The Los Angeles Times reprinted an abridged version of a flawed Associated Press story about links between disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. The Washington Times' Donald Lambro also selectively cited the article in a column.
On February 15, the Los Angeles Times reprinted an abridged version of a flawed, week-old Associated Press article that purported to link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As Media Matters for America noted when the full article was first issued on February 9, the AP suggested that Reid coordinated with Abramoff to sabotage proposed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory represented by Abramoff, without noting that, in fact, Reid was a co-sponsor of that legislation and spoke on the Senate floor in favor of its passage. Moreover, the version published by the Times noted that "Reid also intervened on government matters at least five times in ways helpful to Abramoff's tribal clients" but omitted evidence included in the original AP article suggesting that bulk of Reid's "helpful" actions were the result of his long-standing opposition to off-reservation tribal gaming. Similarly, in his February 16 column, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro selectively cited the AP article, repeating the misleading Mariana Islands claim and failing to mention that Reid's actions were consistent with his past positions.
From the AP article, as it appeared in the February 15 Los Angeles Times:
Abramoff's records show his lobbying partners billed for about two dozen phone contacts or meetings with Reid's office in 2001 alone.
Most were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory and an Abramoff client, but would have given the islands a temporary break on the wage rate, the billing records show.
Reid also intervened on government matters at least five times in ways helpful to Abramoff's tribal clients, once opposing legislation on the Senate floor and four times sending letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues. Reid collected donations about the time of each action.
Like the original February 9 AP article, the version published by the Times never mentioned that Reid co-sponsored the bill that would have raised the minimum wage in the Northern Mariana Islands -- an effort that Abramoff opposed. The AP also failed to note what subsequent action Reid took on the legislation; in fact, Reid supported the bill's passage in a May 6, 2002, speech on the Senate floor, as Media Matters has documented.
The February 9 AP article -- but not the February 15 version in the Times -- identified the Abramoff aide Reid and his staff repeatedly met with to discuss the minimum wage bill as Ronald Platt. In response to the February 9 article, blogger Joshua Micah Marshall contacted Platt about whether Reid had taken any action against the minimum wage bill following their meeting, to which Platt responded, "I'm sure he didn't":
According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't."
As Marshall noted, the AP did not interview Platt for the February 9 article. In response, Platt emailed an account of his interactions with Reid (apparently reprinted here) to the AP. (As Media Matters has noted, this resulted in a misleading follow-up article by the AP on February 11.) In his statement, Platt wrote that the Abramoff billing records were "fraudulent" and that, in any case, the February 9 AP article "distorts the context of my 'contacts,' with Senator Reid's staff." Platt explained:
I was fully aware of his [Reid's] 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.
Like the February 9 AP article, the abbreviated version in the Times reported that Reid took actions "helpful" to Abramoff's tribal clients "at least five times." But unlike the original article, the version in the Times gave readers no indication of what these actions were. In fact, four of the five actions involved opposition to off-reservation Indian casinos. This position is consistent with Reid's longtime opposition to off-reservation gambling. As early as 1988, Reid supported the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which generally prohibited Indian gaming on non-tribal lands. He proposed separate legislation in 1993 "prohibit[ing] states from opening gaming operations on off-reservation land" [AP, 5/28/93].
Both versions of the article quoted Reid spokesman Jim Manley, who pointed out that "[a]ll the actions that Sen. Reid took were consistent with his long-held beliefs, such as not letting tribal casinos expand beyond reservations, and were taken to defend the interests of Nevada constituents." But the February 9 version contained substantial evidence supporting Manley's statement about off-reservation gambling -- evidence that was omitted from the February 15 article in the Times.
The February 9 AP article noted that two of Reid's "letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues" were written in opposition to an off-reservation casino proposed by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians in Louisiana. The letters, also signed by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), were sent to the Department of the Interior on March 5, 2002, and April 30, 2003. According to the AP, "The Jena's proposed casino would have rivaled one already in operation in Louisiana run by the Coushattas, and Abramoff was lobbying to block the Jena."
The February 9 AP article explained that Reid and Ensign have defended their opposition to the Jena casino by pointing out their long-standing efforts to protect Nevada's gambling interests. The article further noted that Reid "has long argued" that such off-reservation casinos are generally illegal:
Reid and Ensign recently wrote the Senate Ethics Committee to say their letter had nothing to do with Abramoff or the donation and instead reflected their interest in protecting Las Vegas' gambling establishments.
"As senators for the state with the largest nontribal gaming industry in the nation, we have long opposed the growth of off-reservation tribal gaming throughout the United States," Ensign and Reid wrote. Reid authored the law legalizing casinos on reservations, and has long argued it does not allow tribal gambling off reservations.
None of this information was included in the Los Angeles Times' version of the AP article.
The February 9 AP article also described two other actions taken by Reid in opposition to tribal casinos but failed to adequately explain that these, too, were consistent with Reid's long-standing positions.
The original AP article explained that "Reid went to the Senate floor to oppose fellow Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow's effort to win congressional approval for a Michigan casino for the Bay Mills Indians, which would have rivaled one already operating by the Saginaw Chippewa represented by Abramoff." But as Media Matters has noted, the AP did not explain that in his November 19, 2002, floor statement, Reid said he opposed the legislation because it would allow the Bay Mills Indians to build an off-reservation casino "under the guise of settling a land claim." Nor did the AP note that like the Jenna proposal, the Saginaw Chippewa proposal was for an off-reservation casino.
In its discussion of Reid's opposition to the Saginaw Chippewa casino, the Times version of the article explained only that Reid "once oppos[ed] legislation on the Senate floor" in a manner "helpful" to Abramoff's clients.
Similarly, the February 9 AP article reported that in December 2002, Reid "signed a letter with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein urging Interior Secretary Gale Norton to reject a proposal by the Cuyapaipe Band of Mission Indians to convert land for a health clinic into a casino in southern California." The AP added that "[t]he casino would have competed with the Palm Springs gambling establishment run by the Agua Caliente, one of Abramoff's tribes." But the AP did not explain that this proposal, too, was for an off-reservation casino.
The Times version of the AP article offered no description of any of Reid's letters, stating only that Reid "four times sen[t] letters pressing the Bush administration on tribal issues" in a manner "helpful" to Abramoff's clients.
The Washington Times' Lambro, in his February 16 column, also selectively cited the already misleading February 9 AP article. In doing so, Lambro baselessly claimed that Reid "is up to his eyeballs in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal." Lambro wrote that "the senator's staff had many contacts with the [Abramoff's] lobbying firm on behalf of their boss," but did not note that, in the AP's words, "[m]ost were to discuss Democratic legislation that would have applied the U.S. minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands." And like the AP, Lambro did not inform readers that Reid opposed the position taken by Abramoff's clients on that legislation.
In addition, Lambro wrote, "We now know Mr. Reid wrote at least four letters to assist Indian tribes that hired the since-convicted lobbyist." Lambro ignored the subject of these letters, failing to mention that three of them were entirely consistent with Reid's long-standing opposition to off-reservation tribal gaming.
From Lambro's February 16 Washington Times column:
It turns out Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who has been running around the country preaching the "culture of corruption" message, is up to his eyeballs in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
For several weeks, Mr. Reid has been leading a fierce offensive on this issue, while insisting no Democrat received any money in return for legislative favors in the widening scandal under Justice Department investigation.
But new details reported last week by the Associated Press reveal Mr. Reid's fervent, repeated denials of any connection with Abramoff or his lobbying firm were not entirely true.
We now know Mr. Reid wrote at least four letters to assist Indian tribes that hired the since-convicted lobbyist, that the senator's staff had many contacts with the lobbying firm on behalf of their boss, and that Mr. Reid accepted nearly $68,000 in donations from Abramoff's associates and his Indian clients -- often right after he wrote the requested letters.