A lawyer involved with legal action against Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) told a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 19 The New York Times had killed a story in October that would have shown a close link between ACORN, Project Vote and the Obama campaign because it would have been a "a game changer."
Heather Heidelbaugh, who represented the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee in the lawsuit against the group, recounted for the committee what she had been told by a former ACORN worker who had worked in the group’s Washington, D.C. office.
The former worker, Anita Moncrief, told Ms. Heidelbaugh last October, during the state committee litigation against ACORN, she had been a "confidential informant for several months to The New York Times reporter, Stephanie Strom." Ms. Moncrief had been providing Ms. Strom with information about ACORN election activities. Ms. Strom had written several stories based on information Ms. Moncrief had given her. During her testimony, Ms. Heidelbaugh said Ms. Moncrief had told her The New York Times articles stopped when she revealed that the Obama presidential campaign had sent its maxed-out donor list to ACORN Washington, D.C. office.
Ms. Moncrief told Ms. Heidelbaugh the campaign had asked her and her boss to "reach out to the maxed-out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN." Ms. Heidelbaugh then told the congressional panel: "Upon learning this information and receiving the list of donors from the Obama campaign, Ms. Strom reported to Ms. Moncrief that her editors at The New York Times wanted her to kill the story because, and I quote, it was a game changer."’
Ms. Moncrief made her first overture to Ms. Heidelbaugh after The New York Times allegedly spiked the story on Oct. 21, 2008. Last fall, she testified under oath about what she had learned about ACORN from her years in its Washington, D.C. office. Although she was present at the congressional hearing, she did not testify. U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., the ranking Republican on the committee, said the interactions between the Obama campaign and ACORN, as described by Ms. Moncrief, and attested to before the committee by Ms. Heidelbaugh, "could possibly violate federal election law, and ACORN has a pattern of getting in trouble for violating federal election laws."
He also voiced criticism of The New York Times. "If true, The New York Times is showing once again that it is a not an impartial observer of the political scene," he said. "If they want to be a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party, they should put Barack Obama approves of this in their newspaper." Academicians and journalism experts expressed similar criticism of the Times. "The New York Times keeps going over the line in every single campaign and last year was the worst, easily," said Mal Kline of the American Journalism Center. "They would ignore real questions worth examining about Obama, the questions about Bill Ayers or about how he got his house. Then on the other side they would try to manufacture scandals." Mr. Kline mentioned Gov. Sarah Palin was cleared by investigators of improperly firing an Alaska State Trooper, but went unnoticed by The Times. How many stories about this were in The New York Times," he asked.
"If this is true, it would not surprise me at all. The New York Times is a liberal newspaper. It is dedicated to furthering the Democratic Party," said Dr. Paul Kengor, professor of Political Science at Grove City College. "People think The New York Times is an objective news source and it is not. It would not surprise me that if they had a news story that would have swayed the election into McCain favor they would not have used it." ACORN has issued statements claiming that Ms. Moncrief is merely a disgruntled former worker.
"None of this wild and varied list of charges has any credibility and we’re not going to spend our time on it," said Kevin Whelan, ACORN deputy political director in a statement issued last week. Stephanie Strom was contacted for a comment, and The New York Times’ Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Catherine Mathis replied with an e-mail in her place.
Ms. Mathis wrote, "In response to your questions to our reporter, Stephanie Strom, we do not discuss our newsgathering and won’t comment except to say that political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama."
Michael P. Tremoglie can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published Monday, March 30, 2009 by "The Philadelphia Bulletin".