In follow-up article on Reid, AP's Solomon continued pattern of distortion

Associated Press staff writer John Solomon's seriously flawed articles suggesting that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid had acted improperly by attending Las Vegas boxing matches as the guest of the Nevada Athletic Commission “while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing” are the latest in a series of misleading reports by Solomon alleging unethical behavior by Reid, as well as by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

In recent days, Media Matters for America noted serious flaws in a May 29 article by Associated Press staff writer John Solomon, which suggested that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) had acted improperly by attending Las Vegas boxing matches as the guest of the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) “while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.” Further, in a June 1 follow-up article, Solomon ignored the countervailing evidence that had surfaced since the publication of the original article and continued to distort the facts surrounding the story, falsely suggesting that the Nevada lawmaker had “abruptly reversed course” and abandoned his prior defense of these actions when, in fact, Reid had done no such thing.

This is not an isolated sequence of events, however. In February, Solomon wrote an article alleging ties between Reid and disgraced former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff that similarly came under fire, from Media Matters and others, for omitting crucial facts regarding the actions in question. Shortly thereafter, more details came to light undermining Solomon's allegations. But rather than acknowledge the flaws in his article, Solomon wrote a follow-up piece that misleadingly offered the new information as support for his original case. Further, in November 2005, Solomon similarly alleged connections between Abramoff and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) but ignored evidence undermining his claim that the lobbyist had directed contributions to Dorgan after the senator aided his clients. When Dorgan later returned the contributions he had received from Abramoff's clients, Solomon wrote an article in which he took credit for this development but ignored the contradictory evidence brought to light after his first article.

Solomon on Dorgan and Abramoff

In a November 29, 2005, article, Solomon and fellow AP reporter Sharon Theimer reported that Dorgan had received a political contribution arranged by Abramoff “just three weeks” after writing a letter in support of a tribal school program that would benefit the American Indian tribes that Abramoff represented. But as Media Matters noted, Dorgan had released a written statement in response to these allegations on November 28, in which he cited “written evidence” demonstrating that he had supported the program in August 2001, seven months before he received a $5,000 contribution to his political group, the Great Plains Leadership Fund, in March 2002.

Solomon and Theimer's allegations against Dorgan were further called into question by the weblog Daily Kos, which noted that their report that the contribution to Dorgan was “arranged” by Abramoff had not relied on evidence arising from the Senate or Justice Department investigations into Abramoff. Rather, this information came to the AP from a lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians who has significant Republican ties -- a fact the Solomon and Theimer failed to mention.

On December 13, 2005, however, Solomon wrote an article on Dorgan's decision to return $67,000 in donations he received from Abramoff's various tribal clients, in which he took credit for the development. He wrote that Dorgan was returning the contributions “in response to Associated Press reports that he collected tribal money around the time he took actions favorable to those of Abramoff clients.” Solomon made no mention of the flaws in his original article.

Solomon on Reid and Abramoff

In a February 9 article, Solomon and Theimer suggested that Reid coordinated with an Abramoff aide to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff. But as Media Matters noted, Solomon and Theimer omitted the key fact that Reid was a co-sponsor of the legislation in question and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage.

Following the publication of Solomon's article, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall contacted Ronald Platt, the Abramoff aide who had met with Reid regarding the legislation. Platt informed Marshall that the purpose of the meeting had not been to discuss Reid's position on the minimum wage issue, as Solomon and Theimer had suggested, but rather to discuss “the timing and status of the legislation.” Further, Platt expressed certainty that Reid had not taken any action against the bill following the meeting. Platt then sent a similar account of his interactions with Reid to the AP via an emailed statement.

On February 11, Solomon published a follow-up article that focused on Platt's response. In the piece, headlined “Lobbyist Confirms Talks With Reid's Office,” Solomon continued to push the Abramoff-Reid link supposedly established in the original article by framing Platt's statement as confirmation that he had met with Reid. But he ignored entirely the fact undermining the central premise of both articles -- that Reid apparently never took the position that would have benefited Abramoff's clients.

Solomon on Reid and the Nevada Athletic Commission

When Solomon again took aim at Reid on May 29, a very similar progression took place. In the original article, Solomon suggested that Reid might have been improperly influenced by his acceptance of “free ringside tickets” to several Las Vegas boxing matches from the NAC. At issue was Reid's ongoing support of legislation that would create a federal boxing commission, which could affect the authority of the state-level agency. But as with the allegations regarding Abramoff, Solomon reported that Reid appeared to have put himself in a position in which he could be influenced, but the article failed to inform readers whether he actually took subsequent actions to benefit the interests in question. In this case, as Media Matters noted, Solomon omitted the fact that Reid allowed passage of a Senate bill that would have created a federal boxing commission more than six months after attending a fight as the NAC's guest.

Again, in the wake of this original article, more details quickly surfaced undermining it. For instance, a May 31 Las Vegas Review-Journal article reported that Reid had not actually received tickets to the “posh ringside seats for which pricey tickets are sold,” but rather credentials reserved for public officials wanting to observe the NAC's handling of such an event. According to NAC chairman Skip Avansino, these credentials allowed the senators to watch the match up close, but in less comfortable environs than the ringside seats for which tickets were available-- specifically, “folding chairs in a small, cramped area.” Moreover, the Review-Journal article quoted boxing promoter Bob Arum saying that the NAC credentials have no monetary value and disclosing that, on the several previous occasions when Reid had attended Las Vegas fights and sat in actual ringside seats, he had paid for his tickets “invariably.”

The Review-Journal article also noted Reid's assertion that his acceptance of the tickets had not represented a violation of the Senate gift ban. Further, the article reported that Reid, in justifying his acceptance of the credentials, had drawn a distinction between taking gifts from agencies in his home state, such as the NAC, and agencies from other states. In fact, this is an overly stringent interpretation of the Senate gift ban, which allows lawmakers to accept gifts from any state agency.

While Reid's apparent misinterpretation of the Senate rules had no bearing on his central assertion that his attendance at the events did not represent an ethical violation, the AP confronted his office about the statement. In response, Reid spokesman Jim Manley told the AP that Reid “misspoke when he said the rule applies only to senators who represent the state agency.” Manley reasserted Reid's position that it was “entirely permissible” for him to accept the credentials, but also added that he “will not accept these kinds of credentials in the future in order to avoid even the faintest appearance of impropriety.”

On the night of May 31, Solomon published a follow-up article on the story, which he updated on June 1. But rather than note the new information in the Review-Journal article, Solomon focused on Reid's apparently inaccurate statement regarding the gift ban and subsequent pledge not to accept such credentials in the future. Moreover, in the lead paragraphs of the article, he reported that Reid's office had “abruptly reversed course” in correcting the senator's claim, but failed to provide readers with the substance of Reid's error. This left the false impression that Reid had abandoned his defense of his decision to accept the NAC credentials, when in fact he still stood by it, as the weblogs AmericaBlog and TPM Muckraker noted. Only much later in the article did Solomon inform readers of the manner in which Reid had apparently misinterpreted the Senate rules.

Further, as TPM Muckraker also noted, Solomon distorted Arum's disclosure in the Review-Journal article to report that “Reid paid for past tickets, then accepted free seats from the commission after he became a Senate leader and was pushing legislation affecting the sport only worsened his ethical picture.” As TPM Muckraker noted, Solomon completely misrepresented the gist of Arum's assertion, which was that when Reid sat in the ticketed area, he paid for his tickets “invariably.”

From a June 1 TPM Muckraker article:

Now here's what happened to Arum's point after it got run through the Solomonizer ...

Boxing promoter Bob Arum said when Reid did go to boxing matches in earlier years he always paid for tickets.

Ethics experts said the fact that Reid paid for past tickets, then accepted free seats from the commission after he became a Senate leader and was pushing legislation affecting the sport only worsened his ethical picture.

But that's not what Arum said at all. Arum was talking about a key distinction: the free seats Reid received were the result of credentials, not tickets. Arum is saying that Reid didn't pay for credentials, because he couldn't. But when he got tickets, which he could pay for, he did.