The whole experience was physically grueling. Intense seems almost a lame word to describe the session. The only comparables that leapt into my mind was what it felt like to be in the witness box in a courtroom or labor board hearing. At one short break for Fox to change tapes for the 4th time or so, I found myself telling Megyn Kelly, the documentary reporter, about the repartee my dad and I would maintain, ladder to ladder, as we painted in various houses, when he would shout out, “Hey, Wade, are we having fun yet?” as the call, and my response would be, “Yes, Dad, we’re having a goooood time!” I’ve carried this line into hard tasks with my own children, and to break the tedium I found myself teaching the Fox crew the same line so that we had something to say to each other at every tape change.
The whole experience was also an education often in the banality of handwringing and grasping at straws being done by the conservative right to find a way to churn misdirected anger at ACORN and its legacy. Whole sections of the discussion with Beulah Labostrie, a more than 30-year veteran ACORN members and leader from New Orleans who I had recruited to join me for this worm dig, and me were almost like we were running a “rumor control” center somewhere. These questions were always posed, as “some people say,” or “it has been said,” or “you must know that some have questioned,” so you knew a hairy, knuckleball was coming at you as you dug into bat. Mostly we tried to foul off these screwball pitches, since there was no way to hit them cleanly.
I had made an agreement with them that I was only willing to answer questions about the 38-year period from the date I founded ACORN until I resigned on June 2, 2008. I spent a lot of time reminding them that I would not comment on anything that it was more appropriate for current management and leadership to handle, and I had full confidence in their ability to do so as they felt appropriate or not. Of course 38 years gave them more than enough fodder for questions.
Some of the more ridiculous are easy to list to give some flavor of our time trapped in the library of the Williams Club on the east 39th.
- Were 200 or more corporations registered with their legal address in New Orleans? Who knows and who cares was virtually my answer. The legal department was housed in New Orleans so of course the registrations were there. None of these questions to the heart of where the operations were located, their executives housed, or how they operated. The question is similar to asking why if 90% of American businesses are incorporated in Delaware is Delaware not bigger and why do these same places have big buildings and payrolls in other states? Megyn Kelly is a “recovering attorney,” as she called herself, but she must have had trouble not yawning at that question herself. I did extract a distinctly New Orleanian pleasure by teaching her how to pronounce “Elysian Fields” and reminding her of its place in Greek mythology.
- The big “gotcha” question of the interview was some half-baked thing that I think she said came from some Congressional minority report probably done by a 19-year old intern (though we love interns!) on summer break. The question had to do with whether ACORN should have reported any embezzlement because of an IRS regulation requiring such reporting. Of course as I had to remind the Fox folk for the 20th time, ACORN was a simple non-profit and not a tax exempt entity so there were no such IRS requirements on its activity nor on any similarly structured non-profit. Furthermore, the IRS ruling is brand new and only taking effect in the current year, so any allegation that any events over the last 10 years were subject to mandatory reporting is simply cynical. Conservatives of all people should also know we have long standing bars against ex post facto laws, rules and regulations that try to go before the time of their implementation, and certainly attorney Kelly knows that from her old school days.
- There was some hard to follow question about whether on my watch we engaged in something they wanted to call “money for muscle.” The examples they cited involved CVS drugstores which was a first for me, so neither one of us knew what was up there. The other example was Sherwin-Williams paint, which was a sore subject, because this was a long campaign against the lead damage in neighborhoods caused by this company and other lead paint manufacturers that despite hard work and long effort, we were never able to win. There was no agreement ever reached. No real negotiations. No real reform. I wish ACORN would go after that company again and do so seriously, but it was a campaign we didn’t win during my time with the organization.
This should give some flavor. I could say, “you should have been there,” but I wouldn’t wish that on a dog. Furthermore, some day they will take all of these hours and hours of footage and boil it with everything else into 48 minutes of a documentary, and god only knows what that will look like once it is spliced in with footage from the Citizen Wealth book launch, the walk-and-talk in the lower 9th ward, and footage of our offices, and god knows what else as they look at the last 13 months since I left.
We spent a lot of time on the organizational structure and how money worked. I quipped that they should have invited an accountant, but I’m the only one who enjoyed the joke. Kelly did a moving reading the of the great preamble to the ACORN platform, which just about brought Beulah and I to tears, but that turned out to be a setup question to whether or not , we were socialists. She asked me whether or not I loved America.
It was that kind of day. We hung in there and nothing felt like a major snafu, but the devil’s hands will be on the details, so we’ll see. In the tunnel riding to LaGuardia I said it was fine to a caller, but then handed the phone over to Beulah for her take, and heard her saying over and over again, “it was hard, very, very hard.”
It was something that had to be done. No it’s been there, done that, and hope for the best!