Memos on the Margin
CNSNews.com covers the pilfering of Democratic memos by Republicans. Guess whose side it's on?
By Terry Krepel
We're pretty sure we've said this before -- when reading an original story on the ConWeb, the first thing you should ask yourself is, "What am I not being told?"
So it goes with CNSNews.com's coverage of "memogate," the alleged theft of memos by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee by staffers for Republican senators. It has produced much more original copy on the issue than NewsMax or WorldNetDaily has. Its big coup was to get an extensive interview with Manuel Miranda, the former GOP committee counsel who has been accused of leaking the memos to conservative groups, who used them to accuse Democrats of colluding with special interest groups to block Republican judicial nominations.
Needless to say, CNS' stories are heavily tilted toward Miranda's views -- that he's being abandoned by Republicans, that the memos prove the Democrats are corrupt and have a "profit motive," and that not only did he did nothing wrong, he's entitled to read the memos of other federal employees.
To refer to our opening question, what isn't Jeff Johnson, CNS senior staff writer on this beat, telling you in these stories? Basically, much of what the other side has to say. In the profit motive story, opponents get six paragraphs of a 24-graph story, and Johnson spends part of those other 18 shooting down one opponent's argument. Opponent-comment counts for Johnson's two other Miranda-focused stories:
In that last story, Johnson actually came up with a relevant opposing comment, from the press secretary for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tracy Schmaler, who said that during the Clinton administration, "Mr. Miranda's very job was to plot strategy on judicial nominees with groups on the right." Schmaler also said -- "charged" is how Johnson put it -- that "Clinton's nominees were stalled anonymously and without explanation or accountability by Republican partisans."
Johnson then adds a little comment that Schmaler "did not address charges" that the memos show possibly illegal conduct. Miranda doesn't address Schmaler's allegation that he colluded with right-wing groups to stall Clinton's judicial nominees either, so why bother pointing that out except to try and undercut her allegations?
It gets better. A March 4 story quotes an anonymous "former Senate Judiciary Committee intern with extensive experience as a computer network security administrator" as backing up Miranda's assertion that there was no "hacking" into Democrat computers. Johnson wrote that the intern's identity "is being protected by CNSNews.com because he fears retaliation by Democrats and the liberal groups supporting them."
And on March 5, a story on Senate Democrats such as Edward Kennedy saying they want a criminal investigation of the memo theft was accompanied on that day's CNS front page with a "Fact-O-Rama" on the upcoming "35th anniversary of the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne off Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts," in which Kennedy was involved, as well as an opt-in poll that asked, "What should Ted Kennedy have been charged with in light of Chappaquiddick?"
That's CNS' idea of "balance." They would rather tell their side of the story -- the one that makes Democrats look bad.
The defense of Miranda is a far cry from early 1997, when then House speaker Newt Gingrich was recorded on a cellular phone planning with Republican officials a public relations campaign to counter ethics allegations, something he had promised the House Ethics Committee he wouldn't do. CNSNews.com didn't exist at that time, but its parent, the Media Research Center, certainly did.
The MRC's tone over a similar questionable access to information was quite different. Brent Baker was quick to use a CyberAlert to point out that "it's always violated federal law to divulge information you hear to a third party or to use it to evade law enforcement officers" and that "the New York Times must know that by publishing the transcript (of Gingrich's conversation) in probable violation of both communications and phone wiretap laws it helped facilitate a felony by who ever gave them the tape." A few days later, Baker complains, as he is wont to do, about undue so-called liberal media attention to "this series of immoral, unethical and/or illegal events."
The only reference to date about "memogate" on the MRC side of things at this writing is a January CyberAlert in which Baker grouses that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was trying to build it into "another Watergate" during an interview with Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. No recitation of federal law, no snap judgement of the lifting of the memos as being "immoral, unethical and/or illegal."
Another thing you don't see in CNS' coverage: any offer by Miranda or anyone coming to his defense, since he asserts that no crime was committed in accessing the memos, to release the working memos of his fellow Republicans on the committee. After all, that would be the fair thing to do, especially since a Democratic committee spokesperson has accused him of colluding with conservative groups to stall Clinton-era judicial nominations.
But that would be a genuinely balanced approach to covering this story, and CNSNews.com doesn't do that.