When Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb was mocked last December for making a far-fetched claim about the White House threatening to close an Air Force base in order to secure Ben Nelson's support for health care reform, Goldfarb quickly began walking back his claim, then abruptly stopped talking about it altogether.
So when I saw Weekly Standard writer John McCormack's baseless suggestion that the White House nominated Rep. Jim Matheson's brother for a judgeship in order to win Matheson's support for health care reform, it looked like history was repeating itself.
And sure enough, McCormack promptly began walking back his claim, telling Fox News viewers the next day there "probably" wasn't an "explicit" quid pro quo. The day after that, McCormack wrote that the "most likely" scenario was that "White House officials simply hoped that if they scratched Matheson's back with the nomination, he would scratch theirs with a vote for the health care bill." Then McCormack went silent on the matter.
So, here's how this played out:
March 3: McCormack writes "Obama Now Selling Judgeships for Health Care Votes?" and "Scott Matheson appears to have the credentials to be a judge, but was his nomination used to buy off his brother's vote?"
March 4: McCormack admits there was "probably not" an "explicit quid pro quo."
March 5: McCormack writes that the most likely explanation is that the White House simply "hoped" Matheson would vote for health care reform.
March 6 - Present: Silence.
Now, ideally, the Weekly Standard wouldn't run around peddling baseless conspiracy theories in the first place. But since they do, it's good to know they've perfected The Weekly Standard Walk-back.
And I'm willing to meet them halfway, by acknowledging that they probably don't subsidize their magazine publishing by selling intravenous drugs to six-year-olds.
Right-wing media figures have continued to attack President Obama's appointment of Scott Matheson to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, suggesting that the appointment was made to influence his brother, Rep. Jim Matheson's (D-UT) vote on health care reform. Those pushing the smear have cited no evidence to support their claims and have acknowledged Matheson's qualifications for the job; indeed, his appointment enjoys broad support and, according to Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, "has been in the works for a long time" and was not made in exchange "for votes on health care."
From the March 4 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Politico rushes to hype the Weekly Standard's baseless speculation that the White House tried to win Rep. Jim Matheson's support for health care reform by nominating his brother to a judgeship, under the header "Some Republicans criticize judge pick."
But Politico could only come up with one such Republican, Rep. Michele Bachmann. By contrast, Politico had two Republicans who praised the nomination, including one who directly debunked the conspiracy theory.
And, of course, Politico didn't mention that The Weekly Standard, where this baseless allegation originated, has a history of making dubious claims about White House efforts to win health care votes.
Instead, Politico concluded: "As pressure mounts on Democrats to pass reform, look for Republicans to pounce on anything that looks like a backroom deal because those previous deals were key to helping sour the public on reform."
Yeah -- and look for Politico to help them do so, no matter how shaky the ground from which the Republicans are pouncing.
Right-wing media figures have recently concocted several baseless scandals in an attempt to portray Democrats as corrupt or guilty of wrongdoing. These include the suggestion that the Democratic leadership acted improperly after learning about sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Eric Massa, the baseless accusation that President Obama is "selling judgeships" for health care reform votes, and the false claim that Rep. Pete Stark has an "ethics scandal."
Right-wing media figures have run with The Weekly Standard's John McCormack's completely baseless accusation that President Obama is buying Rep. Jim Matheson's (D-UT) vote on health care reform by appointing his brother, Scott Matheson, to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. McCormack provided no evidence to support the allegation -- which both Rep. Matheson and the White House have called "absurd" -- and even those pushing the charge acknowledge that Scott Matheson is "plenty qualified for the job."
No, I don't have any evidence that the conservative magazine led by Bill Kristol is selling dime bags to school children. That's why there's a question mark at the end the headline above. So it isn't a despicable smear for me to suggest that The Weekly Standard pays John McCormack's salary by hooking innocent six year olds on deadly drugs that will destroy their lives. You know, because of the question mark.
Anyway, I'm sure McCormack, Kristol & co. won't mind that I've raised the question without any evidence whatsoever. After all, that's how they roll at The Weekly Standard.
Last December, for example, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb peddled the obviously ludicrous claim that the White House had pressured Sen. Ben Nelson to support health care reform by threatening to put Nebraska's Offut Air Force Base on the BRAC base closure list. The allegation was laugh-out-loud funny on its face -- BRAC simply doesn't work that way. And Goldfarb didn't have any evidence for his claim. And the whole thing appears to have been nothing more than out-of-control rumor-mongering by a couple of former McCain presidential campaign staffers. That didn't stop the media, particularly the right-wingers at FOX, from running with it. Nor did it stop 20 Republican Senators from demanding an investigation. Though none of the people hyping the story apparently had any actual belief that it was true -- after all, they went silent pretty quickly when its obvious flaws were pointed out.
Now comes John McCormack with the sensational headline "Obama Now Selling Judgeships for Health Care Votes?" McCormack writes:
Tonight, Barack Obama will host ten House Democrats who voted against the health care bill in November at the White House; he's obviously trying to persuade them to switch their votes to yes. One of the ten is Jim Matheson of Utah. The White House just sent out a press release announcing that today President Obama nominated Matheson's brother Scott M. Matheson, Jr. to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
So, Scott Matheson appears to have the credentials to be a judge, but was his nomination used to buy off his brother's vote?
Evidence? John McCormack doesn't need evidence -- he has question marks!
Oh, and McCormack didn't mention that conservative Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah praised Matheson's nomination:
"I'm pleased President Obama has nominated Scott Matheson to fill the vacancy on the 10th Circuit," Hatch said. "I've known Scott a long time, and he is a capable, bright attorney whose experience has prepared him for judicial service. The Matheson family has had a significant impact on Utah and can rightly be proud of Scott's nomination."
UPDATE: And sure enough, this baseless Weekly Standard allegation is playing out just like the last one: The right-wing media is running with it, and Rep. Michele Bachmann is calling for an "independent investigation." How long before they all abruptly drop it and pretend they never said anything?
UPDATE 2: Even PowerLine doesn't buy it: "Thus, President Obama could not have found a more suitable nominee, from a liberal Democratic perspective, than Scott Matheson. It would be unfair to assume that he selected Matheson in order to influence his brother; on the contrary, if Matheson had no siblings at all he would be an ideal liberal judicial candidate. So I think we must acquit President Obama of that charge."
In a Weekly Standard editorial headlined "Don't Mess With Success," editor William Kristol approvingly cited Sen. John McCain's reference to Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) as a "successful policy" and stated that it "works pretty well at accommodating the complex demands of a war-ready military nestled in a liberal society." Those claims are undermined by the discharge of thousands of servicemembers under the law at a cost to replace them of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Rightwing media outlets have distorted testimony by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to buttress their false claims that the decision to process alleged Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab through the civilian criminal justice system prevented his interrogation and has made the United States less safe. In fact, in remarks Blair later stated were "misconstrued," he stated that an interrogation team that is not actually operational "should have" been "invoke[d]" with regard to Abdulmutallab, and in a subsequent statement, Blair said that the FBI interrogated Abdulmutallab and "received important intelligence."
Right-wing media outlets have continued to attack Democratic Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley for her recent comments about terrorism in Afghanistan, often by distorting her remarks on the subject. But the context of Coakley's comments make clear that she was referring to Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan -- echoing numerous military experts' statements regarding Al Qaeda's diminished presence in Afghanistan.
The conservative media are now labeling the Independent Medicare Advisory Board created by the Senate health care reform bill a "death panel," even though the board is explicitly prohibited from "modify[ing] eligibility," "restrict[ing] benefits," or "ration[ing] health care" and its recommendations can be overridden by Congress. In falsely declaring the existence of "death panels," right-wing media figures have previously pointed to the House bill's end-of-life counseling provision, out-of-context statements by Obama administration adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, general "rationing" purportedly instituted by the legislation, and nonbinding mammogram guidelines.
Media conservatives, including The Weekly Standard and Andrew Breitbart's Big Government, are attacking the Senate health care reform bill by citing a general provision in the legislation to raise the possibility that ACORN would receive funding under the bill. Conservatives similarly attacked the economic recovery act and the financial rescue legislation by invoking the possibility that ACORN would receive funding through general legislative provisions -- at one point claiming that ACORN would receive more than $4 billion in funding.
The conservative media seem to be having some difficulty figuring out what to make of Sen. Ben Nelson's support for health care reform.
Here's Fox's take:
Nelson Accused of Selling Vote on Health Bill for Nebraska Pay-Off
What started as Sen. Ben Nelson's personal stand against covering abortion with taxpayer money translated, somehow, into millions of dollars in federal aid for his home state.
Critics were calling it the "cornhusker kickback" and the "Nebraska windfall," lobbing accusations of political deal-making at Nelson.
And the Weekly Standard:
Ben Nelson, Cheap Date (Cont.)
According to the CBO, Nelson got $100 million for Nebraska in Medicaid funding--20 percent of what Massachusetts got
Maybe they should huddle up and decide whether they want to attack Nelson for selling his vote for a massive windfall, or for being a "cheap date" who got far less than Massachusetts. We'll wait.
As I explained in a column posted yesterday, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb's claim that the White House has threatened to close a Nebraska Air Force base if Sen. Ben Nelson doesn't support health care reform is more than a little far-fetched. In fact, it's pretty ridiculous -- even before you consider Goldfarb's history of fabrication.
But now things may be getting really interesting. Goldfarb, remember, claimed only one source, described simply as "a Senate aide." But I've just been forwarded an email that appears to show that a GOP operative was pushing the allegation the night before Goldfarb -- or, apparently, anyone else -- wrote publicly about it.
The From field of the email reads "email@example.com" -- that's apparently David Merritt, Vice President and Director of National Health Policy for The Gingrich Group (yes, that Gingrich.) Merritt wrote at 10:16 pm on Monday, December 14 (about 14 hours before Goldfarb's post):
[Nelson] is the only obstacle to 60. Word is he's been threatened for the last 10 days with losing Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha on next round of BRAC review (he's on Armed Services, but wouldn't be involved with appointing review committee...something like that). Sure sounds like Rahm, doesn't it?
The McCain angle doesn't end there. As a result of Goldfarb's story, 20 Republican Senators sent a letter requesting a Senate Armed Services Committee investigation. That letter was sent to committee chair Carl Levin and ... ranking member John McCain. But McCain doesn't appear to want to have anything to do with an investigation, according to Greg Sargent:
John McCain is staying mum on right wing calls for his Senate committe to probe claims that the White House has been privately threatening to close an Air Force base in Nebraska to force Ben Nelson into line on health care.
Turns out, though, that McCain, the relevant committee's ranking Republican, is laying very low on this story. McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan confirms to me that the Senator has no comment on the story or on whether he thinks the probe should move forward.
McCain's refusal to endorse the probe suggests that he doesn't place much stock in the charges and perhaps doesn't want to be publicly associated with them. But he may not want to say so publicly, in order to avoid alienating those on the right who have been pushing it with such fervor.
And Nelson? Nelson reportedly says an investigation would embarrass the Republicans:
Nelson told KLIN/Lincoln radio hosts Jack Mitchell and John Bishop that he knows who started the rumors and when it comes to light it will be "embarrassing for the other side of the aisle," presumably meaning a Republican senator or senators is behind it.