The Anatomy Of A Daily Callerspiracy Theory

The Daily Caller has an article today that either 1) suggests that the Justice Department joining a lawsuit against The Gallup Organization is connected to a David Axelrod tweet from April criticizing Gallup's polling methodology, or 2) has no news value whatsoever. The Caller presents no material evidence linking the two events, and even the circumstantial evidence the piece provides largely debunks the conspiracy theory.

This article epitomizes one of the more pernicious aspects of The Daily Caller's particular brand of journalism: the outlet's tendency to publish articles that have news value only if you assume the reporter is implying the existence of a malicious Obama administration conspiracy.

Here's the lede of today's story, “Justice Dept. Gallup lawsuit came after Axelrod criticized pollsters,” authored by Matthew Boyle:

Internal emails between senior officials at The Gallup Organization, obtained by The Daily Caller, show senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod attempting to subtly intimidate the respected polling firm when its numbers were unfavorable to the president.

After Gallup declined to change its polling methodology, Obama's Department of Justice hit it with an unrelated lawsuit that appears damning on its face.

Is the author suggesting that there is a connection between Axelrod's supposed attempt to “subtly intimidate” Gallup and the DOJ's lawsuit against the company? If not, what is the point of linking the two together in the story's opening paragraphs? They could just as easily have pointed out that the lawsuit “came after” the Miami Heat won the NBA championship.

It would take an exceptional amount of Obama Derangement Syndrome to posit that the Obama administration sued Gallup because they don't like their polling.  Conservative bloggers like Ed Morrissey and Gabriel Malor have already weighed in expressing skepticism with the Caller's implication, with Morrissey writing, "Could this be retaliation?  It's possible, I suppose, but it's not terribly rational, with no upside and lots of downside over a nearly-meaningless issue."

But even if someone is that conspiracy-minded (we're looking at you, CNN's Erick Erickson), the timeline the Caller lays out is simply not consistent with their breathless lede. 

The lawsuit was originally filed by former Gallup employee Michael Lindley, who says he was fired in July 2009 after warning his superiors that he would go to the Justice Department if the company did not stop illegally overbilling the federal government. Lindley filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Gallup kept two sets of books and illegally inflated the budgets for its work on two federal contracts.

The Caller reported that the Justice Department began investigating the allegations in October 2009, issued subpoenas in February or March of 2010, and was in communication with the company in the fall of 2011. The Gallup emails cited by the Daily Caller were written in April of this year; four months later, DOJ joined Lindley's lawsuit. As Morrissey notes, “The problem with the 'retaliation' theory is that the dispute between Gallup and the DoJ goes back to 2009. Boyle reports that long after the jump.”

The Caller never quite comes out and says that there is a connection between the Gallup emails and the DOJ's lawsuit, but the implication is there; without it, there is no news in the article worth printing.

Moreover, the lede's allegation isn't actually backed up by the rest of the article -- another hallmark of Daily Caller-brand journalism. Reading the article, we learn that Axelrod sent a tweet in mid-April highlighting a National Journal column that, he argued, shows “why Gallup is saddled with some methodological problems.” This is the sole communication of any kind Boyle cites in reporting that Axelrod “attempt[ed] to subtly intimidate” Gallup.

The emails obtained by the Caller show that in discussing Axelrod's tweet, a Gallup employee mentioned that “the White House 'has asked' a senior Gallup staffer 'to come over and explain our methodology too,” and another made a Godfather joke about the purported “pressure.”

The Caller claims these emails “directly contradict” Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs' statement earlier this week, “I have no knowledge of any discussions of anybody on the campaign side with Gallup.” That is false. The emails indicate direct communication between the White House and Gallup, not the campaign. Axelrod left the White House more than a year before the emails were sent. 

UPDATE: On his twitter feed, Boyle is far more forthright about stating that Axelrod's tweet triggered, four months later, the DOJ lawsuit against Gallup, writing, “When Gallup wouldn't crumple to Axelrod's intimidation attempt, Eric Holder & DOJ attacked pollster w lawsuit”:

Boyle tweet