Ah. More mendacity this morning from the editors of the Washington Post:
washingtonpost.blog - The Editors Talk About Site Policies, Design and Goals
: The Post stands by its reporting that Jack Abramoff directed campaign money to some Democrats.
May we speak frankly here?
The Washington Post has many problems in this situation:
One problem is an ombudsman--Deborah Howell--who appears to be extraordinarily unfit for the job.
A second problem is that this ombudsman, on January 15, 2006, made the--false--claim that Washington Post staff reporter Susan Schmidt "quickly found that [Jack] Abramoff... had made substantial political contributions to both parties."
A third problem is that ombudsman Deborah Howell did not do the appropriate thing, which would have been to write: "On January 15, I wrote that Susan Schmidt had 'quickly found that [Jack] Abramoff... had made substantial political contributions to both parties.' This was incorrect. Jack Abramoff's personal political contributions were made to Republicans only. I regret the error."
Instead, the ombudsman wrote:
Nothing in my 50-year career prepared me for the thousands of flaming e-mails I got last week over my last column, e-mails so abusive and many so obscene that part of The Post's Web site was shut down.... I wrote that he gave campaign money to both parties and their members of Congress. He didn't. I should have said he directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.... I do know... I have a tough hide, and a few curse words (which I use frequently) are not going to hurt my feelings. But it is profoundly distressing if political discourse has sunk to a level where abusive name-calling and the crudest of sexual language are the norm, where facts have no place in an argument. This unbounded, unreasoning rage is not going to help this newspaper, this country or democracy.... To all of those who wanted me fired, I'm afraid you're out of luck. I have a contract. For the next two years, I will continue to speak my mind.
A fourth problem is that where Deborah Howell should have written "I regret the error" she wrote "[Abramoff] directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties." Nobody, nobody--unless they were in hock to Karl Rove or candidates for the lunatic asylum--would characterize Abramoff's business as "directing" "campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties." Such a declaration flies in the face of Washington Post stories like:
"A Jackpot From Indian Gaming Tribes: Lobbying, PR Firms Paid $45 Million Over 3 Years," by Susan Schmidt Feb 22, 2004 A.01: A powerful Washington lobbyist and a former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) persuaded four newly wealthy Indian gaming tribes to pay their firms more than $45 million over the past three years for lobbying and public affairs work, a sum that rivals spending to influence public policy by some of the nation's biggest corporate interests. Touting his ties to conservatives in Congress and the White House, lobbyist Jack Abramoff persuaded the tribes to hire him and public relations executive Michael Scanlon to block powerful forces both at home and in Washington who have designs on their money, according to tribe members. Under Abramoff's guidance, the four tribes -- Michigan's Saginaw Chippewas, the Agua Caliente of California, the Mississippi Choctaws and the Louisiana Coushattas -- have also become major political donors. They have loosened their traditional ties to the Democratic Party...
"Reed Confirms Fees From Indian Casino Lobbyists", by Thomas B. Edsall Aug 30, 2004 A.03: Ralph Reed, Southeast regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, confirmed on Sunday that he accepted more than $1 million in fees from a lobbyist and a public relations specialist whose work on behalf of American Indian casinos prompted a federal investigation.... Scanlon's company paid Reed $1.23 million, according to sources familiar with the transactions. The two law firms Abramoff worked for, Greenberg Traurig LLP and Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP, paid fees to Reed and Century Strategies...
"Tribal Money Linked to GOP Fundraising" by Susan Schmidt and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum Dec 26, 2004 A.01: For most politicians, fundraising is a dreaded chore. But until recently, Rep. John T. Doolittle of California and other members of the House Republican leadership had adopted a painless solution: fundraising events in luxury sports boxes leased largely with the money of Indian gaming tribes.... Abramoff spent about $1 million annually in funds largely provided by his tribal clients to lease four skyboxes -- two at FedEx Field and one each at MCI Center and Camden Yards. Season after season, he kept them brimming with lawmakers, staffers and their guests, part of a multimillion-dollar congressional care and feeding project that even the brashest K Street lobbyists could only watch with awe or envy.... Abramoff and the lobbyists who worked for... used tribal money, records and interviews show, to pay for events that appeared to be designed more to help House Republicans' campaigns and Abramoff's overall lobbying effort than the Indians' legislative causes.... A list of skybox fundraising events maintained by Abramoff at his former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, lists 72 events for members of Congress between 1999 and 2003. All but eight were put on for Republicans, many of them members of the House leadership. Some of the fundraising events, including Doolittle's, were not reported as required under federal election laws...
"Lobbyist Quits As Firm Probes Work With Tribes," by Susan Schmidt Mar 4, 2004 A.01: Abramoff and Michael Scanlon... received more than $45 million in lobbying and public affairs work from newly wealthy tribes.... Abramoff also advised the tribes to give $2.9 million in federal political contributions, two-thirds of it to Republicans.... Abramoff also has advised tribes to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to obscure organizations that appear to have no connection to Indian concerns. They include American International Center, a think tank that Scanlon, in an e-mail statement this week, said he founded. The organization paid $1.5 million in fees to Greenberg Traurig, becoming one of its largest lobbying clients. Touting his ties to conservatives in Congress and the White House, Abramoff has become one of Washington's most powerful and best-paid lobbyists. He has convinced tribes with gambling wealth that they should support conservatives who share their anti-tax philosophy...
"Tribal Grant Is Being Questioned,"
: by Susan Schmidt Mar 1, 2005 A.03: PUBLISHED CORRECTIONS: A March 1 article inaccurately reported that Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) supported controversial legislation that provided a $3 million grant to a wealthy Indian tribe. Dorgan said he did not support it, contrary to an assertion made Feb. 28 by a spokesman for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Burns's office acknowledged it had been incorrect. (Published 3/2/05.) A $3 million grant from a federal program intended for impoverished Indian tribal schools went to one of the richest tribes in the country under pressure from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who oversees the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe... was at the time a client of Jack Abramoff, a prominent Republican lobbyist.... Abramoff, his associates and his wealthy tribal clients have been an important source of Burns's campaign funds, providing 42 percent of the contributions to his "soft-money" political action committee from 2000 to 2002, according to federal election records. Burns pressed for the appropriation over the objections of Interior officials, who said that the grant was not intended for such a purpose. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), ranking minority member on the appropriations subcommittee, supported Burns's effort...
}Casino Bid Prompted High-Stakes Lobbying"by Susan Schmidt Mar 13, 2005 A.01: When a ragtag band of Louisiana Indians won their governor's support for a casino three years ago, they never could have fathomed the powerful cast of characters who would collaborate to flatten them. Jack Abramoff, one of Washington's most prominent Republican lobbyists... orchestrate[d] a far-reaching campaign against the Jena Band of Choctaws -- calling on senior U.S. senators and congressmen, the deputy secretary of the interior and evangelical leaders James Dobson and Ralph Reed.... Abramoff directed his tribal clients to give at least $225,000 to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a conservative group that was founded by Gale A. Norton before President Bush chose her to be his interior secretary.... Abramof... had been winning over tribes around the country, preaching that they needed to cultivate the new GOP majority in Washington as well as the Democrats they traditionally supported.... Abramoff asked the Coushatta... to contribute to politicians and conservative groups...
Look at what these stories say about what Abramoff did:
"asked [tribes]... to contribute to politicians and conservative groups..."
"preach[ed] that [tribes] needed to cultivate the new GOP majority in Washington as well as the Democrats they traditionally supported..."
"directed his tribal clients to give... $225,000 to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a conservative group that was founded by [Interior Secretary] Gale A. Norton..."
"Abramoff, his associates and his wealthy tribal clients... provid[ed] 42 percent of the contributions to [Republican Conrad Burns's] "soft-money" political action committee..."
"spent about $1 million annually... to lease four skyboxes... brimming with lawmakers, staffers and their guests... a multimillion-dollar congressional care and feeding project... designed... to help House Republicans' campaigns and Abramoff's overall lobbying effort... 72 events for members of Congress.... All but eight were put on for Republicans..."
"Touting his ties to conservatives in Congress and the White House, Abramoff has become one of Washington's most powerful and best-paid lobbyists. He has convinced tribes with gambling wealth that they should support conservatives who share their anti-tax philosophy..."
"Under Abramoff's guidance, the four tribes... have loosened their traditional ties to the Democratic Party..."
Would you, based on these stories, characterize Jack Abramoff as being in the business of "directing... campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties"? Would anybody who cared about preserving the shreds of their reputation as an objective news reporter do so? No.
But you are not the editors of the Washington Post.
And here we come to Washington Post problem number 5. Rather than take steps to begin to repair their reputation and credibility, the Post editors pile the shreds of their reputation, douse them with gasoline, and set them afire by deciding to back their ombudsman's current characterization of Jack Abramoff as being in the business of "directing... campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties."
Here's the Post's full statement. Live comments, of course, are not allowed:
The Post stands by its reporting that Jack Abramoff directed campaign money to some Democrats.
Abramoff was one of Washington’s most prominent Republican lobbyists and his political pedigree and alliances were overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. No Democrats are among the half-dozen lawmakers who The Post’s sources say are under scrutiny by the Justice Department. Abramoff convinced a number of casino-rich Indian tribes that had been historically Democratic donors to expand their political giving and to make most of their contributions to the GOP.
However, as reported in several Post stories since 2004, Abramoff also built links with the other party, as most lobbyists do. He hired a few Democrats onto his lobbying staff. He turned over his sports stadium boxes to some Democrats to use for fundraising events. Representatives of tribes including the Saginaw Chippewas, the Tiguas of El Paso and the Agua Caliente Band testified in Congress that Abramoff told them how much to give to specific lawmakers and party committees. The lists he sent to the Indian tribes included some Democrats and Democratic party groups, according to copies of the lists obtained by The Post and according to tribal members familiar with Abramoff’s operation. More than a dozen Democrats, including Sens. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Max Baucus (Mont.) have returned donations from Abramoff clients and associates, citing the scandal.
Here are some of the stories that touch on those points:
• Papers Show Tribe Paid to Try to Sway Bill, Nov. 18, 2004
• Tribal Money Linked to GOP Fundraising; Skybox Events Were Not Always Reported to FEC, Dec. 26, 2004
• Casino Bid Prompted High-Stakes Lobbying, March 13, 2005
• Democrats Also Got Tribal Donations; Abramoff Issue’s Fallout May Extend Beyond the GOP, June 3, 2005
• Abramoff Witness Frustrates Panel, Nov. 18, 2005
• Dorgan Tangled in Abramoff Web, Dec. 5, 2005
-- Post Editors
If you work for the Financial Times, for the National Journal, for the news pages of the Wall Street Journal, for the Economist, for Bloomberg or Reuters or Knight-Ridder or the Christian Science Monitor, your organization is an asset to your credibility. I would advise all journalists to think hard about whether the organization they work for is like one of these or not.