Post uncritically reported Norquist's claim that Abramoff did not attend May 2001 meeting with Bush

››› ››› ANNA DIMOND

A Washington Post article -- on the White House's decision not to release photos of President Bush with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- uncritically reported a claim by conservative movement leader and Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist that he does not recall Abramoff attending a 2001 White House meeting between representatives of American Indian tribes and Bush. In fact, a photo is reported to show that Abramoff attended the meeting.

In a January 24 article on the White House's decision not to release photos of President Bush with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, The Washington Post uncritically reported a claim by conservative movement leader and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) president Grover Norquist that Abramoff apparently did not attend a May 9, 2001, White House meeting between Abramoff clients and Bush. The article, by Post staff writers Jim VandeHei and Susan Schmidt, reported as fact that it was Norquist who "arranged the event," and then uncritically noted: "In an interview, Norquist said he does not recall Abramoff being at the White House session." In fact, as the Think Progress weblog has noted, a photograph taken at the event is reported to show that Abramoff did actually attend the meeting with representatives of the Choctaw, Coushatta, and Kickapoo American Indian tribes, among others. Moreover, the Post's characterization of the meeting as arranged by Norquist is contradicted by substantial evidence that Norquist was acting at Abramoff's behest.

Contrary to the Post's uncritical reporting of Norquist's claim, apparently in an unreleased photo of the event, "Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians," according to a January 22 article in Time magazine. Time reportedly had access to the photos from an undisclosed source who declined to provide them for publication. Time went on to note: "Three attendees ... recall that Abramoff was present [at the May 9, 2001, meeting], and three of them say that's where the picture of Bush, Abramoff and the former Kickapoo chairman was taken." In addition to Time's article, the Washingtonian also reported having viewed five photographs of Bush and Abramoff together, and described one photo as showing the "President and Abramoff shaking hands at a meeting in the Old Executive Office Building, where a bearded-Abramoff introduced Bush to several of the lobbyist's native-American clients."

The Post also failed to inform readers of evidence indicating that Abramoff was the key facilitator in setting up the event. In the January 22 article, Time described an Abramoff email to the lawyer for Coushatta leader Lovelin Poncho, one of the clients who attended the meeting, in which Abramoff assured him that "[w]e'll definitely have a photo from the opportunity, which he [Poncho] can use," and gave advice on what to wear to the meeting ("probably suit and tie would work best"). In addition, according to a June 10, 2005, article in The Texas Observer, Abramoff reportedly charged two of his clients $25,000 each for the lunch and meeting with Bush. According to an Associated Press report, the tribes may not have known that their money was in part paying Abramoff for organizing the event. The report cited an attorney for the Choctaws who said Abramoff had solicited the money as a contribution to support ATR, a group that Norquist founded in 1985. The attorney also stated that, in emails sent to the Choctaws regarding the sum, there was no mention of a White House meeting. A letter from the ATR to the Coushatta tribe sent earlier this year reportedly clarified that the meeting had been an "Appreciation Event," where they could meet with Bush and House and Senate leaders.

Norquist and Abramoff have a long history of political collaboration, which reportedly began more than 25 years ago, when Norquist, a student at Harvard Business School, managed Abramoff's successful campaign for the chairmanship of the College Republican National Committee. Abramoff also acknowledged his role in Norquist's K Street Project in a May 1, 2005, New York Times Magazine article:

He [Abramoff] played a major role in ''The K Street Project,'' a Norquist-designed initiative that pressured lobbying firms to slant Republican in their hiring and donations. Public-interest watchdogs were appalled at the new level of coordination between Congress and business lobbyists, but Abramoff makes no apologies for it. ''It was my role to push the Republicans on K Street to be more helpful to the conservative movement,''

From the January 24 article in The Washington Post, titled "Photos of Bush With Abramoff Are Withheld":

In May 2001, several of Abramoff's tribal clients joined state legislators at a White House event arranged by Grover Norquist, an anti-tax lobbyist and friend of Abramoff. In an interview, Norquist said he does not recall Abramoff being at the White House session.

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