Emerging right-wing talking point: Special prosecutor needed to investigate ACORN

University of Chicago political science professor Charles Lipson and The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, each of whom has previously pushed conservative talking points, have recently suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate ACORN in the wake of the recently released videos exposing improper behavior at several ACORN offices. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, have suggested that an investigation of ACORN by the Justice Department will not be valid because of the group's ties to Democrats and the Obama administration.

Lipson: "[T]he U.S. attorney general should appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate" ACORN

In a September 20 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Lipson wrote:

Some states, led by California, are saying they will investigate. But this is a national scandal and there ought to be a full-scale national inquiry. To ensure impartiality -- and the appearance of impartiality -- political appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice should recuse themselves. This case demands an independent federal prosecutor.

Independent prosecutors should not be appointed lightly. But in this case, there are good reasons why Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and other political appointees in the Justice Department should step aside. First, although no allegations have yet touched the Obama campaign, ACORN did have significant ties to the campaign and other progressive causes. Published reports show that ACORN and its subsidiaries received some $800,000 from the Obama campaign to get out the vote. Second, ACORN is intimately tied to the Service Employees International Union, one of President Barack Obama's most powerful and vocal supporters.

ACORN's close ties to the progressive movement and Democratic Party mean that there will be little public confidence if Holder decides not to pursue an ambitious investigation and ultimately prosecute.

Taranto on ACORN scandal: "[T]he case for appointing" a special prosecutor “would seem to be stronger here than usual”

In a September 16 column on the website for The Wall Street Journal, Taranto wrote:

The Wall Street Journal urges the U.S. Justice Department to undertake a criminal investigation of Acorn. This column echoes that call, although we wonder if the Obama administration is compromised here. The president, who as a candidate touted his background as a “community organizer,” has extensive ties to Acorn.


Obama worked for Acorn and Acorn worked for Obama. That doesn't mean the president is implicated in any wrongdoing, but it suggests at least that the worse things get for Acorn, the more embarrassing it is for him. If the Justice Department fails to prosecute, it invariably would raise suspicions of political favoritism. This column does not care for special prosecutors, but the case for appointing one would seem to be stronger here than usual.

Lipson and Taranto have history of pushing conservative talking points

Lipson criticized NY Times “puff piece” about Obama's neighborhood for not mentioning Rezko. In a September 15 post for Pajamas Media, a website co-founded by conservatives Roger L. Simon and Charles Johnson, Lipson criticized The New York Times for a “puff piece on the house for sale in Hyde Park [that] completely omits the Tony Rezko scandal.” Lipson also wrote that the Times “blew kisses to the Obamas and their neighbors” by not mentioning Rezko in the article about the sale of Obama's neighbor's house.

In Chicago Tribune, Lipson asserted “it is time to consider modest changes” to health care instead of “another big-government program.” In an August 23 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Lipson wrote:

With public support draining away from a comprehensive health-care overhaul, it is time to consider modest changes such as encouraging more private competition in health insurance. This doesn't require another big-government program. It only requires junking laws that prevent health insurers from selling across state lines.


Twice now, comprehensive government plans to change health care have faced withering criticism. First Lady Hillary Clinton's plan, formulated secretly in the Clinton White House, was dead on arrival in Congress. Barack Obama and his advisers tried the opposite approach, giving Congress general guidelines and letting them work out the details. Several plans are still on the table, but voters are clearly anxious about what they are hearing.

Although Obama and Clinton tried different legislative tactics, their plans shared the same fatal flaws. They tried to do too much at once, and they centralized too much control in Washington. Now is a good time to reboot, isolate specific problems and focus on them. Introducing more market competition in health-care insurance is a good place to start.

Lipson wrote 2008 op-ed casting Biden's “not impressive” foreign policy record as a problem for Obama's candidacy. In an August 28, 2008, Tribune op-ed (retrieved from the Nexis database), Lipson wrote of Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his vice-presidential nominee:

Does Joe Biden's candidacy for vice president help Barack Obama's chances? No. In fact, he poses several risks for the Democratic ticket.


Most criticism has focused on Biden's tendency to blab on and on, stopping only when his foot is in his mouth. Others have questioned the logic of adding a second Northern liberal to the ticket. Those are genuine concerns, but most commentators acknowledge that Biden does bring international expertise to the ticket. Actually, his record in that area is not impressive.

Biden chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but experts in the field do not consider him a heavyweight. His authority comes from his chairmanship, not vice versa. Policymakers do not seek his views because they are especially insightful or wise. They listen to him because he chairs an important legislative committee.

Why does Biden chair that committee? Because of seniority.

On RealClearPolitics, Lipson criticized Obama for “gaping holes” in speech on race, blasted “mainstream media” for “fawn[ing]” over the speech. During the thick of the 2008 presidential campaign, Lipson penned two columns for RealClearPolitics, a right-leaning website, touting the threats to Obama's candidacy posed by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other people Obama associated with in the past. In a March 22, 2008, column headlined “Between Barack and a Hard Place,” Lipson asserted that Obama's speech on race “evaded the hardest questions” and said of Obama, “he has not renounced traditional racially-based programs. The voters have.” Lipson also criticized Obama for “obscuring the issue of Rev. Wright, and his own association to the church, by spreading the blame around,” as well as the “mainstream media” for “fawn[ing] over Obama's response” and “rushing” to turn the public's attention away from the “gaping holes” in Obama's speech.

On RealClearPolitics, Lipson claimed Wright, Rezko, Ayers, and others raise “serious” questions about Obama's “character, judgment, and close personal associations.” In a March 30, 2008, column for RealClearPolitics, Lipson asserted that the Obama campaign “must now confront several dangerous stumps that were once hidden below the surface.” Lipson then described at length actions and statements by Wright, Rev. James Meeks, Illinois state Sen. Emil Jones, Rezko, and former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, before concluding:

Now that Obama is so close to the Democratic nomination, the scrutiny he faces on issues like these has grown intense. It will stay that way -- for him, for Hillary Clinton, and for John McCain -- as long as they keep running. The stakes couldn't be higher, and voters want to know.

There are more questions than answers right now. But the questions are serious ones about character, judgment, and close personal associations. If the answers turn out to be damaging, this won't be a Swift Boat. This will be a whole fleet.

Taranto has repeatedly pushed conservative misinformation. Media Matters has documented a number of instances in which Taranto has promoted conservative talking points and falsehoods over the years. For instance, Taranto recently asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's “claim about 'swastikas' is the product of a fevered imagination,” when, in fact, Pelosi had rightly noted that multiple protesters at health care reform protests have held signs featuring swastikas.

Beck, Limbaugh work to undermine legitimacy of potential ACORN investigation

Limbaugh: "[G]enuine" ACORN investigation won't happen because Democrats “cannot afford to have the inner workings of their surrogates fully exposed.” In his September 16 "Morning Update" (subscription required), Limbaugh stated:

What's really called for here, folks, is a genuine wide-scale investigation of ACORN activities. Will it happen? No. The Community Activist-in-Chief and his Democrat Party cannot afford to have the inner workings of their surrogates fully exposed. Obama is ACORN ... and verse-visa.

Beck: Unless ACORN investigation “goes all the way to the top,” including Congress and the White House, “it's all going to be a sham.” During the September 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, Beck said: (from Nexis)

BECK: While the government is going to make speeches and throw you a bone of cutting off funding -- you know, we're going to cut off funding. Really? Until the Republicans and the Democrats rise together and demand a full independent rigorous investigation that doesn't concentrate just on the local level and these few dirtbags, but goes all the way to the top, to the power brokers at the highest levels of ACORN, and in our own halls of Congress, and this administration, it's all going to be a sham. You won't be able to trust anything in Washington.