AP continued to mislead on purported Abramoff-Reid link

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Two days after an Associated Press report ignored crucial details that undermine a link between Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a follow-up AP article misrepresented new evidence, which the AP suggested provides further confirmation of such a link but, in fact, casts additional doubt on whether such a link exists.

Two days after an Associated Press report ignored crucial details that undermine a purported link between Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a February 11 AP follow-up article misrepresented new evidence, which the AP suggested provides further confirmation of such a link but, in fact, casts additional doubt on whether such a link exists. This new evidence was a statement released by Ronald Platt, the Abramoff aide whose meetings with Reid provided the basis for the AP's original story.

As Media Matters for America has documented, a February 9 AP article suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the national minimum wage -- which included a provision addressing the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff -- without mentioning that Reid was a co-sponsor of that legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage. In response to the AP report, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall contacted Platt, the Abramoff aide with whom Reid met to discuss the minimum wage bill, about whether Reid had taken any action against the bill following their meeting. Platt responded, "I'm sure he didn't." Platt also said that the AP never contacted him for the article, despite identifying him as the Abramoff aide who met with Reid about the minimum wage bill and subsequently donated $1,000 to Reid's re-election campaign. The February 11 AP article responded: "The AP contacted Platt's new lobbying firm in late December [2005] seeking to interview him about the billing records and was referred to Greenberg Traurig," the firm for which Platt and Abramoff worked at the time of Platt's meetings with Reid.

Platt sent a similar account of his interactions with Reid to the AP via an emailed statement (which is apparently reprinted here) that resulted in the AP's February 11 follow-up article. But not only did the February 11 article again ignore that Reid apparently never took the position that would have benefited Abramoff's clients, it continued to push the supposed Abramoff-Reid link by focusing on Platt's statement as confirmation that he had met with Reid. The headline AP put on the article read: "Lobbyist Confirms Talks With Reid's Office."

The February 11 article did note that "Platt sought to minimize the extent of his lobbying of Reid's office on behalf of Abramoff." But even then, the AP began by suggesting that Platt believes the billing records of his meetings with Reid -- and not the February 9 AP article that sought to read into those records -- overstated Platt's efforts to lobby Reid on the minimum wage bill:

One of Jack Abramoff's ex-colleagues [Platt] confirms he contacted Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's office on behalf of the influential lobbyist but says he does not believe Abramoff's billing records accurately reflect the extent of his work.

In fact, Platt wrote in his press release that the billing records reported by the AP were "fraudulent," and that in any event, the AP article "distorts the context of my 'contacts,' with Senator Reid's staff":

This statement responds to the article dated, February 9, 2006, by John Solomon of the AP attempting to create a link between Jack Abramoff and Senator Harry Reid (D. Nev.).

The allegations and implications in Mr. Solomon's story are false, which he would have understood had he bothered to contact me prior to publication. Rather than discuss these issues with me, Mr. Solomon apparently relied on Jack Abramoff's billing records to his clients that have already been legally determined to be fraudulent. Though I do not have access to these bills, I believe that the references in the AP story to my time are inaccurate.

Moreover, Mr. Solomon's article distorts the context of my "contacts," with Senator Reid's staff. These contacts were incidental, insofar as I simply bumped into Reid staffers at Democratic Party functions or occurred [sic] incidental to discussions regarding my clients, not Abramoff's. Any contacts that I may have had in regards to Abramoff's tribal clients would have been similarly incidental. In addition, I have no recollection of ever discussing contributions or fundraising issues with Senator Reid, [Reid chief of staff] Susan McCue or [Reid's Senate counsel] Jim Ryan as implied by Mr. Solomon's story.

When Abramoff first arrived at Greenberg Traurig, I did a new colleague a favor by simply asking Reid staffers about when the minimum wage legislation affecting the Mariana Islands would be voted upon by the Senate. I communicated this to Abramoff. At no time, did I ever lobby or advocate on this issue or for this Abramoff client. The reason for this is quite simple. Senator Reid, throughout his public career, has been a strong advocate of a fair and decent minimum wage for all Americans. I was fully aware of his strong support for and sponsorship of Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy's (D-MA) bill to ensure that the Marianas Islands would not be exempted from the minimum wage laws applicable to all other American citizens. Therefore, at no time did I ever discuss the substance of this issue with Senator Reid or his office. Nor did I ever ask that the bill be delayed. I only asked about the timing of when the bill would come to the Senate floor. This inquiry was routine.

Mr. Solomon's story also seems to cast suspicion on my contributions to Senator Reid's campaigns. Again, this is a gross distortion. I have been supporting and contributing to Harry Reid for over twenty years. My support and contributions are based solely on my belief that he is an exemplary public official whose values and ideals I share.

As Marshall summarized, the February 11 AP article "portray[ed] a blackeye for their original story as a further confirmation of their story":

After he spoke to me, Platt released a statement restating the gist of what he told me.

So what does the AP do with the information? They run a story with the lede that the Abramoff lobbyist confirms the meetings with Harry Reid. In other words, they portray a blackeye for their original story as a further confirmation of their story.

Now, yes, he did 'confirm' the meetings. But the fact that he had made contact with Reid's office was never seriously in dispute by anyone. They note that the lobbyist in question says the billing records overstate the nature of the work. Even this isn't quite accurate. It's more that he's saying the AP's characterization overstates the nature of the work. But let's set that aside, because whatever the nature of his lobbying was, it doesn't address the key issue.

Nowhere in the new article can the AP writers bring themselves to note that Reid never adopted Abramoff's clients' position on the issue. So whatever quids Abramoff's folks were offering up, Reid never gave them a quo. From start to finish he was the co-sponsor of the bill Abramoff's clients wanted to defeat.

That's key information -- arguably, the central piece of information in the whole case. But the AP keeps pressing their misleading narrative while omitting this key point.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
Associated Press
Person
John Solomon
Stories/Interests
Abramoff Scandal
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