In announcing on the January 14 edition of CNN's Crossfire that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's presidential campaign had hired two political bloggers "to say positive things about Dr. Dean," co-host Robert D. Novak failed to note -- when co-host Paul Begala raised the issue -- that one of the bloggers shut down his site while working for the campaign and the other fully disclosed his financial relationship with Dean. As Media Matters for America has documented, Novak himself has a history of non-disclosure, repeatedly discussing Regnery Publishing, Inc., books without disclosing that he has both personal and financial ties to the company.
Novak apparently based his claims about the bloggers on a January 14 Wall Street Journal article, which was also less than forthright, saving salient but less sensational facts for near the end.
From the January 14 edition of Crossfire:
NOVAK: Howard Dean is running for Democratic National Chairman the same way he ran for president: as the squeaky clean candidate. Well, he may have been squeaky, but he wasn't so clean. Zephyr Teachout, who was head of Internet outreach for the Dean campaign, has revealed the campaign hired two political bloggers to say positive things about Dr. Dean at the price of $3,000 a month -- that's play for pay. Meanwhile, one of the great former DNC chairmen, Bob Strauss, has endorsed one of the candidates, and it is indeed former Congressman Martin Frost, who, like Strauss, is a moderate and a Texan. Will the DNC members be that smart?
BEGALA: I don't know. First, if in fact people were paid to flack Howard Dean and didn't disclose it, that's reprehensible. We talked about that earlier with [right-wing pundit caught accepting Bush administration money to promote their policy] Armstrong Williams and the same standard should apply to liberals.
In fact, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the Dean campaign contracted with the political consulting firm Armstrong Zúniga over a four-month period for consulting services. While Teachout claimed on her blog that Jerome Armstrong (who runs the blog MyDD.com) and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (who runs the blog DailyKos.com) were hired as consultants "largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean, the Journal noted that Armstrong and Moulitsas "said they didn't believe the Dean campaign had been trying to buy their influence." And Teachout herself said: "to be very clear, they never committed to supporting Dean for the payment -- but it was very clearly, internally, our goal."
But, while contracting with the campaign, Armstrong shut his blog down, and therefore had no prominent outlet in which to support the candidate. And both Armstrong and Moulitsas fully disclosed their financial relationship with the Dean campaign. Moulitsas, who did continue to operate his blog, wrote about it on his site as soon as the arrangement began and kept a prominent disclaimer notice on his site throughout his tenure with the campaign (example courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
The Wall Street Journal included most of this information in their article, but as Brian Montopoli noted on Columbia Journalism Review's website, CampaignDesk.org, the "facts that take the sting out of a sensational lede" -- that Armstrong and Moulitsas were paid for technical consulting; the relationship was fully disclosed; and Armstrong ceased blogging during the relevant period -- didn't appear until, as Montopoli wrote, "the eighth paragraph of the ten-paragraph piece."
Montopoli noted that in the third paragraph of the Journal article, the reporters drew a false equivalence between the payments to Armstrong and Moulitsas and the recent disclosure that right-wing pundit Armstrong Williams had accepted $240,000 from the Department of Education to promote the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education policy. Williams has come under fire for not disclosing the payments, and there have been numerous calls for investigation into the Bush administration's use of taxpayer dollars in paying for the arrangement. Neither element of the Williams scandal applies to Armstrong and Moulitsas; they were not paid using taxpayer dollars, and the financial ties were fully disclosed.