May 25, 2006

Seeing Yellow

ABC's Brian Ross is reporting on his blog The Blotter that Speaker of the House Denny Hastert is the target of an on-going FBI corruption investigation:

Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

There's just one problem with that theory: The FBI denies the story, and Hastert himself is demanding a full retraction.

Despite the denials and request for a retraction, Ross is sticking to his story… sort of:

ABC's law enforcement sources said the Justice Department denial was meant only to deny that Hastert was a formal “target” or “subject” of the investigation. "Whether they like it or not, members of Congress, including Hastert, are under investigation," one federal official said tonight. The investigation of Hastert's relationship with Abramoff is in the early stages, according to these officials, and could eventually conclude that Abramoff's information was unfounded.

Gentlemen, start your parsing.

In the original article, Ross was quite careful to only say that Hastert was “in the mix,” a vague, rather nebulous statement that most readers would interpret to mean that Hastert was most likely the target of a criminal investigation. Indeed, the Reality-Based Community (an oxymoron if there ever was one) seems to be exactly under that impression in their update, and the ambiguous wording is also apparently interpreted in a similar fashion at Booman Tribune, The Carpetbagger Report, and Washington Monthly, all leading liberal political blogs.

But these blogs were hardly alone. Mainstream news sources such as Bloomberg were also taken in by Ross's too-perfect parsing, declaring:

U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is under investigation by the FBI in the corruption scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ABC News reported. ABC News, citing unidentified Justice Department officials, said the information involving Hastert was provided by lobbyists who are now cooperating with the investigation.

Reuters and even local ABC stations were also apparently taken in.

Ross provided an initial report with carefully constructed sentences that are phrased in such a way that even the best of minds inferred that Hastert is most likely the target of the investigation.

Bravo, Mr. Ross. Very well played.

So what is occurring here? Are professional journalists (Richard Esposito and Rhonda Schwartz also contributed to the ABC reports) ginning up excitable bloggers and less careful fellow journalists to establish smears they can then plausibly deny as being mere misinterpretations?

Ross's own sources seem to think so:

You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully," a senior official said.

Hastert may be a number of things, but he is not the focus of a Congressional corruption probe.

Ross's purposefully misleading, barely justifiable reporting seems to be a classic case of sensationalism, and would appear to cross into the ethically-challenged world of yellow journalism.

Denny Hastert may or may not be found to be of interest in Congressional corruption investigations, but one thing we now know to be true: the reporting of Brian Ross, "ABC News' Chief Investigative Correspondent" is not to be taken at face value.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 25, 2006 12:01 AM | TrackBack


Adding to the likelihood that this is a straight-up hatchet job by Ross is the fact that several Democrats are also "in the mix." According to Jack Kelly waaaay back in January in the Post-Gazette:

"Democrats received about a third of the money donated by Mr. Abramoff's clients and by employees of his lobbying firm. Among those receiving the most were Rep. Robert F. Kennedy of Rhode Island ($128,000, second overall); Sen. Reid ($40,500) and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee ($67,000)."

And yet, Brian Ross' deep investigation today uncovers the finding:

"According to the Center for Responsive Politics, House Speaker Dennis Hastert is the No.1 individual recipient of money from Abramoff and his clients, with a total of $68,300 contributed to his campaign committee and leadership PAC from 1998 to 2004."

Remember, Jack Kelly wrote his piece in JANUARY. So riddle me this...why the "breaking news" today?

Also note the discrepency in the numbers. Ross says Hastert is #1 at $68k, Kelly says Kennedy is #2 at $128k.

Obviously something is screwy with the way the numbers are reported/tallied/parsed.

Bottom line? First, Brian's reporting is dishonest in that he's making "news" when there is none. Second, Brian's reporting is intentionally deceiving. I suppose he could simply be suffering under the pressures of competition and rapid news cycles -- but I doubt it.

Note to Brian Ross: I think there's an opening for a crack investigative journalist over at Truthout. (just sayin')



Posted by: Moose Dung at May 25, 2006 12:45 AM

Please keep the heat on this story. For a major network to LIE to the public is very very disturbing. There are people out there whose only news source is network news. During Clinton's tenure, my husband kept telling me that there was a whole other world of facts on the political world and it was not aired on network televisions, but talk radio, internet, and cable news. (Back then I didn't watch Fox news or read blogs)The networks only aired Clinton's messes when the other medias had gotten them out there and to fail to do so would have made them look ridiculous. Now I NEVER trust anything I hear on network television or in Washington Post or New York Times. NEVER They have turned the integrity of the TV news journalism into the National Enquirer. You can't believe anything they produce and they purposely omit major stories which is bad as well. The Hastert inuendo doesn't surprise me at all. When there is a Republican in trouble (ie. Tom Delay), they are all over it hanging the guy before any evidence is in, but IF it is a Democrat, they defend them and promote the idea that they are being railroaded, even if the evidence is Jefferson from Louisiana.

Posted by: Cindy Anderson at May 25, 2006 06:38 AM

Per Kim Priestap at Wizbang, Hastert's lawyers have sent a letter to ABC asking for the retraction or as they are quoted as stating "We will take any and all actions necessary to rectify the harm ABC has caused and to hold those at ABC responsible for their conduct." This should get interesting.

Posted by: NLC at May 25, 2006 02:12 PM