence that we're dealing with a deep, systemic problem? Any indication that ACORN is a corrupt institution? Well, the NPR story that quotes the ACORN CEO came out on September 21st and the quote from a local columnist came out today, October 4th. As one can see, there are no new developments in the case. There is no evidence that any of the employees who agreed to help the fake pimp and prostitute brought their case up to any higher levels. There's no evidence that any money actually changed hands or that any organizational favors were actually granted. As Anonymous Liberal points out, it's entirely understandable for people, faced with a completely unexpected situation to improvise as best they can and importantly, in as non-confrontational a mode as they can. This does not, of course, excuse the people who agreed to help the fake prospective clients, but it does make their actions more understandable.

No, I think the ACORN case is one where the idea of "a few bad apples" does indeed apply.

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