Washington Post, please define "unsubstantiated"

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

The Beltway press coverage of the still-unfolding U.S. Chamber of Commerce story continues to be quite timid and overly deferential toward the powerful, pro-business lobbying group. Legitimate questions have been raised about some of the money the Chamber has raised and whether it's being used as part of a massive $75 million attack campaign targeting Democrats this year. The question is, does some of the Chamber money come from overseas, and if so why is the Chamber using foreign dollars to influence U.S. campaigns?

As noted yesterday, today's timidity stands in stark contrast to the Clinton `90's, when the press corps ran itself ragging, eagerly chasing similar allegations about overseas dollars being spent to influence stateside elections. Back then when the charges were lodged against Democrats, they were taken extremely seriously. So, if that was the standard then, why are so many in the press basically playing the role of stenographers today and simply dictating the Chamber denials, and why aren't reporters doing original work to advance the Chamber story? (For now, that task has been left solely to ThinkProgress.)

The nothing-to-see-here-folks message is impossible to miss in recent coverage.

From the WashPost [emphasis added]:

The GOP expenditures have come under increasing criticism from Obama and other Democrats, who have focused on the big-spending Chamber of Commerce and the two Crossroads affiliates, which were formed with the encouragement of Republican political guru Karl Rove. The attacks have included unsubstantiated allegations by the Democratic National Committee and others that the chamber might be spending foreign donations on U.S. elections, an accusation the business lobby denies.

This is just weird. How can there be "unsubstantiated allegations" about something that might happen? ThinkProgress has clearly suggested, based on its investigative work, that the Chamber might be using some foreign money to bankroll its massive anti-Democratic ad campaign this year. ThinkProgress has substantiated exactly how that could be happening.

I understand why the Chamber would claim ThinkProgress' allegations were "unsubstantiated." (And no, that doesn't explain why the Post would rush in and preemptively dismiss the pending allegations.) And I understand if ThinkProgress had made flat-out claims about the Chamber, but didn't have the evidence to support it, that the Post would go ahead and described them as "unsubstantiated." But Think Progress has made well-supported, logical claims about what might be happening, so how is the Post in any position to categorically claim the allegations are unsubstantiated?

Meanwhile, I assume there are scores of former Clinton staffers chuckling mordantly these days as they read dispatches like the one from today's Post, wondering where were these uninquisitive journalists in the `90's, and why didn't Beltway scribes rush out to dismiss anti-White House fundraising claims as being "unsubstantiated allegations"? Truth is, back then places like the Post did every thing they could to hype those (hollow) charges.

But for some reason when conservatives at the Chamber are under scrutiny about foreign funding, the newsroom rules of engagement change drastically.

The Washington Post
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