In an online chat, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz acknowledged that Post ombudsman Deborah Howell's false claims that Democrats received campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff were "inartfully worded" and could "have been more accurate."
In a January 17 washingtonpost.com "Media Backtalk" online discussion, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz acknowledged that Post ombudsman Deborah Howell's false claims that Democrats received campaign contributions from former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff were "inartfully worded" and could "have been more accurate." As Media Matters for America documented, Howell, in her January 15 Post column, twice mischaracterized the reporting of her colleagues to claim Abramoff "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties," and that Democrats "have gotten Abramoff campaign money."
When first asked by a reader about Howell's falsehoods concerning Democrats receiving money from Abramoff, Kurtz quoted just one of two instances from Howell's January 15 column in which she made the false claim, and attempted to explain away her assertion. According to Kurtz, Howell's claim that Democrats "have gotten Abramoff campaign money" was "inartfully worded."
From the January 17 online discussion:
Fort Washington, Md.: Reporter Sue Schmidt and ombudsman Deborah Howell have both asserted repeatedly that Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans. The FEC shows no record of any Democrat getting any money from Abramoff, period. Some Indian tribes who were among Abramoff's victims contributed funds to some Democrats, but suggesting that that somehow is a donation from Abramoff defies logic. How does the Post justify passing on what appears to be nothing but GOP spin as fact?
Howard Kurtz: Howell's column Sunday said that a number of Democrats "have gotten Abramoff campaign money." That was inartfully worded. I believe what she was trying to say, and I have not discussed this with her, is that some Democrats have received campaign cash from Abramoff clients, and that this may have been orchestrated by the convicted lobbyist. That's why you have a number of Democrats (as well as many Republicans, now including [Speaker of the House] Denny Hastert [R-IL]) giving back the tainted dough or donating it to charity. Even National Review Editor Rich Lowry says this is basically a Republican scandal -- we are talking about a Bush fundraiser and [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-TX] pal -- but where the tangled web has extended to Democrats, we need to mention that too.
When his response was later challenged by another reader who noted that, in the same column, Howell also falsely claimed that Abramoff "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties," Kurtz then acknowledged that Howell's claims were less than accurate:
Washington, D.C.: Your response to Fort Washington, Md. missed the point. Howell falsely claimed in her column of Abramoff that "he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties." Your additional quote from her column does not make that claim less false.
Why did she make that false claim, and what is The Post going to do about it.
And why did you change the subject in your response to Fort Washington?
Howard Kurtz: I have not delved deeply into this myself, but I believe it would have been more accurate to say that Abramoff steered contributions to politicians of both parties.
Unaddressed by Kurtz was the fact that Howell's false assertion of Abramoff's contributions was based on her mischaracterization of reporting by Post staff writer Susan Schmidt and business reporter Jeffrey H. Birnbaum.