MSNBC's Joe Scarborough characterized a factually accurate statement by Howard Dean -- that no congressional Democrats had received campaign contributions from lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- as a "snow job," and falsely claimed that The Washington Post and "other news outlets" had proven Dean's statement wrong. In fact, Dean's statement in an appearance on CNN was entirely accurate, and neither CNN nor the Post has challenged or refuted it.
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On the January 10 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough claimed that The Washington Post and "other news outlets" had proven wrong a statement by Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean concerning the Jack Abramoff scandal. In fact, Dean was correct when he told CNN host Wolf Blitzer that no Democrats took contributions directly from the former Washington lobbyist. Thus far, only a refuted Washington Times report -- published a day after Scarborough's claim -- asserted that Democratic lawmakers were part of the Justice Department's investigation.
During the January 8 broadcast of Late Edition, Dean said to Blitzer: "There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true."
As Media Matters for America has noted, Dean's statement concerning campaign contributions is accurate -- no Democrat received any contribution directly from Abramoff as a search of the Center for Responsive Politics' database (here, here and here) shows. Regarding the investigation, a January 11 Washington Times article by Jerry Seper and Audrey Hudson reported that according to unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) were on a "first tier" of five lawmakers being scrutinized for ties to Abramoff and his clients. However, a January 12 Las Vegas Review-Journal by Tony Batt reported that a source close to the probe said the Times story was not accurate, and that "the Justice Department does not have a list of lawmakers who are being investigated," as the Times sources claimed.
From Scarborough's closing statement on the January 10 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
SCARBOROUGH: Americans don't trust Congress, and why should they? The money scandal involving über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff makes Capitol Hill smell like a sewer. Republicans have a reason to be very nervous about the upcoming elections, because Abramoff is closely tied to their leaders, but Democratic head Howard Dean proved once again that, when it comes to saving Republicans, the GOP has no better friend than their political enemies. This week, Dean claimed that Republicans were the only ones touched by this scandal and that Democrats were pure as the driven snow. But The Washington Post and other news outlets proved that it's Dean guilty of the snow job. Nobody is clean here, and both parties are going to pay for it in the fall.
In fact, no report by the Post, CNN, or any other news organization includes any evidence to suggest, much less "prove", that Dean is "guilty of the snow job." Indeed, following Dean's Late Edition appearance, two online chats conducted by the Post referenced the discussion, but neither Howard Kurtz, CNN's Reliable Sources host and the Post's media critic, nor Thomas B. Edsall, Post national political reporter, took issue with Dean's statements.
From The Washington Post's January 10 online chat with Kurtz:
New York, N.Y.: "There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true."
This is what Howard Dean told your CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer this weekend (according to the CNN transcript). If what Dean says is true, why are the media insisting, along with the RNC, that this is an equal opportunity scandal?
Howard Kurtz: I don't believe the media are saying this is an equal opportunity scandal. It is a scandal about a Republican lobbyist and fundraiser and friend of [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-TX], that has already implicated another GOP congressman (Bob Ney [R-OH]), and most of those who are nervous are Republicans. The coverage, in my view, has fairly reflected that. However, it's also true that Abramoff, in the process of ripping off his clients, steered contributions to some Democrats as well as Republicans, and some of these Dems have since returned the money or donated it to charity.
From The Washington Post's January 10 online chat with Edsall:
Knoxville, Tenn.: On Sunday's Late Edition on CNN ... Wolf Blitzer apparently believed the Rebublican talking points when he tried to tie the Abramoff scandal to the Democrats and Howard Dean corrected the story by informing him that no Democrat had received any money from Jack Abramoff. Wolf looked surprised when Dean had apparently done his homework that the only money that people like Sen. Byron Dorgan [D-ND] had received had been from the Indian tribes mostly before they ever hired Abramoff. Why was Blitzer so ill prepared ... he had the deer in the headlight look and quickly ended the segment.
It also seems interesting how almost no one in the media is bothering to explain the "K" street project which is being run by Tom DeLay and Rick Sanctorum [sic] as little more than than Mafia-style protection racket being used by the right-wing to make sure they are the only power in the lobbying industry.
Tom Edsall: We will presumably see, as prosecutors continue to pursue the Abramoff inquiry, whether any Democrats are drawn into the net.
Your second point is a good one. The media wrote about the K street project, but I don't think the press, including me, ever conveyed the scope and consequences of the project to the legislative process.
From the January 8 broadcast of CNN's Late Edition:
BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who's now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges -- a Republican lobbyist in Washington -- should the Democrat who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?
DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.
BLITZER: But there -- through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.
DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either. There is no evidence --
BLITZER: What about Senator -- what about -- what about -- what about Senator Byron Dorgan?
DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff at -- directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people, and now, it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.
BLITZER: Unfortunately Mr. Chairman, we got to leave it right there.