Washington Post in hole, keeps digging
The storied Washington Post is mired in a scandal and behaving more like Nixon than Ben Bradlee. It is a David and Goliath story, pitting a blogger in Minneapolis against the Beltway journalism powerhouse, the Washington Post. But John Hinderaker of Powerline has caught the storied newspaper that brought down Richard Nixon and has its own John Philip Sousa march in serious misbehavior, and possible collusion with politicians it ought to be covering with fierce objectivity. And the Post, rather than salvaging its reputation with a serious inquiry into how it ended up publishing what can most kindly be termed phony partisan propaganda, is making its situation worse, with a misleading, off point correction published Monday.
In case you are unfamiliar with the controversy, Post reporters Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin published an inaccurate article seeking to link the Koch Brothers with the Keystone Pipeline, thereby connecting the Democrats’ current bogeymen to a decision facing President Obama that pits his rich and active environmentalist supporters against the energy supply and job creation that completion of the pipeline would offer. If the Kochs could be demonized as the unseen hands behind Keystone, that would make a veto politically more palatable to unions and energy consumers, who would be hurt by a veto of Keystone that would keep the deep pocketed green donors happy.
The article, based entirely on a six-month-old report by a far-left group called the International Forum on Globalization that I demolished last October, was headlined, “The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.” The piece’s point was summarized succinctly in a quote by a spokesman for IFG: “IFG’s intention is to demonstrate the Koch-Keystone connection.”
I critiqued the Post story here, pointing out that Koch Industries has neither supported nor opposed the pipeline nor lobbied for it or against it; that Keystone would actually damage Koch’s economic interests by giving Alberta oil more outlets in the U.S., rather than being funneled toward Koch’s Minnesota refinery; that Koch owns only 3% of the Alberta oil sands leaseholds by area, and is not, in fact the biggest leaseholder; and that none of the existing or planned Athabasca oil development projects involve Koch. Koch Industries, in short, has nothing at all to do with the Keystone Pipeline
The Post and its reporters offered a somewhat bizarre response:
…Mufson and Eilperin felt obliged to respond to me by explaining why they wrote their article in the first place, given that they couldn’t argue with any of the facts I presented. Their explanation was that the article was politically motivated, intended to “stir and inflame public debate in this election year.” I critiqued that explanation here, offering an alternative: the Post published the false and misleading article on Koch and Keystone because the Post is a Democratic Party newspaper and wished to advance a Democratic Party talking point. I also pointed out that the paper’s reporters are part of an incestuous web of D.C. influence that is tightly tied in with the Democratic Party and its donors.
Them as if to confirm Hinderaker’s hypothesis:
…Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Henry Waxman wrote a long letter to the President of Koch Industries, posing a series of questions about Koch’s ostensible relationship to the Keystone Pipeline and requesting that Koch produce a long list of documents on the same topic. The letter repeatedly footnoted the March 20 Washington Post article and the IFG report on which it was based.
As Hinderaker noted, this raises the appearance of explicit coordination between the Post and the Democratic Party.
Was the article a put-up job, written for the specific purpose of being used by Whitehouse and Waxman in their attack on Koch? I asked those questions here, in a post titled, “Bombshell In WaPo/Keystone Scandal: Did the Post Coordinate With Congressional Democrats?” In order to get to the bottom of the scandal, I emailed Eilperin, Mufson and others at the Post and asked a series of questions, and requested production of documents, about the reporters’ contacts with Whitehouse, Waxman and others in connection with the March 20 story. Having received no answer, I sent a follow-up email to the Post employees. I also sent a similar series of questions and requests for documents to Waxman and Whitehouse.
So far, the Post, Whitehouse and Waxman have all continued to stonewall.
Not only stonewall, but, revealing a guilty conscience perhaps, publish a misdirected correction:
…yesterday, they published a follow-up to their March 20 story. Did this article address the fact that Koch has zero interest in the Keystone Pipeline? No. Did it deal with the fact that Koch plays no part in any of the major existing or projected oil sands developments? No. Did it respond in any way to the fact that building the Keystone Pipeline would hurt, rather than help, Koch Industries’ business interests? No. Did it address the fact that Koch has not even taken a public position on Keystone, and has done nothing to push either for or against its construction? No.
What the correction did say:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece said Koch Industries was the largest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands. On a net acreage basis the company is the largest American and foreign holder of leases in the region, but it might narrowly trail two Canadian companies overall.
Hinderaker lays out the reasons why this correction is so self-danning:
Substitute “does” for “might” and you have a true statement, but one that fails to address what the controversy is all about: the Post’s article was published for the sole purpose of suggesting that Koch is the main force behind the Keystone Pipeline, and that suggestion is 100% false. Far from being the driving force, Koch has no interest in the pipeline at all. An honest correction would admit that the March 20 article never should have been published.
Still unanswered is the question why it was published. Why did the Washington Post print an article on Keystone that was entirely false and that had no apparent news value, based, as it was, on a six-month-old report by a goofy left-wing organization that hardly anyone has heard of? Why was the Post’s story–published, as the authors acknowledge, for political reasons–almost immediately seized on by Congressional Democrats to justify an attack on Koch Industries? Did the Washington Post act in cooperation with Congressional Democrats? That is a very serious question, to which I do not know the answer. But the facts that we do know are damning. So is the fact that neither the Washington Post nor Senator Whitehouse nor Congressman Waxman will respond to our questions about whether they did or did not collaborate on the March 20 story.
The Post has a new owner, Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He really needs to start paying close attention to this scandal, which threatens the value the Post brings to him. It is not an operation that is generating a lot of profits for his personal portfolio, but rather one that brings him prestige and influence in the nation’s capital. That prestige and influence are headed downward with this irresponsible and evasive behavior. Bezos made his fortune on the internet, and the net is unforgiving when it comes to debunkable writing. The Post's writers and editors, marinated in printer's ink for most of their careers may think they can tough out their scandal, but Bezos ought to know better.
Hat tip: Clarice Feldman