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Off the Hook

NewsMax follows the ConWeb script and abandons a subject when it stops being of use to its agenda -- but not before breathlessly promoting wild, and possibly false, allegations.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/5/2005

NewsMax's heavy use of Associated Press wire copy tends to obscure the fact that its own in-house copy is hopelessly biased and dedicated to promoting its own agenda. The case of Tommy Hook illustrates that perfectly.

Hook is an auditor at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who has alleged accounting irregularities there. He was beaten June 4 outside of a Santa Fe bar. According to a June 7 NewsMax article, Hook went to the bar "ostensibly to meet a person claiming to be a fellow Los Alamos whistleblower." It was heavily promoted, bloody photos and all, at the top of NewsMax's front page. From the article:

Hook's wife, Susan, said her husband did not frequent bars.

When the person did not show up, Hook left the bar after consuming two drinks.

In the parking lot, he was yanked out of his car and beaten so badly by three or four men that he had to be taken to intensive care at a local emergency room.

Reportedly, Hook did not provoke these men. The men concentrated on kicking his head, and Hook's family feels that the men would have killed him if a club employee hadn't run from the club and stopped the beating.

A June 9 NewsMax article insinuated that the FBI was trying to smear Hook by "leaking information to discredit" him to "several New Mexico newspapers." Citing Peter Stockton, a senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group assisting Tommy Hook, the article claimed:

In the FBI scenario, described in several New Mexico newspapers, Hook went to the topless bar not to meet a fellow Los Alamos whistleblower – as his wife and attorney have claimed – but because his wife was out of town.

He had several drinks and got a lap dance. When he left the bar, he nearly backed into someone with his car in the parking lot, which touched off the fight, according to the version of events that Stockton says was leaked by the FBI.

The fact that Hook was at a topless bar was not mentioned in NewsMax's previous story. The article does not describe what the FBI's alleged motive is in this purported leak.

Another June 9 story by the Associated Press, which NewsMax ran, gets much closer to being a balanced account by virtue of not being written by NewsMax. It doesn't quote the FBI but includes a dancer at the bar saying that "she recognized Hook as the man who got a lap dance from a waitress the night of the beating." It also quotes Hook's lawyer saying that “We've had a private investigator who interviewed the manager, the bartender and two security guards" who allegedly concluded that Hook "didn't have any interactions with the girls who were dancing there." The article doesn't explain why the lawyer felt the need to hire a private investigator to find ways to back up his client's story.

But a CBS News article that expanded upon the AP story offered a much more definitive source for facts:

"Facts, evidence and information obtained during the course of this investigation has led investigators to believe that the altercation involving Mr. Hook is an isolated incident and is in no way related to Mr. Hook's whistleblower status at the Los Alamos National Laboratories," Santa Fe Deputy Police Chief Eric Johnson said in a statement.

The investigation is "leaning toward a fight in the parking lot as a result of Mr. Hook backing into a pedestrian," Johnson said. He said after Hook hit the pedestrian, he exited his vehicle, "at which time the confrontation escalated into a physical attack."

NewsMax didn't note the police account until a June 14 article by Dave Eberhart, which led by stating that Hook is "adamantly sticking to the story that he was beaten to ensure his silence to congress [sic]." Eberhart offers nothing that directly refutes the police account.

Another June 14 article by Eberhart, however, takes a much different view of the Hook case. The first of a two-part series on problems at Los Alamos, it mostly focuses on attacking the University of California, which operates the Los Alamos facility. "So what gives?" Eberhart writes. "Are egg-head scientists myopically peering into smoking test flasks as the 'China Syndrome' percolates under their feet? Is something more sinister going on?"

Buried in Eberhart's article is a brief account of Hook's beating that not only is the most balanced account of it penned by NewsMax but also adds a new detail:

Although Hook has steadfastly maintained that he was meeting a man who said he had information about more fraud at the lab and was threatened by his attackers to keep his mouth shut, a lawyer representing one of the men involved in the fracas has since come forward and said that the dispute had nothing to do with the nuclear research laboratory.

"This was an altercation in the parking lot of a topless bar, nothing more," attorney Doug Couleur said. "This has absolutely nothing to do with Hook's employment, his witness status, his employment status, or any of that."

A joint federal and local investigation continues.

Much farther up in the story, though, Eberhart writes that facility administration Linton Brooks took issue with "allegations that the Laboratory might have had something to do with the June 5 assault in Santa Fe of auditor Tommy Hook," adding that "he is hoping for, but not necessarily expecting, a full apology from those who rushed to blamed [sic] the Laboratory for the beating." The list of those rushing to blame, of course, includes NewsMax, and NewsMax is unlikely to grant Brooks' wish since it simply doesn't do apologies (heck, it can't even admit that it ran an obviously false story).

The second part of Eberhart's series, published June 17, doesn't mention Hook at all. And NewsMax hasn't mentioned Hook since.

What's the real story here? We don't know. But the fact that NewsMax appears to be backing away from Hook's original claims about the beating indicates that it is going along with the apparent law-enforcement consensus that it was not a retaliation for whistle-blowing.

It looks like the Tommy Hook story has hit the abandonment stage, as is ConWeb style when a story stops being of use to the ConWeb.

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