Wash. Post uncritically reported dubious White House claim that it didn't "organize" meeting between Miers's friends, Christian Right group

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

In an October 18 article, Washington Post staff writers Charles Babington and Amy Goldstein uncritically reported White House press secretary Scott McClellan's claim that the Bush administration did not "organize" a conference call among two longtime friends of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers and a coalition of Christian conservative leaders known as the Arlington Group, during which Miers's confidantes reportedly avowed her desire to overturn the right to abortion. In fact, the conference call, which was between the two Miers supporters -- Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht and U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade -- and the executive committee of the Arlington Group, apparently occurred at the suggestion of White House senior adviser Karl Rove.

The New York Times reported on October 18: "According to [Wall Street Journal columnist John] Fund's column and two participants in the call, James C. Dobson, founder of the group Focus on the Family, introduced the two friends by saying that Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, had suggested the group speak to them." Fund had written in his October 17 column that "[a]ccording to the notes of the call, Mr. Dobson introduced them [Hecht and Kinkeade] by saying, 'Karl Rove suggested that we talk with these gentlemen because they can confirm specific reasons why Harriet Miers might be a better candidate than some of us think.'"

Fund described the Arlington Group as "an umbrella alliance of 60 religious conservative groups, including Gary Bauer of American Values, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and the Rev. Bill Owens, a black minister." Weyrich wrote in a December 2004 commentary that the Arlington Group was created "to bring leaders of the religious right together so they could work together and become a more powerful force."

In reporting McClellan's claim, Babington and Goldstein also wrote: "Asked whether the White House thought Miers might overturn Roe [v. Wade, the landmark decision protecting a right to abortion], he [McClellan] said: 'We don't know what her positions will be on future cases because we don't ... ask those questions.' " On the one hand, McClellan was claiming that the White House didn't know or ask Miers about her views on Roe v. Wade; on the other, Rove was purportedly encouraging conservatives to talk to people who know her because, in Dobson's words, "they can confirm specific reasons why Harriet Miers might be a better candidate than some of us think." Given McClellan's denials, it would seem relevant to note that, in fact, the White House did play a role in bringing about the conference call. But unlike other news outlets, Babington and Goldstein did not mention it.

From the October 18 Washington Post article:

[Sen. Charles E.] Schumer (D-NY) said he had pressed Miers on her views about Roe in response to a column yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The column by John Fund reported that, on Oct. 3, the day Bush nominated Miers, two Texas judges who know her conducted a conference call with conservative leaders and assured them that she would vote to reverse Roe.

One person on the conference call, who declined to be named because it had been a confidential event, yesterday confirmed the thrust of the account. Another source knowledgeable about it said the judges did not say they had discussed the abortion ruling with Miers and were merely offering their opinion of how she would vote.

Contacted yesterday, one of the judges on the call, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, said, "I don't recall saying that." Hecht said he did not remember what was said by the other speaker, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade.

Hecht has said in many interviews that Miers personally opposes abortion and considers it murder. He said he did not recall discussing the legal issues with her. "Here's the truth: I don't know. I really don't know."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that the Oct. 3 call was not "organized by the White House." Asked whether the White House thought Miers might overturn Roe, he said: "We don't know what her positions will be on future cases because we don't ... ask those questions."

That did not satisfy some Democrats. Schumer said he would considering calling the two judges to testify during the confirmation hearings to explain their reported remarks.

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