NY Times, AP failed to note contradictory statements from HUD secretary's aide

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In reporting on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson's claim that his account of having denied a qualified publisher a government contract because of his alleged animus towards President Bush was merely "anecdotal" and did not actually occur, The New York Times and the Associated Press did not note that Dustee Tucker, Jackson's spokeswoman, had already twice indicated that Jackson was referring to a real contract.

In reporting on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson's claim that an account he gave of having denied a qualified publisher a government contract because of his alleged animus towards President Bush was merely "anecdotal" and did not actually occur, The New York Times and the Associated Press did not note that Dustee Tucker, Jackson's spokewoman, had already twice indicated that Jackson was referring to a real contract. Also, the Times and the AP failed to note that the HUD inspector general's office initiated a review of the matter.

According to an article in the May 5-11 edition of the Dallas Business Journal, Jackson, while speaking to a national minority real estate consortium in Texas on April 28, told the story of an advertising business contractor he had dealt with. According to the Journal article, Jackson told the group he denied the contractor a government contract because the contractor expressed dislike for Bush:

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

The New York Times reported on May 11 that "Jackson and his aides have tried to portray his remarks as anecdotal, meant to illustrate how Washington works rather than recount an actual incident. The Times quoted Tucker saying that Jackson "did not actually meet with someone and turn down a contract," and that "politics does not play a part in who we advertise with or who we award contracts to." The AP reported on May 11 that "Jackson said he made up the story, and quoted Jackson saying: "During my tenure, no contract has ever been awarded, rejected, or rescinded due to the personal or political beliefs of the recipient."

However, as the weblog Think Progress noted in a May 10 entry, Tucker had already stated twice that Jackson was referring to an actual contract. A May 8 Dallas Business Journal article noted that on May 3, "Tucker told the Business Journal that the contract Jackson was referring to in Dallas was 'an advertising contract with a minority publication,' though she could not provide the contract's value." A May 10 Dallas Morning News article noted that Tucker "spoke as if the contractor existed" on May 9, and noted the contradiction with hers and Jackon's more recent statements:

Two top-ranking House Democrats, Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, urged Mr. Bush to repudiate Mr. Jackson's comments and demanded documents pertaining to the contract. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., wrote Mr. Bush calling for Mr. Jackson's resignation. "Government contracts must be based on merit, not on political favoritism," he said.

That was before Ms. Tucker said Mr. Jackson had made up the story.

A White House spokeswoman referred inquiries to HUD.

When first asked about the episode Tuesday, Ms. Tucker spoke as if the contractor existed, saying he had approached Mr. Jackson "trashing, in a very aggressive way" him and the president. Later, she said that she had conferred with Mr. Jackson and that the story wasn't true.

She conceded that the audience might not have realized that because "he did not preface the story by saying 'this is a hypothetical.'

Neither the Times nor the AP noted this discrepancy.

Also, both articles made no mention of the fact that the HUD inspector general's office initiated a review of the incident. As CNN.com reported on May 10:

Mike Zerega, a spokesman for the inspector general, said the HUD watchdog had received "a number of complaints from the public as well as from members of Congress" about Jackson's remarks.

"We are reviewing this matter as to the facts and any applicable law," he said.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
The New York Times, Associated Press
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