REPORT: ACORN OBSESSION: Beck, Hannity obsess over ACORN while virtually ignoring major corruption scandals

In light of the recent attention Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have devoted to a supposed corruption scandal involving ACORN, Media Matters for America reviewed the coverage each host has provided on his respective television programs to a selection of well-documented political scandals and instances of corruption by companies that have received thousands of times more money from the government than ACORN has in the past 15 years. Our findings show that both hosts have been obsessed with ACORN, devoting a massively disproportionate amount of attention to the story in comparison to their coverage of controversies involving military contractors that have received billions of dollars in federal contracts and instances of Republican corruption at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Furthermore, since Beck joined Fox News, the amount of attention he has devoted to ACORN has skyrocketed, while his interest in other corruption scandals has remained limited.

Key findings

Number of times Beck's and Hannity's programs, combined, referenced ACORN, Abramoff, Blackwater, and Halliburton/KBR from May 8, 2006, to September 18, 2009 (NOTE: For the purposes of this study, a “reference” is defined as the specified topic having been mentioned by either a host or a guest on the program being studied.):

  • ACORN: 1,502
  • Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH): 62
  • Blackwater/Xe: 4
  • Halliburton/KBR: 43


  • Beck's and Hannity's programs were approximately 35 times more likely to reference ACORN than any of the military contractors.
  • Beck's and Hannity's programs were approximately 24 times more likely to reference ACORN than either Abramoff or Ney.

The numbers are equally shocking for each show individually:

  • Beck's programs were approximately 50 times more likely to reference ACORN than any of the military contractors and approximately 149 times more likely to discuss ACORN than either Abramoff or Ney.

  • Hannity's programs were approximately 18 times more likely to reference ACORN than any of the military contractors and approximately eight times more likely to discuss ACORN than either Abramoff or Ney.

What a difference Fox News makes -- after leaving CNN's Headline News and joining Fox in January, Beck's focus on ACORN skyrocketed, while his disinterest in major corruption scandals continued:

References to ACORN on Beck's Headline News program:









References to ACORN on Beck's Fox News program:









Reporting on ACORN, Beck and Hannity claim to be concerned with government waste and corruption

Beck implores viewers to “take a stand” because "[t]his is clear-cut, unadulterated, taxpayer-funded corruption" at ACORN due to its receipt of government funding. On the September 15 edition of his Fox News program, Beck aired portions of an undercover video at a California ACORN office and stated (from the Nexis database):

BECK: I am just asking you this -- please, take a stand. Take a stand. This is clear-cut, unadulterated, taxpayer-funded corruption. You love your children. You love your country just like I do. You must understand that what you've been seeing from ACORN on these tapes this past week isn't compassion, it's corruption!

I'm asking you -- demand a full investigation from your representatives of everybody -- ACORN, all the way to the top, everybody in government, all the way to the top, in your cities, and in our nation. And until that corruption is brought under control, we must quarantine Washington, D.C. -- no legislation must come out of it.

Hannity: “The only question that remains is, will this keep ACORN from receiving our tax dollars?” From the September 16 edition of Hannity (from Nexis):

HANNITY: Now the employees in five separate ACORN offices have now showed themselves willing to aid and in some cases participate in child prostitution. Now predictably, ACORN is retaliating by attacking the individuals who exposed them and threatening them with lawsuits.

But the videos, they speak for themselves. The only question that remains is, will this keep ACORN from receiving our tax dollars?

And here with reaction is the author of the best-selling book, “Culture of Corruption,” Michelle Malkin is back with us.

You know, if you look at the money and follow the money, tens and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to date, Michelle. And if you add the stimulus, you're looking, you know, at potentially $8.5 billion more. So there are -- there is an effort in Congress to stop it. Will it be successful?

MICHELLE MALKIN, “THE CULTURE OF CORRUPTION” AUTHOR: Well, it already has, in some measure. And I think that cutting off ACORN from the Census Bureau partnerships was a big first step, and then of course in the Senate cutting off transportation and HUD appropriations money from ACORN and all of its affiliates.

I think that's very important. I called up Senator Mike Johan's office the other day just to clarify and make sure that it's not just ACORN, the national umbrella group, but all of the web of its affiliates and entities under it that are nonprofit, tax exempt and supposedly nonpartisan.

So all these are a good first step. But I think that the next step, Sean, obviously, is to crack open the books and take a look at how the money they currently have been allocated and allocated in the past is being spent. And that's going to be an incredible forensic undertaking. And hopefully it will be bipartisan.

HANNITY: You talk about these umbrella groups. There's all these groups that would then, you know, sort of subcontract out to ACORN. So it's almost difficult to do the accounting. But the reality is, and I know Governor Tim Pawlenty and I know some others, Richard Shelby was on this morning, and he is working in Washington.

They're saying they want to find a way to get to the real bottom line dollar figure of how much they are getting and cut off all funds because this is only part of the corruption. I mean it's bad enough every office they went to showed a connection, you know, to some of these scandals. But it goes a lot deeper, doesn't it?

MALKIN: It's systemic. And I'll tell you, ACORN plays a game of throwing its rank and file operatives under the bus and then claiming that these were just the indefensible actions of a few, a handful. That's the phrase that Bertha Lewis and the ACORN brass are using.

Both hosts have largely ignored major scandals involving military contractors that have huge government contracts

Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater have received tens of billions of dollars in military contracts and have been connected to major scandals, some even resulting in death. Major controversies concerning work performed by Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown and Root (a Halliburton subsidiary), and Blackwater (now named Xe) broke between 2006 and 2009. According to news reports, Blackwater, Halliburton, and KBR have received a combined total of at least $25 billion dollars in federal contracts since 2001. By comparison, ACORN has received an estimated $53 million in federal funding over the past 15 years, which is an average of $3.5 million per year.

KBR's faulty work in Iraq allegedly killed U.S. soldiers and civilian contractors. For example, KBR, which received more than $24 billion in military contracts in exchange for performing a wide array of services related to the Iraq war, was allegedly responsible for the fatal electrocutions of 13 U.S. service members between the start of the war and July 2008 due to faulty electrical work. In July 2008, The New York Times reported that the Department of Defense ordered electrical inspections of all buildings in Iraq because of the deaths. In September 2006, a group of truckers who had worked for KBR provided congressional testimony against the company, claiming that its practices had unduly endangered them and contributed to the deaths of seven workers in an ambush.

KBR and Halliburton allegedly took foreign bribes. In 2009, Halliburton and KBR agreed to pay a $579 million settlement to the federal government over charges that they took foreign bribes, reportedly the largest fine ever paid by a U.S. company in a foreign corruption case.

Blackwater contractors were connected to the shooting death of 17 Iraqi civilians, and its founder has been named in a murder investigation. Blackwater, whose leadership had well-established ties to the Bush administration and the conservative movement, has received more than $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001. The company has faced mounting criticism following the shooting death of 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007. At the time, Iraqi officials accused Blackwater of murder. More recently, there have been accusations of a murder plot directly involving Blackwater founder Erik Prince.

Despite their professed concern about corruption, Beck's and Hannity's programs have virtually ignored the controversies surrounding Blackwater, Halliburton, and KBR. Since May 2006, Beck's television programs have referenced the contractors only 21 times. Similarly, Hannity's programs have referenced them only 26 times.

Both have similarly ignored major developments in Abramoff and Ney corruption cases

Both Abramoff and Ney were imprisoned after being convicted of corruption. In the summer of 2006, Ney, who was enmeshed in the Abramoff scandal, retired from office. That fall, reports revealed extensive ties between Abramoff and the Bush White House and Republican congressional figures, threatening the electoral prospects of Republicans throughout the country. Ney soon pleaded guilty to corruption charges and was sentenced to a prison term. In September 2008, the Abramoff trial finally concluded with a four-year sentence for Abramoff himself.

Beck and Hannity consistently ignored developments in these cases of high-level Republican corruption. Despite the fact that the scandal involving Ney and Abramoff received broad coverage and was politically significant, Beck and Hannity largely ignored it. Throughout all of 2006, Beck mentioned Abramoff only a handful of times, often simply to dismiss his significance. For instance, on his November 8, 2006, program, following a major midterm election that returned control of Congress to Democrats, Beck said the following regarding corruption's effect on the election: “According to yesterday's exit polls, voters said the most important issue to them was corruption and ethics. You know, I don't believe that they're talking about Mark Foley or Jack Abramoff. Ask somebody if they even know who Jack Abramoff is.” For his part, Hannity did not mention Abramoff once during the week of the 2006 midterm elections, and Ney has been mentioned only a handful of times during the entire course of his Fox News broadcast.

Yet Beck and Hannity have devoted disproportionate attention to ACORN

Beck and Hannity mentioned ACORN 32 times more often than the military contractors. Between May 8, 2006, and September 18, 2009, ACORN was mentioned approximately 376 times as often on Beck's and Hannity's programs combined as Blackwater and approximately 35 times as often as Halliburton and KBR combined. In total, the two programs mentioned ACORN approximately 32 times as often as all of the military contractors combined.

Beck and Hannity mentioned ACORN 24 times more often than Abramoff and Ney. Between May 8, 2006, and September 18, 2009, ACORN was mentioned on Beck's and Hannity's television programs 24 times as often as Abramoff and Ney combined.


Media Matters for America conducted a Nexis search for programs hosted by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity between May 8, 2006, and September 18, 2009,* using the following terms:

  • SHOW(Glenn Beck OR Hannity) AND (CAPS(ACORN) OR Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)
  • SHOW(Glenn Beck OR Hannity) AND (Jack Abramoff OR Abramoff)
  • SHOW(Glenn Beck OR Hannity) AND (Blackwater OR Black Water OR CAPS(XE))
  • SHOW(Glenn Beck OR Hannity) AND (Robert Ney OR Bob Ney OR Ney)
  • SHOW(Glenn Beck OR Hannity) AND (Halliburton)
  • SHOW(Glenn Beck OR Hannity) AND (Kellogg Brown Root OR KBR)

For each transcript, every mention of any of the searched terms by any person on the program was included in the study.

*Glenn Beck was off the air between October 17, 2008, and January 18, 2009, during his program's transition from CNN Headline News to Fox News. Included in the results were both Beck's Headline News and Fox News programs, as well as Hannity & Colmes, Hannity, and Hannity's America.

Justin Seidel is an intern at Media Matters for America.