On ABC's This Week, George Will and Laura Ingraham engaged in a bit of revisionism to try to distance conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts from an incendiary plan to re-manufacture the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, and in the process accused the New York Times of journalistic malpractice. Will claimed that Ricketts, who commissioned the plan, immediately repudiated the proposal, while Ingraham asserted that he "didn't even see" it. In fact, the proposal stated that Ricketts had given "preliminary approval" of the plan and commissioned it in part because he thought it was a mistake that John McCain's campaign refused to use Wright to attack Obama in 2008.
During a discussion of the plan, which was made public by the New York Times, Will claimed that Ricketts "repudiated [the proposal] the instant he saw it." Will went on to accuse the Times of fudging the facts of Ricketts' involvement because "it didn't fit their narrative: billionaire behaving responsibly."
Fellow panelist Ingraham added: "As far as I know, he didn't even see this proposal -- I believe, George -- and the idea that he was considering it was a total false narrative put forward by the New York Times to send a message to other people, don't you dare get involved in this election in any type of, quote, 'controversial,' way."
But their contentions aren't supported by the facts.
As the Times originally reported, and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed out on This Week, Ricketts commented approvingly about a 2008 ad that used Wright but was never aired:
"The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way," says the proposal, which was overseen by Fred Davis and commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade.
The 54-page proposal was professionally bound and illustrated with color photographs, indicating that it is far beyond a mere discussion. The strategists have already contacted Larry Elder, a black conservative radio host in Los Angeles, about serving as a spokesman, and the plan calls for a group of black business leaders to endorse the effort. The strategists have also registered a domain name, Character Matters.
The proposal suggests that Mr. Ricketts believes the 2008 campaign of Senator John McCain erred in not using images of Mr. Wright against Mr. Obama, who has said that the pastor helped him find Jesus but that he was never present for Mr. Wright's politically charged sermons. Mr. Obama left the church during the campaign.
Apparently referring to a Wright ad that was produced for the McCain campaign by Mr. Davis's firm but never used, the proposal opens with a quote from Mr. Ricketts: "If the nation had seen that ad, they'd never have elected Barack Obama."
The New York Times later reported that the proposal stated that Ricketts had given "preliminary approval" of the plan (emphasis added):
By early [Thursday] afternoon, Mr. Ricketts had announced that he had rejected the ad campaign as out of keeping with his own political style, a day after his aides indicated that it was still under consideration.
The president and general counsel of the Ending Spending Political Action Fund, Brian Baker, said through a spokesman that the plan was submitted to a group that included him and two of Mr. Ricketts's sons at a meeting in Chicago last week. "I was surprised and troubled by what I saw," he said. "It was not what we asked for."
But on Wednesday, when Mr. Baker was asked in an interview whether Mr. Ricketts had rejected the advertising proposal, he said only that no decisions had been made.
A page in the proposal about potential staff members for the effort says, "With your preliminary approval at the New York meeting, we have discussed this plan in highly confidential terms with the following proposed team members," who, it says, are "ready to jump into action upon plan approval."
Associates of Mr. Ricketts acknowledged that upon seeing a commercial Mr. Davis produced in 2008 for Mr. McCain featuring Mr. Wright, which Mr. McCain rejected, Mr. Ricketts said. "If the nation had seen that ad, they'd never have elected Barack Obama." The quote was highlighted in the proposal.
Mr. Ricketts was shown the commercial at an initial meeting at Mr. Davis's offices in California, which Mr. Ricketts requested as he sought to build a team of top Republican strategists to lead his foray into the presidential campaign. (Aides acknowledge that a second meeting followed in New York, where, they say, he gave Mr. Davis general directions to move ahead with a proposal that would create maximum impact for $10 million but did not specifically approve one based on Mr. Wright.)
While defending Ricketts, Ingraham further claimed that the Ricketts backlash is part of the Obama campaign's effort to "demonize" wealthy Republican supporters and to convey that "if you are a wealthy, wealthy person in the United States, you happen to be conservative, and you're gonna get involved in this election, then we're gonna watch everything that you do and if you sort of step over the line ... we will try to destroy you."
Ingraham cited Romney campaign official Frank VanderSloot as an example, saying VanderSloot was "demonized for various, I guess, social issues and so forth." In fact, VanderSloot has an extreme anti-LGBT record: his company, Melaleuca Inc., launched a billboard campaign in 1999 that attacked Idaho Public Television for airing a documentary about "how some public and private schools in several states are dealing with gay issues in the classroom, specifically name-calling and harassment." One of the billboards can be seen below, via Buzzfeed; it has been defaced with the word "YES!"
Additionally, VanderSloot attacked an Idaho reporter in a full-page newspaper ad, calling him a "homosexual." He also stated that the "homosexual lifestyle" is neither "normal, right, acceptable," "good," nor "appropriate."