Media Research Center writers and bloggers go crazy over Harry Reid's misreported land deal -- and ignore Dennis Hastert's shadier land deal.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center is quick to attack the Associated Press when it reports anything seen as reflecting poorly on conservatives or the Bush administration.
Al Brown's Oct. 12 NewsBusters post, for instance, bashed the AP for "spreading disinformation" through a "dishonest" headline on the Army's plans to maintain current troop levels in Iraq through 2010. An Oct. 15 NewsBusters post by Noel Sheppard accused AP of an "extrordinary double standard" by purportedly exhibiting "nothing but high praise for the now deceased former Rep. Gerry Studds while it continued to heap scorn on [congressional page-chasing former Rep. Mark] Foley."
But what happens when the AP issues misleading information that reflects poorly on Democrats? Why, the MRC promotes it, of course -- then criticizes the media for not similarly giving it big play.
An Oct. 11 NewsBusters post by Terry Trippany exclaimed: "Did you happen to go home from work this evening and miss this AP Exclusive?"
According to the article Trippany excerpted, "Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale even though he hadn’t personally owned the property for three years." Trippany added:
Not too surprisingly the exclusive AP story didn’t make its way onto the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post web editions yet (at the time of this posting). You can search for it however. It appears that the powers that be in our lib friendly newsrooms are too busy pushing speculative studies with inflated numbers of deaths for the war in Iraq.
Trippany wasn't the only one. Within the next day or so, five more NewsBusters posters -- Clay Waters, Greg Sheffield, Scott Whitlock, Tim Graham and Brent Baker -- all referenced the AP article's claims in their posts. By Oct. 13, Rich Noyes had joined the crowd, along with Michael Rule, another post by Waters and an unsigned staff post noting that conservative radio host Mark Levin repeated the earlier NewsBusters items on Reid; meanwhile, the posts by Baker, Whitlock and Graham were incorporated into that day's MRC CyberAlert.
The multiple NewsBusters posts took different approaches to the Reid story, promoting the AP article or complaining that it hadn't received sufficient media coverage. But they have one thing in common: None pointed out the flaws in the article or the history of the writer.
As TPM Muckraker points out, the article's central claim that "Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall" isn't true:
Reid made a $700,000 profit on the sale, not $1.1 million. Also, the story, by the AP’s John Solomon, makes it sound as if Reid got money for land he didn't own. But that's not the case. It purports to show that Reid collected $1.1 million on the sale of land he didn’t own.
Further, according to TPM Muckraker, "Solomon persists in straightforwardly describing the 2001 land transfer as a sale, even though no money changed hands; Reid's share of the land after the transfer was the same as before." The only apparent violation Reid is guilty of, according to TPM Muckraker, is not reporting the transfer of the land to the LLC, "although he did continue to disclose his ownership of the land through 2004, when it was sold."
And, as Media Matters notes, Solomon has previously written misleading reports about Senate Democrats, including Reid. In February, Solomon suggested that Reid coordinated with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the national minimum wage -- which included a provision addressing the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff, who opposed the legislation -- without mentioning that Reid was a co-sponsor of that legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage.
Nevertheless, other arms of the Media Research Center joined NewsBusters in Reid-bashing. An Oct. 17 CNSNews.com article by Nathan Burchfiel tried to conflate the Reid case with the Mark Foley scandal, complaining that the Reid story "isn't 'sexy' enough for front-page news" and quoting political analyst Larry Sabato as saying that financial scandals are boring when compared with sex scandals, though "financial scandals ought to attract more attention because they're more common."
In his Oct. 18 column, MRC president Brent Bozell similarly attacked the New York Times for devoting more space to the Foley scandal than to Reid, grumbling, "Clearly, the Times doesn't hide its partisan priorities." As with the NewsBusters posters, neither Burchfiel and Bozell said a word about the problems with the AP article, stating the correct amount of profit Reid made without first noting that AP originally got it wrong.
Don't imagine for a minute that the MRC would be so magnanimous about the AP article's flaws had Reid been a Republican.
Several of the NewsBusters posters also complained that the Reid story was overshadowed by the Mark Foley scandal. Graham asserted that this meant that the networks "stayed true to Democratic partisan form," noting that one network had reported on "some fairly unknown Republican congressmen from California" "were making little real-estate deals around highway earmarks Congress was funding," adding, "If you can cover these gentlemen, you better cover Harry Reid."
Comparing a full-blown sex scandal to murky reporting on a land sale is absurd -- sex scandals always trump middling financial scandals, as CNS noted. But Graham was stumbling in the right direction when he referenced congressmen making "little real-estate deals around highway earmarks Congress was funding." He didn't, however, take it to the most prominent congressman accused of making such a deal -- Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
In June, it was reported that Hastert earned a $2 million profit -- much more than Reid's $700,000 -- on the sale of land near a planned highway for which Hastert helped obtain $207 million federal funding through an earmark. This certainly provides the appearance of Hastert manipulating the legislative process for personal benefit -- something nobody has accused Reid of doing in his misreported deal, for which his profit was less than half of Hastert's.
Even though Hastert's land deal would make a much more apt comparison to the Reid case than the Foley scandal, this story has never appeared in an MRC item nor in a NewsBusters post. It has also never appeared in a CNS news article, though it was referenced in two syndicated columns by Robert Novak that CNS reprinted. That means, of course, that the Hastert scandal appeared nowhere in the various MRC articles and posts referencing the Reid case.
So, to sum up, the MRC's writers and bloggers promoted a story without noting 1) one major factual problem with it; 2) the history of the reporter in writing misleading articles about his subject; and 3) that a top Republican official is also under scrutiny for a dubious land deal. They also falsely conflated its importance by making an apples-and-oranges comparison to an unrelated sex scandal.
And this is "media research" ... how, exactly?