That Reporters’ Blindspot

Remember a month or so back when those two gay hoteliers from New York got in a heap of trouble for hosting the extremely anti-gay rights Ted Cruz at a dinner/fundraiser at their luxe New York apartment? But, wait, no it wasn’t a fundraiser!

Well, yes it was. The two guys, Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass were just getting some good press this weekend in the Times … finally … now portrayed as well-meaning but bumbling political neophytes who’d stumbled into the Cruz mess. But now it comes out, after the fairly glowing weekend article and repeated denials, that Ian Reisner actually did give a max-out contribution to Cruz right when the dinner took place.

Reisner is so ham-handed about this, even now he’s making ridiculous claims. So, for instance, now he says: “In the interest of transparency, I gave Senator Cruz a $2,700 check to show my support for his work on behalf of Israel. When I realized his donation could be misconstrued as supporting his anti-gay marriage agenda, I asked for the money back. Senator Cruz’s office gave the money back, and I have no intention of giving any money to any politicians who aren’t in support of L.G.B.T. issues.”

So it wasn’t a campaign donation. It was like Israel gelt or something. Whatever.

Now, I don’t think this makes Reisner and Weiderpass evil. That’s not my point. My point here is that, while the existence of the long-denied check seals the deal on the denial being a bogus one, we didn’t actually need the check to know this.

Part of the pushback at the time was that the campaign had not defined this as a “fundraiser”, a term of art which is just a degree of explicitness about the exchange of money.

But let me tell you this: when a presidential candidate agrees to come and meet with you and your rich buddies privately over dinner in your apartment, that’s a fundraiser! And yes, Republicans and Democrats. That’s a fundraiser. They’re not there to get your policy input. They’re there to raise money. And whatever … in our privately financed campaign system there’s nothing wrong with that – or at least, nothing more wrong than the entire system itself.

But it’s a fundraising event even if it’s not a “fundraiser.”

This passage in the new Times piece quoting Dem operative Jon Reinish makes the point succinctly …

Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist who works with several gay rights causes, said he was not surprised to learn that there had been a check given after all, saying it’s typical for campaign staff members to follow up after such events asking if attendees would consider making a “max-out” donation.

“Anyone with a passing knowledge of politics knows this,” Mr. Reinish said. “So the idea that fund-raising was not a part of this was not believable from the get-go.”

Reporters often feel bound to honor these meaningless technical distinctions campaigns cook up for their own benefit. But there’s no underlying fundraising science upon which these ‘technical’ distinctions are based. It’s just campaign talk and flim flam, which is fine for campaigns but reporters shouldn’t feel any need to honor.

They usually do. They shouldn’t.

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