Borger uncritically proclaimed lobbying reform a "very personal issue" for McCain


During a report on a dispute between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, CBS' Gloria Borger uncritically presented McCain's side of the dispute. While she noted that McCain accused Obama of distancing himself from McCain's reform proposals for "partisan reasons," she said: "It's very clear that lobbying reform is a very personal issue for John McCain. It's very important to John McCain."

In a February 6 CBS Evening News report on a dispute over lobbying reform between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), CBS News contributor Gloria Borger uncritically presented McCain's version of the dispute. Noting that McCain accused Obama of distancing himself from McCain's reform proposals for "partisan reasons," Borger proclaimed: "It's very clear that lobbying reform is a very personal issue for John McCain. It's very important to John McCain." But in touting the importance of lobbying reform to McCain and suggesting that it explained the tone of McCain's letter to Obama, Borger left out some relevant facts.

While Borger has noted on numerous occasions that clients of former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff have contributed money to congressional Democrats and suggested that, as a result, Democrats are also tainted in the Abramoff scandal, she has never reported -- and did not report on February 6 -- that McCain has also received contributions from Abramoff clients. Moreover, viewers would never know from Borger's February 6 report that -- as Joshua Micah Marshall noted on his Talking Points Memo weblog -- McCain's own Senate investigation into Abramoff's activities steered clear of any examination into the possible culpability of his fellow lawmakers.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that McCain received $5,000 from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians while Abramoff was the group's lobbyist: $1,000 during the 2000 election cycle and $4,000 during the 2004 election cycle. While simply receiving campaign contributions from Abramoff clients is not an indication of corruption, Borger's reports, as well as other news reports, have portrayed such contributions as tainting lawmakers, as Media Matters has documented. Borger has previously reported that Democrats participated in a "bipartisan stampede" to return "Abramoff-tainted money," because "while Democrats haven't received any money from Abramoff's own checkbook, they did receive one and a half million he directed to them through his clients" [Evening News, 1/30/06]. She has also reported that "almost 100 congressional Democrats and Republicans have raced to get rid of their Abramoff-tainted money," [Evening News, 1/9/06] and quoted, without challenge, former Rep. Vin Weber's (R-MN) assertion that "Abramoff did give more money to Republicans than Democrats, but his people gave money to Democrats as well" [Evening News, 1/4/06].

Borger also ignored that, as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, McCain steered a Senate investigation into the Abramoff scandal away from examining any potential wrongdoing of Republican lawmakers. Roll Call reported on March 10, 2005, that McCain assured colleagues Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) they would not be caught up in the investigation into how Abramoff bilked $82 million from the American Indian tribes he represented, stating "We stop when we find out where the money went."

From the March 10, 2005, edition (subscription required) of Roll Call:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has assured his colleagues that his expanding investigation into the activities of a former GOP lobbyist and a half-dozen of his tribal casino clients is not directed at revealing ethically questionable actions by Members of Congress.

At a Senate Republican luncheon last Wednesday, McCain told the gathering that his own probe, being run through the Indian Affairs Committee, is simply looking into potential "fraudulent" activities perpetrated against the tribes by Jack Abramoff and his associates.

"It's not our responsibility in any way to involve ourselves in the ethics process [of Senators]," McCain said Wednesday, explaining the comments he made to his fellow GOP Senators. "That was not the responsibility of the Indian Affairs Committee."

McCain's comments to Republicans, made at the weekly lunch of the GOP's Steering Committee, came on the same day a trio of stories landed in Washington newspapers raising questions about the legislative actions taken by two GOP Senators and political donations to an interest group established in 1997 by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Because of those stories - and several other news reports touching on Abramoff's relationship with Members - McCain said he wanted to let Senators know that he was not trying to air any of their dirty laundry.

"There were all kinds of rumors that were flying," he said. None of the stories were sourced to the committee and McCain said he played no role in them.

His investigation, in which a new round of hearings are expected later this spring, would continue to instead center on "where Indian tribes were defrauded," and focus specifically on the $82 million that Abramoff and his public relations associate, Mike Scanlon, charged to six tribes over a three-year period, McCain said.

His disclaimer came as two Senators involved in the latest round of Abramoff stories, Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and David Vitter (R-La.), said they welcomed any investigation and promised to help McCain in any way.


McCain said Wednesday that his committee continues to examine all the financial angles of where the $82 million ended up, as well as other political and charitable contributions the tribes made at Abramoff's request. But he reiterated that he was following the money trail, not the legislative actions taken by Members of Congress. "We stop when we find out where the money went," he said.

From the February 6 edition of the CBS Evening News, which featured interim anchor Bob Schieffer:

SCHIEFFER: Republican Senator John McCain is trying to put together a bipartisan team to draw up a reform plan in the wake of the congressional corruption scandal, but one of his recruits, apparently, had other ideas today, and McCain literally exploded. He says that freshman Democratic Senator Barack Obama told him privately he wanted to work with him. But when Obama sent word today that he had decided instead to work on a Democratic plan, McCain sent Obama a letter that comes very close to calling him a liar. Said McCain: "I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics, I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss." Well, Gloria -- Gloria Borger is in our Washington bureau.

Gloria, this is extraordinary. What is this all about?

BORGER: Well, I've never seen anything like it, Bob. It's very clear that lobbying reform is a very personal issue for John McCain, it's very important to John McCain. And he believes that Senator Obama gave him a private assurance to work with him on bipartisan reform. He thinks -- that Senator Obama backed out for partisan reasons because like most Democrats, Senator McCain thinks, Senator Obama would rather have the issue than solve the problem heading into the 2006 election.

Now, just minutes ago, Bob, we got a letter that Senator Obama sent back to Senator McCain, in which he said: "I have no idea what prompted your response." And that gives us some idea of how tough this issue is going to be to solve in Washington.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Gloria Borger
CBS Evening News
Abramoff Scandal, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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