October 27, 2008

Negotiating for that ACORN “sit down in our office” interview

Posted: 06:35 PM ET

If you’ve been following our attempts to find out why so many ACORN voter registration forms are being turned in with apparently fraudulent information, you may have also seen my interview with ACORN’s chief organizer Bertha Lewis.

During our live interview I asked Ms. Lewis what ACORN was or is doing to prevent further voter registration fraud. She invited me to go to New York and see for myself.


Here is how the conversation went:

DREW: “Is there anything else you can do, in terms of greater openness to put these issues to rest? Can you open the books? Can we work this out?

Bertha Lewis/Acorn chief Organizer: “Sure, we want Drew or anyone, Drew come sit down in our office.”

Of course, immediately after the interview, my producer Kathleen Johnston, called to ask when we could come and sit down in Ms. Lewis’ office, in fact we asked if we could come tomorrow. That was 11 tomorrow’s ago. We are still in negotiations with ACORN as to what exactly Ms. Lewis meant by her “come sit down in our office” invitation. ACORN has hired a crisis management team and a public relations firm to help them handle the press. And so far, at least handling us, has meant to keep their office door closed.

I’ll keep you posted….negotiations continue.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Election 2008 • Politics

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October 16, 2008

"The Wolf Of Wall Street"

Posted: 02:40 PM ET

I recently interviewed Jordan Belfort for our special report on the lifestyles of some of the fat cats on . Wall Street. Belfort  used to call himself “The Wolf of Wall Street,” just like the title of his autobiographical book published in 2007.

He says in the 1990s he was making around $1 million a week. He lived what he called “The Life,” – He had his own helicopter, a yacht, dozens of servants, and a mansion in the Hamptons. But it was all based on fraud. He spent 22 months in prison, charged with money laundering and securities fraud. Today, he still owes victims more than $100 million in restitution.

But what I found most interesting about Belfort was the way he identified with movie and television characters.

I would have never remembered the original “Wolf of Wall Street,” had Belfort not told me. Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island” was actually called the “old Wolf of Wall Street,” in the popular television series that was about a group of people who were stranded on a deserted island. Thurston Howell III was a wealthy businessman. Belfort, too, called himself by the same name, and it stuck.

Then came the movie “Wall Street,” directed by Oliver Stone in 1987. Belfort said he considered the lead character Gordon Gekko his hero. Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, was a Wall Streeter who coined the infamous phrase, “Greed is good.” Belfort couldn’t have agreed more with those three simple words, and it became the motto he lived by.

Belfort said he lives his life as if he were a character in a movie. Even in private, he said he plays the roles of characters in front of what he called “an invisible audience.”

He emulated characters like the one Richard Gere played in “Pretty Woman.” He bought the same white Testarossa that Don Johnson’s character, Sonny Crocket, tooled around in on “Miami Vice.” And now, after he lived “The Life,” and ultimately paid the price, he said he’s cast himself in a much different role. The one Tom Cruise played in the movie "Jerry McGuire"–a sports agent redeemed after a career collapse.

I think it’s interesting to think of living life in terms of pop culture. When I was talking to Belfort after the interview he asked me if I’ve modeled my life after Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in “Up Close and Personal.” Pfeiffer’s character, Tally Atwater, was a young and ambitious reporter, who had dreams of making it big. I kind of laughed and shrugged it off, but really, I remember watching that movie a long time ago, and thought, “If only I were lucky enough to do a live shot from trapped inside a maximum security prison in the middle of a riot! My career would be set!”

So, here’s my question:

During this unpredictable time, maybe we should ask ourselves what characters are we trying to portray? How does our role-playing affect our future? And in a perfect world, who should we be emulating?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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October 15, 2008

Raising Money: “Focus” and the “Car Wash”

Posted: 04:01 PM ET

Editor’s Note: Thirty kids, ages 12 to 16, from Bushwick, Brooklyn, were chosen to participate in “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program created by Malaak Compton-Rock. In early August they traveled to South Africa with Compton-Rock and CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien.  The group returned to the U.S. on August 13th.  Since their return, they’ve been fundraising and doing service projects. We’ve asked them to share their thoughts and experiences by blogging. In March,  the group’s journey will be featured in a CNN Documentary.

At the FOCUS event, for City Harvest, I had lots of fun. When I arrived, I felt excited about going to this special event. Inside were people dressed all fancy and a whole bunch of photographers surrounding us. I went to the area where all of our pictures were displayed. When I saw my pictures on the wall I felt so happy because the pictures that I had actually taken in Africa were on the wall. Steven's, Latoya's, Joshua's, and Keyon's pictures were up too. I felt so proud of myself and I felt like I did a really good job. There were people at the event that I didn't even know coming up to me and telling me how my pictures came out beautiful and I should think about becoming a photographer. The best part was that I even got to go on the red carpet. I felt like a superstar posing for the cameras. For the rest of the night I was just dancing and getting to know new people. Then all of a sudden, I heard that Rachael Ray had just entered.  I immediately took my camera out and asked to take a picture with her. Later on that night, Yolaine and I were going around taking pictures. Before you knew, it was time to go home. I wasn't ready to go home because the producer had told me and Yolaine that Danity Kane was supposed to be stopping by. But we had no choice but to leave because school was the next day. One of the mentors Keith even came!!!!! That night was the best night of my life. The FOCUS event was so fun, but I wish I could've stayed longer.  The food was also good and the event helped to feed hungry people.

Zuliana Burnett, 12

The FOCUS event for City Harvest was a memorable experience because I have never gone to an event like that. I have gone to art galleries but nothing compared to that. That art gallery was huge. It had a big stage for music, some show cars, and there was a big auction going on. I liked the event because on exhibition were some pictures from when I went to South Africa. I also saw some pictures that I took for Times for Kids magazine. I was filled with joy when I saw those. The whole time there was great because I saw and mingled with different people that I probably would have never met if I didn’t go to the event.

Kenyon Aigle, 16

Going to the photo gallery was an excellent experience.  I touched and looked inside of a million dollar car.  There was also another car there and it had Lamborghini doors.  This car was red and it went faster than 200 miles per hour.  I sat in it and I felt like I had trillion dollars in my pocket and bank account.  There were lots of famous people there.  I took pictures with Rachel Ray.  I was looking around for Whoopi Goldberg.  I didn't find her because it was time for me to go home.  There were many cool pictures there.  The Journey for Change pictures were also posted.  These were pictures that were taken by a couple of Journey for Change participants.  I had lots of fun and it was a really great experience.  Some of the photos that were there were being auctioned off.  The money is going to City Harvest.

Albert Brunn III, 12

The car wash was a great day and I had a great time. We were doing the car wash to raise money for a little girl in South Africa. Her house burned down and her mother was in the hospital because she was burned badly. At the beginning of the Car Wash, Mrs. Malaak-Compton Rock stopped us and called over all the participants from Journey for Change. She told us that the little girl's mother had passed away and that we weren't going to be raising the money to rebuild the house, but that we were raising money so that the little girl could go to school and have food. After hearing the little girl's mother had passed, I was sad because that was my motivation for the whole car wash. I had been telling drivers that we were raising the money for the girl and her mother to rebuild their house in South Africa. But at the end of everything it all worked out.  We raised $1340 for the little girl to go to school and to eat!!!!!

Steven Pallares, 15

The car wash was very fun.  We had people on the sidewalks handing out fliers and holding up signs.  We also had people walking up to cars and asking them if they wanted to buy candy.  The car wash was to raise money for a little girl who we met in South Africa.  On the day of the car wash all of the Journey for Change participants were informed that her mother died in the hospital a week before.  Her mother was in the hospital with burns from the neck down.  The little girl was burned too, but not as badly as her mother.  They received these burns when their shack burned down.  When her mother died the woman had only paid for three months of school.  The little girl is currently living with her uncle.  The uncle is unemployed and he has his own kids to support.  He can't afford to take care of her. The focus of the car wash was changed.  We wanted to make sure the little girl eats well and is able to go to school.  Any extra money will go towards new clothing.  Maybe any extra money could also be used to start a savings account for her.

Albert Brunn III, 12

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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October 13, 2008

ACORN’s voter registration sinks and stinks in Lake County

Posted: 06:46 PM ET


Conventional thinking says poor people, minorities and the disenfranchised don’t vote because those in power try to make it as difficult as possible for these various groups to vote.

That is the reason ACORN, a far-left leaning consortium of community activism, decided this election cycle to aggressively register voters in America’s less affluent neighborhoods.

One of those areas is Lake County Indiana. For anyone outside of Indiana, this is Gary, a city of shuttered or crippling along steel mills, vacant store fronts and mostly black faces.

Vowing to make sure these forgotten faces get heard, ACORN initially sought to register as many as 45-thousand new voters in Lake County alone. That would have been tremendous given the county has just 300-thousand voters altogether.

Even so, when ACORN dropped off its pile of 5,000 new voter registration forms, the elections workers were elated. Both the republican and democratic workers inside the Lake County registrar’s office are excited about each new voter and were indeed hoping this election would be the one that ignited the kind of voter engagement that is our constitutional right.

But when they began peeling away the onion, so to speak, it started to rot. The first 2,100 voter applications were deemed fraud the other 2,900 were put aside. Now the Indiana Attorney General is being asked to investigate.

ACORN, which ran the voter drive, has tried to say allegations of voter registration fraud against ACORN is just another plot by those in power to keep those out of power from voting. No so. Having looked directly at the applications in question, I can tell you ACORN itself was defrauded by its own workers.

Paid to register voters, it appears all the ACORN workers did was fill in any old name, dead, made up or even a name on a fast food restaurant, and collect their pay.

Because every voter registration application must legally be reviewed, the workers in the Lake County Election’s office are spending 10 and 12 hour days trying to verify what they know are fake voter registration cards handed in by ACORN.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit

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October 7, 2008

For man shot in back, Justice too late in New Orleans

Posted: 03:21 PM ET

The press release form the New Orleans Police Department described him as an unidentified gunmen who was “confronted by a New Orleans Police officers” then “reached into his waist and turned toward the officer.” The New Orleans Police Department told us the officer on that day, Sept. 4, 2005, fired one shot killing the suspect.

I’m guessing the New Orleans Police thought we would just take their word for it. We didn’t.

It took us more than a year, but what we found out about Ronald Madison proved justice in New Orleans is only for those who wear a badge.

Ronald Madison was a 40-year old mentally disabled man who had survived Katrina flooding with his brother Lance. On a Sunday morning they swam out of their mother’s home and headed for the Danziger Bridge. You can read more about their ordeal, and Ronald’s tragic death, in the stories below.

What you need to know now, is three years after he was killed by police, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the

U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans finally announced they will investigate.

Well it’s about time.

Ronald Madison was unarmed when he died. Ronald Madison was running away from a group of unidentified gunmen driving a postal truck. An autopsy showed Ronald Madison had seven gunshot wounds, all in his back.

Thee gunman turned out to be plain clothes New Orleans cops. It took us a year to find it, but after CNN revealed the autopsy and then found an eyewitness, the 7 officers were indicted. Two weeks ago all the charges against those officers were dismissed by a New Orleans judge because the New Orleans District Attorney’s office violated rules during a grand jury hearing.

All just a little too convenient, isn’t it?

So now, three years later, the U.S. Justice Department is stepping in to perhaps finally bring “justice” to Ronald Madison. Like almost everything else the Feds have done to help New Orleans recover from Katrina, it’s just too little too late.

For more info:

Eyewitness describes killing of Ronald Madison

Autopsy shows Ronald Madison shot in back

Filed under: Uncategorized

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October 2, 2008

"Gotcha Journalism"

Posted: 02:19 PM ET

What is “gotcha” journalism?

I keep hearing this term used on the campaign trail, and I wonder what people mean by it. As a journalist I believe my job is to ask tough questions. But apparently, if they are too tough, or the person just doesn’t know the answer, or the answer is the wrong answer, the person can claim a case of “gotcha” journalism. I guess once someone claims the reporter was out to “getcha” then the focus becomes the horrible, unethical, and mud-slinging reporter, and not the candidate.
The “gotcha” excuse was used recently when I asked Gov. Sarah Palin’s spokesperson, Meg Stapleton why the governor only seems to talk about the one bridge to nowhere that she killed, when there are two bridges to nowhere, and Palin supports the second bridge being built.

Here is the exchange:

Boudreau: “When Gov. Palin is talking about the bridge to nowhere, we are thinking, she killed that bridge. But everyone locally is telling us there has always been two bridges. I mean, it’s always been referred to as the two bridges to nowhere here.”

Stapleton: “I think the media coined the bridge to nowhere.”

Boudreau: “Congress coined it.”

Stapleton: “No, the media coined the whole bridge to nowhere, and the whole focus on the bridge, has been the Gravina Island Bridge.”

Before we get to the alleged “gotcha” moment, let me give you a few details about these two bridges.

One was the Gravina Island Bridge that would connect residents in Ketchikan, to their neighboring island, where the airport is located.

The other bridge, would connect Anchorage, to Point MacKenzie, population 269, an outlying community of Wasilla, the governor’s home town.

Both of these bridges were coined “bridges to nowhere” during Congressional debates after a public outcry that the bridges symbolized wasteful government spending.

Gov. Palin killed the planned Ketchikan bridge. And she has been very vocal about how she redirected the funding for that bridge, claiming she told Congress, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

But Gov. Palin seems to have left out the fact that she continues to support the other bridge. I asked Meg Stapleton why the Governor chose to leave that little detail out of her stump speech. Here is Stapleton’s response:

Stapleton: “The national media may just be learning about it, but she has said this. The national media has focused on one [bridge] because it was perhaps the easiest one to talk about.

Boudreau: “It’s the one she continues to talk about.”

Stapleton: “It’s the one that Ketchikan residents have brought up because they felt it was sorta a gotcha moment.”

Aha. The “gotcha” moment. So here’s my question: Where is the line between a tough, but fair question, and “gotcha” journalism? And, have journalists crossed the line in questioning Gov. Palin and her record?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Uncategorized

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