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ACORN'S CREDIBILITY QUICKLY DECAYING

When you know someone is gunning for you, it is probably not a good idea to provide them with the ammunition. But that is exactly what the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has accomplished in haplessly allowing itself to become a symbol for corruption and mismanagement, served up into the laps of its most ardent detractors.

Disturbing - and dismaying - images of ACORN workers have received wide exposure on national news outlets and the Internet. Hidden cameras captured the workers happily assisting a pair of conservative filmmakers posing as a pimp and prostitute on how to obtain fraudulent loans to operate a brothel, evade taxes and smuggle underage illegal immigrants from El Salvador to engage in prostitution.

As one of the nation's most well-known liberal advocacy groups, ACORN has frequently found itself in the crosshairs of conservatives and media outlets such as Fox News, especially so during last year's presidential campaign when ACORN was at the center of a scandal involving fraudulent voter registration forms.

That moment afforded ACORN a golden opportunity to clean up the way it does business and restore the reputation of an organization that has an admirable legacy of serving the needs of the poor and disenfranchised. Unfortunately, in an apparent act of hubris, ACORN officials failed to address its growing internal ethical shortcomings. The result has thrust the organization into the throes of a growing - and perhaps fatal - public relations quagmire and, more importantly, a legal crisis.

ACORN workers may have aided and abetted numerous felonies - bank fraud, tax evasion, illegal immigration, prostitution - and that's just for starters. In response, the organization's leadership initially attacked Fox News with the feeble defense that the damning footage was doctored.

Regardless of Fox News' biases, this is still a legitimate story, despite its dubious journalistic hidden-camera methodology. And as ACORN's support across the political spectrum and in the corridors of power in Washington implodes, the group would do well to act now to clean house from top to bottom to restore whatever scintilla of public credibility it may still have. For from this decaying ACORN, a tree of distrust is growing fast.

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