October 27, 2006

Fair and balanced? Not even close.

It's been brought to my attention that Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times recently wrote a piece about a 527 group running ads in the area.

I posted a piece 12 days ago which cited a NY Times article and focused on the first such ads to appear in the area, a scurrilous attack ad on Democrat Bruce Braley accusing him of wanting to completely disarm service men and women, run by a 527 group with the stunningly hypocritical name "Americans for Honesty on Issues", noting that the group's leader had ties to Bush and Tom Delay, as well as Enron felon (well, until he died) Ken Lay. It noted that other such groups are funded and run by the same figures which ran the infamous swift boat lie campaign in '04.

Tibbetts apparently felt, rightly, that the groups behind such ads are of interest, as they do all they can to hide their funding and their political ties, at least some of them. They also are known for running particularly loathsome and distorting ads, ads which the candidate then can throw up their hands and disavow any responsiblility for, since they aren't directly produced by their campaigns. The fact that they're not closely coordinated is the lie that everyone maintains.

But the Times coverage is blatantly skewed and almost bizarre in it's one-sidedness.

The story first appeared under the headline, "Group with ties to Bill Clinton buying ad time for 1st District race."
A group started by a top Clinton administration official and other donors to Democratic causes has jumped into Iowa's 1st Congressional District race with both feet.

The September Fund has made a large purchase of television ad time in the district to run a commercial that is critical of President Bush and urges viewers to "vote for change."
The piece goes on to detail the ad, which shows voters asking questions of a bush, then saying they have about as good a chance of getting answers from that bush as they do from George W. Bush.

The Tibbetts piece first appeared Wednesday October 25th. This is notable because while the September Fund may have decided to "jump into the race" "with both feet", they'd done so two weeks before the QC Times noticed.

The ad had already been running in the area for at least 15 days. On October 12th, after seeing it run several times over the prior few days, I posted the September Fund's ad for readers to view.

Why is this now news to the Times? Perhaps it was on cable, and now is going to be on local outlets? Is that why they find it newsworthy two weeks after it went up? Who knows?

The Times piece was fleshed out and posted again yesterday. It discusses the money spent by both parties in the 1st District race on ads and even interviews figures from both the Braley and Whalen campaigns. But not a peep about Republican backed 527 groups or their ads.

Then clearly as an afterthought, someone tacked on the sentence,
"The only other outside group that has purchased major television time in the district is Americans for Honesty on Issues, which ran an ad criticizing Braley." to the very bottom of the article.

Out of a 511 word article, 26 words are devoted to the Republican 527 group ad that was not only on air first, but was clearly more negative, directly attacking Bruce Braley, and whose leader has clear ties to Bush, Delay, and Ken Lay.

This aferthought appears as the last sentence in the piece, and may only have been added as a response to at least one comment left on the Times site pointing out the glaring omission of ANY mention of Republican 527 groups and ads and calling attention to my previous post on such ads in the area.

That's it.

What I find objectionable is that Tibbetts wrote exclusively about "The September Fund", a 527 group headed by Harold Ickes, and it's supposed "ties to Bill Clinton", apparently based on the fact that Ickes was a member of the Clinton administation for a time. "Ties" personally between Clinton and Ickes are doubtful, as Ickes was a famously independent figure in the administration and often clashed with Clinton. Yet the fact he was in the administration for a time is apparently enough to attempt to give the impression that Clinton is behind the group somehow.

What Tibbetts and the Times utterly ignore is the fact that a Republican 527 was up with a FAR more negative attack ad SPECIFICALLY targeting and distorting Democrat Braley's record, several days BEFORE the September Fund ad was run, an ad which didn't mention any candidate at all, and that the person heading the Republican group had worked for both disgraced and indicted former Republican congressman Tom Delay and the late felon and Enron CEO Ken Lay as well as being a Bush fundraiser.

As the NY Times piece put it:
The leader of Americans for Honesty on Issues is Sue Walden, a close ally of Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader who left Congress amid questions on ethics and fund-raising. Ms. Walden has also raised money for President Bush and served as an adviser to Kenneth L. Lay, the former chief executive of Enron who died in July.

Aren't those facts kind of important if you have any interest in being non-partisan and fair?

This Republican front group, which had run negative ads in the 1st District race beginning weeks ago, are never mentioned throughout the piece until one lone sentence tacked on at the bottom.

While the September Fund's supposed "ties" to Bill Clinton were featured in the headline in the Times, the Republican group's leader's ties to Bush, Delay, and Lay are never mentioned.

The September Fund ad does not target any specific Republican candidate in this race at all, a very important distinction between them and the ads run by the Republican front group, which viciously attacked and distorted Braley's record. Yet Tibbets made it appear that it was clearly anti-Whalen. Huh?

Even I, who make no pretense of being non-partisan, mentioned both Republican and Demorcratic backed 527 groups in my piece, and the NY Times article linked to in my post discusses the major 527 groups from both parties. Yet the QC Times piece, in a supposedly objective newspaper, is stunningly lop-sided.

So what are Times readers left with from this article?

Unless readers spy the short sentence at the very bottom of the piece, they're left thinking that a Democratic 527 organization, with ties to Bill Clinton (horrors!) is surreptitiously running ads against Mike Whalen. (even though the ads neither mention Whalen or Braley AT ALL) And the Democrats are the only ones engaging in this practice.

Even if they do notice or comprehend the last sentence, they're not informed that several Republican groups take advantage of the same 527 rules, that the Swift Boat smear campaign was one of them, and that not only do such groups exist, but in fact, one has been actively running smear ads against Bruce Braley in the 1st District, and that it's leader, Sue Walden, has clear ties to Bush, Delay, and Enron's Ken Lay.

NONE of that is mentioned or explained. Is that balance?

So the Times:

- Comes out with a piece on a Democratic 527 ad at least 15 days after it had begun running in the area.

- Trumpets that the group has "ties to Clinton" based on the fact a leader of the group was once in the Clinton administration over a decade ago.

- Characterizes the ad as being against Whalen, even thought the ad in question DOESN'T MENTION either candidate at all and instead focuses on national issues and the Bush record. This in contrast to the Republican 527 group's ad which viciously distorts Braley's record and is extremely negative in specifically attacking Braley.

- Explains the structure and nature of 527 groups and their influence on campaigns in detail, WITHOUT mentioning a single such Republican group, or even that they exist, until...

- As an afterthought, in a short sentence tacked on at the very bottom of the piece, blandly notes that, A. The Republicans are engaged in exactly the same groups, without a word of explanation that B. The Republican group's ad is extremely negative and attacks the Dem candidate specifically, or C. The people behind that organization have ties to Delay, and Ken Lay. Nor are readers informed of the following bit of readily available info. As mentioned in the NY Times piece,
Among the most active Republican 527 groups is the Economic Freedom Fund, which was formed this year and received a $5 million contribution from Bob J. Perry, a major Bush donor and an underwriter of the Swift boat veterans group in 2004. The fund is running advertisements on behalf of Republican candidates in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon and West Virginia.
The utter lack of perspective and balance in the article may be due to editors of course, and Tibbetts is normally a fine writer and reporter who I don't believe is biased, so I'm really surprised by this shoddy piece. Should I be?


At 10/27/2006 8:41 AM, Anonymous Ken Starr said...

It's all a lie of the liberal media!

At 10/27/2006 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Post. This anti-Braley campaign is ugly. One of the things that troubles me most about the commercials is when the Hal Riney-esque voice of the ads nearly chokes trying to spew out the words "Peace candidate." He says those words with such a palpable contempt, it hurts. How disturbing is it that Whalen is being supported by people who don't honor or value peace. What have we come to? How can one be held in contempt for favoring peace?


At 10/27/2006 1:16 PM, Anonymous Ken Starr said...

Yes, good post.

At 10/28/2006 9:14 AM, Blogger maybesomeday said...

The Times has changed its entire management from the Publisher down in the last year or so...and its tone to the right as evidenced by the recent writing.

Mark Ridolfi seems to have been gagged...so there you have it! And I am most disappointed and ashamed to say that the new top dog over there is a woman publisher-- who stands with a woman CEO of Lee Enterprises.

Now that's how to butter the corporate bread.. get the women to soften the blow a bit.

We are getting a Republican slant on both sides now....sad isn't it?

At 10/30/2006 11:06 PM, Blogger Tacky said...

How can a money making enterprise lean to the left? Newspapers know that serious readers are checking out a variety of news sources on the web.
So local news is replacing the two wars, state and national news on the front pages.
Have they already done the story on the biggest pumpkin of the year?
No wonder we don't know what happens in the rest of the world and nor do we care.
Keeping us entertained is more important than our children dying in foreign lands.
Nov. 7 will be a lesson in how democracy works in America--will more than half the registered voters take time to sustain the idea that democracy is worth dying for?


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