Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As long as we're on the subject of the AP's reportage on Harry Reid, I thought it made sense to point out that the AP put out a statement last week about TPMmuckraker's reporting on the John Solomon/Harry Reid imbroglio. And the author of that statement made two demonstrably false claims about our reporting. Not charges we disagree with -- but purported statements of fact that were in fact demonstrably false.

The best we can tell, they have not corrected the record and have no intention of doing so.

After we devoted a decent amount of column space last week to dissecting AP reporter John Solomon's series of pieces on Sen. Harry Reid, a number of readers wrote in to ask what I thought was up. There were all sorts of theories -- some reasonable, others more outlandish. So I thought I'd weigh in on my sense of this.

First off, I don't think the issue is bias per se. I strongly suspect the issue is oppo research. And let me explain what I mean by that.

There's nothing wrong with a reporter picking up a story from an opposition research shop, at least not in itself. (To think otherwise is to have a wholly unrealistic sense of what motivates tipsters. Almost all of them have some agenda or axe to grind. It's just not always a clear partisan one.)

Republicans dig up stuff about Democrats and vice versa. Not infrequently they find out stuff that really should get published. The key is that you don't just take something some oppo researcher hands you and run it under your byline. How it should work is that you take what they've found and you report it out yourself. If it really is a story and it all checks out, then the underlying facts aren't tainted just because they were unearthed by an interested party.

Unfortunately though, and as you might suspect, that's often not how it works. And without naming names, there are some high-profile reporters out there -- whose bylines appear with the imprimatur of very distinguished news organizations -- who've developed a reputation in the business (and particularly among oppo researchers) for being easy marks for oppo research drive-by hits.

Actually, 'easy marks' probably isn't the best word for it. Since it's not that they're naive or easily taken in. It's more like the Mikey kid in the old Life cereal commercials: They'll eat anything. More to the point, they'll launder the oppo research into print with the spin, deceptive ordering or suppression of key facts intact.

Now, I have no specific knowledge of how the Reid reporting came into existence. But based on some relatively detailed background knowledge of the players involved I strongly suspect this is how it all came into being.

If you want to know more about this, I strongly recommend reading this 2004 piece by Josh Green in the Atlantic Monthly with a specific attention to the bylines of the hit articles Green discusses. It's very revealing.

A few days ago Matt Yglesias noted how a refusal to believe that Global Warming exists has become something like an article of faith within what passes today as conservatism, even though there's no logical reason why that should be the case other than the Republican party's current reliance on oil companies for campaign money and how much conservatives have invested in demonizing Al Gore. And I'm reminded how right Matt was by this 'review' of the Gore movie by Kyle Smith in the New York Post. Much of it is predictable snark and trash talk. But some of the argumentation deserves to be preserved in the annals of nonsense.

Consider this passage encouraging a thoughtful reconsideration of whether 'pollution' causes Global Warming ...

Global warming hasn't noticed that we got the lead out of our gasoline or that Stage One smog days in Los Angeles fell from 121 in 1977 to zero in 2004. All regulations and taxes to date have done nothing. Does this hint that pollution isn't the cause?


It's a sign of where the story is going. You know that Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Chairman of the House Appropriations committee, is now under criminal investigation as part of the expanded Duke Cunningham probe. Tomorrow's Times has a lengthy piece on one of Lewis' key staffers-turned-lobbyists, Letitia White.

She's the next big thing.

White too has become a focus of investigators. She left Lewis' employ to go work for Congressman-turned-lobbyist Bill Lowery, who's deep into the Brent Wilkes-Duke Cunningham-nogoodnik network.

And as long as we're on the subject I want to make sure everyone saw and sees this crackerjack reporting TPMmuckraker's Justin Rood did on White ten days ago.

Paul Kiel has now posted his detailed reply to the AP's response to TPMmuckraker's critique of John Solomon's reporting on Harry Reid.

Hmmm. I hear that folks at the Associated Press are starting ask some uncomfortable questions about John Solomon's reporting on Harry Reid and his weirdly non-factual defense of it. This may not be over.

I think we're about through with our coverage of the AP/Solomon bamboozlement -- unless Solomon comes out with yet more of the same. But I wanted to address this issue of, 'Even if the AP wrote deceptive pieces, shouldn't Reid still not have taken the tickets?'

I've knocked this around with a few readers. And I exchanged a couple emails about it this morning with TPM Reader GE. Had I written this originally for publication, I would have made it more polished and comprehensive. But I think it actually gives a candid and unrehearsed sense of where I am on this. So I'll reprint the last round of our exchange in toto, as originally written ...

TPM Reader GE ...

Hey, I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I guess I'd have to say, though, that the issue is a tad more than just "Sen. Reid got to sit ringside to watch a big prizefight because he's a U.S. Senator." That, I think you'd have to admit, doesn't quite capture the fact that he was a U.S Senator pushing major legislation affecting the prizefighting industry and the agency that gave him those seats.

I really don't think that the issue is just that Senators get perks that you and I don't get, as you state in that link. It will be ever thus. But I do expect a Senator to avoid getting special perks from the industry he's seeking to directly affect, or, at least, I think that's the highest ethical road to take.

But, look, maybe you don't agree, or maybe you still feel you've got it covered already. That's fine, I'm not accusing you of any kind of malfeasance, really. It's your blog, and like I said, I appreciate that you even took time to respond. I always enjoy reading the TPM family and I suspect I always will. Take care.

And I respond ...

I think in this case I'm ambivalent about whether there's even an appearance issue. He went to events run by an agency he was involved in legislating on. But there's little evidence he was influenced by it and in fact he stuck with a position they opposed. It's not quite like Verizon giving someone seats to a Knicks game, in as much as he is seeing the sport at issue, how it's run, etc. That said, it's still a freebie. So I don't disagree. I guess this instance seems close to de minimis to me. A very small matter. And in the context of the AP publishing really deceptive articles trying to inflate it into something it's just not, I feel comfortable with the tone of our reporting.

That pretty much covers it for me.

Paul will be running down the stuff AP made up in response to our reporting a bit later today.

Late Update: TPM Reader LM adds his thoughts "I think one point missed is that it is not like Reid never took tickets/seats before this recent event. It seems he was a pretty avid fan prior to this and had accepted tickets, which he paid for, for a number of events when nothing was apparently pending. To him, and to the commission, this might have been just a continuation of that relationship with neither thinking twice about it (although Reid probaby should have thought of it and turned the seats down due to the then currently pending legislation). I would think worse of Reid had he never accepted and paid for any tickets from them prior to this, as then it would really stink of some sort of attempt at "influence peddling" which the Senator should have identified immediately. But what we have here appears to be nothing that nefarious."

If I'm understanding this correctly, both New York City and Washington, DC had their federal homeland security grant funding cut this year in large part because their grant applications were either imcorrectly filed or poorly prepared. Doesn't that seem like quite a coincidence? Especially since there appears to be affirmative evidence that the claim of improper filing about New York City is false.