NYT Tees Up DNC Talking Points With Ethically Questionable Piece on Boehner's Lobbyist Ties

September 12th, 2010 11:27 AM
The New York Times's lobbyist double standard lives on. Since Barack Obama became president, the paper has routinely overlooked the vast disconnect between his rhetoric on lobbying's role on the political process - there really isn't one, if you believe Barack - and his actions on the issue.

But while the Gray Lady all but ignores Obama's deep ties with lobbyists and the industry groups they represent, the paper has hammered Republicans for their ties to "special interests."

The latest such attempt is a hack job in Sunday's New York Times. Reporter Eric Lipton claims that House Miniority Leader John Boehner "maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation's biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS."

The story makes some serious allegations - the most damning of which was sourced to an anonymous lobbyist. Intriguingly, some of the same claims undergird an upcoming DNC ad blitz against Boehner. The Leader's staff, meanwhile, claim they were not asked for comment before the story went to press.

Byron York reported Saturday:

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says he received a fact-checking email from Times reporter Eric Lipton Friday evening asking if Boehner did in fact oppose the cap on greenhouse gases, the tax change for hedge fund executives, the debit card fee cap, and increased fees on oil and gas companies. "Yes, that is correct," Steel responded to Lipton, adding "I can tell you why, if you care." Steel says he received no further notes from Lipton.

Steel says Boehner has long held those positions and does not hold them as a result of lobbying.

Hours after the email exchange, the Times story was published online, with the statement from the lobbyist that he had "won" Boehner's backing on those matters. After Boehner's aides complained, the paragraph was changed to read, emphasis added:

One lobbyist in the club -- after lauding each staff member in Mr. Boehner's office that he routinely calls to ask for help -- ticked off the list of recent issues for which he had sought the lawmaker's backing: combating fee increases for the oil industry, fighting a proposed cap on debit card fees, protecting tax breaks for hedge fund executives and opposing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Boehner's office said these were positions he already agreed with.

The statement that a lobbyist "won" Boehner's backing was changed to one in which a lobbyist "sought" Boehner's backing. That's a rather critical change. The Times also added Boehner's defense that these were long-held positions.

To call Boehner's aides angry at the account would be an understatement. "They were offered the opportunity to find out if this was true, and they chose to rely instead on the word of an anonymous lobbyist," says spokesman Michael Steel. "They intentionally refused to get the information to prove that this allegation was false."

That allegation itself is pretty serious. But it would hardly be out of step for a paper that has previously sought to demonize Republicans' relationships with lobbyists in either complete ignorance of or contradictory to the facts.

Remember Vicki Iseman? The New York Times suggested in a February 2008 article that Iseman, then a lobbyist with Alcalde & Fay, had a romantic relationship with then-presidential candidate John McCain. Not a shred of evidence was offered to support the allegation, and the Times later printed a correction claiming it had no intention of making that suggestion.

If making baseless accusations against Republicans and their relationships with lobbyists were not sordid enough, the Times has also made a habit of blindly accepting any claim made by President Obama regarding ethics and lobbying at simple face value. Here's a sampling of Times headlines since 2008:

  • On First Day, Obama Quickly Sets a New Tone
  • Obama's Transition Team Restricts Lobbyists' Role
  • Victory for Obama Over Military Lobby
  • 'All Kinds of Yelling' Expected From Obama's Lobbyist Crackdown
  • Obama Returns Lobbyist's Donations
  • Obama Issues Sharp Call for Reforms on Wall Street
  • White House, Lobbyists Still at Odds
  • The President Orders Transparency

The Times does occasionally run watered-down, statistic-ridden pieces such as "As Donors, Lobbyists Often Favor One Party" (since it's not in the headline, I'll bet you can guess which party). But neither the immeasurable hypocrisy of this administration's rhetoric on "special interests" nor the administration's ties to those special interests are explored in any detail.

So when President Obama claimed that he had "excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs" despite the 50 lobbyists he employed (and continues to employ) in policymaking jobs, the Times failed to note any disconnect. Instead, the paper ran a story claiming Obama's new lobbyist rules would "revolutionize how lobbyists disclose their activities and contribute money to candidates for federal office."

Beyond simply ignoring the specific hypocrisies in Obama's rhetoric, the Times has taken a see-no-evil approach to the president's extensive ties to the largest industry groups, while trumpeting relationships between Republicans and "special interests."

The pattern was on full display this summer, when the Times had to be reminded that Obama received seven times as much in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs as George W. Bush did from Enron. Yet while the Times had vaguely alleged some sort of unethical relationship between the defunct energy company and the Bush administration, it made no such suggestions concerning Goldman.

Given its history, the Times's approach to the Boehner story is, though underhanded, hardly shocking. The agenda in its coverage of lobbyists and lawmakers is quite clear.

And given the Times's clear willingness to toe the Democratic line on this issue, it's worth pondering this interesting chain of events. Just this past week, President Obama began directing his ire towards congressional Republicans, and Boehner specifically. Mere days later, as Yid With Lid notes, the Times also took up that line of attack. Then, Sunday morning, as NewsBusters reported, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted a series of quotes from and laudatory remarks about the Times piece, from the official Twitter feed of the White House press office.

The Times's piece also plays pefectly into the DNC's election strategy. In fact, it kicks off a week in which Democrats are hoping to paint Boehner, well, exactly as he is painted by the Times piece. A DNC official told Talking Points Memo:

We are going to tell Americans exactly who he is: a special interest and lobbyist loving typical Washington politician who always puts the well heeled and well-to-do ahead of middle class families and small businesses and who would, if he became speaker, return the capitol to the anything goes, DeLay-Abramoff days and ways of doing business. 

So the Times blasted Boehner in the Sunday paper with a line of attack taken up by President Obama last week and touted by the White House the morning of its publication, and teed up a week of Boehner-bashing by offering the laughable veil of objectivity to de facto Democratic talking points.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the mainstream media.