In its response to Media Matters for America and TPM Muckraker's analyses of reporter John Solomon's seriously flawed Associated Press article, the AP cited three Nevada boxing officials to support Solomon's suggestion that Sen. Harry Reid's "ticket" to a September 2004 boxing match had monetary value, and could therefore be considered a "gift" from the Nevada Athletic Commission, as defined by Senate ethics rules. However, none of the three officials was quoted to that effect in Solomon's May 29 article, and all three have subsequently been quoted making statements that appear to contradict the AP's claims.
In a May 31 e-mail to Media Matters for America, the Associated Press -- through director of Media Relations and Public Affairs Linda M. Wagner -- responded to Media Matters' and TPM Muckraker's analyses of reporter John Solomon's seriously flawed May 29 Associated Press article, in which Solomon suggested that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) had acted improperly by attending Las Vegas boxing matches as the guest of the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) at a time when the agency "was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing." In its response, the AP cited three Nevada boxing officials to support Solomon's suggestion that Reid's "ticket" to a September 2004 boxing match had monetary value, and could therefore be considered a "gift" from the NAC, as defined by Senate ethics rules. However, none of the three officials was quoted to that effect in Solomon's May 29 article, and all three have subsequently been quoted making statements that appear to contradict the AP's claims. Also, the AP falsely claimed that Media Matters had mischaracterized the content of Solomon's article.
The entire text of Wagner's response is presented below:
Several online postings by TPM Muckraker and Mediamatters regarding Associated Press stories about U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are misleading, inaccurate and false, as indicated in the points below, which are supported by the text of the actual AP stories, indented and boldfaced below. Note that the AP provides numerous cycles of the same story to its members and customers, adding material as the story develops and the reporter gathers additional information.
- Contrary to assertions by these sites, the first cycle of the story in question, and that afternoon's cycle, reported that the Nevada commission was opposed to legislation that would create a federal boxing commission. The relevant paragraph from the afternoon story follows:
- Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission when Reid took the free tickets, said one of his desires was to convince Reid and McCain that there was no need for the federal government to usurp the state commission's authority. At the time, McCain and Reid were pushing legislation to create a federal boxing commission. [...] "I am a states rights activist and I didn't want any federal bill that would take away our state rights to regulate fights," Ratner said, adding that he hoped McCain and Reid, at the very least, would be persuaded to model any federal commission after Nevada's body.
- Contrary to TPM Muckraker assertions, Senator Reid did not vote against the legislation the Nevada commission supported. Senators Reid and McCain sponsored legislation the commission wanted to change. AP clearly reported this, as follows:
- At the time, McCain and Reid were pushing legislation to create a federal boxing commission.
- AP also clearly quoted Reid as saying he did not change his vote as a result of the gifts, as follows:
- Reid said he never would change his position because of donations, free tickets or a request from a former-staffer-turned-lobbyist. "People who deal with me and have over the years know that I am an advocate for what I believe in. I always try to do it fair, never take advantage of people on purpose," he said.
- TPM Muckraker stated mistakenly that AP failed to report that there is an absolute exemption allowing lawmakers to take gifts from federal, state and local officials. AP, in fact, accurately reported that there is a general exemption for such gifts but that the Congressional ethics manual clearly warns members of Congress against accepting such normally permitted gifts if they are connected to efforts to influence their position on legislation. The commission that gave Senator Reid the tickets said on the record it was trying to influence Reid and McCain by bringing them to the fights. As reported by AP:
- Senate ethics rules generally allow lawmakers to accept gifts from federal, state or local governments, but specifically warn against taking such gifts -- particularly on multiple occasions -- when they might be connected to efforts to influence official actions. ["]Senators and Senate staff should be wary of accepting any gift where it appears that the gift is motivated by a desire to reward, influence or elicit favorable official action," the Senate ethics manual states. It cites the 1990s example of an Oregon lawmaker who took gifts for personal use from a South Carolina state university and its president while that school was trying to influence his official actions. ["]Repeatedly taking gifts which the Gifts Rule otherwise permits to be accepted may, nonetheless, reflect discredit upon the institution, and should be avoided," the manual says.
- The credentials came directly from the Nevada Athletic Commission and were seats controlled by the commission, according to current executive director Keith Kizer and former director Marc Ratner. Kizer specifically stated to AP that the credential was the equivalent of a ticket. "In Sen. Reid's case, the credential was Sen. Reid's ticket to the fight. He didn't need to buy one to get in." On the value of the tickets, both Ratner and Arum said the seats that Reid and McCain used for the Oscar De La Hoya fight were worth about $1,400 to $1,500 each. That's why McCain insisted on paying that amount. The commission arranged for McCain's check to be sent to Arum, who cashed it and donated the money to charity. A gift under Senate ethics rule is defined as "anything of monetary value." Ringside seats have clear monetary value. As noted above, members of Congress are advised not to take any gift from any source if it could appear connected to influencing official acts, such as Reid's boxing legislation. Ethics experts told AP that, if the commission wouldn't accept reimbursement, Reid still had several options to comply with his ethical requirements. He could have simply bought a ticket at the box office. He could have reimbursed the promoter like McCain did. Or he could have donated an equal amount to charity, like lawmakers sometimes do when they get forbidden honoraria for speeches.
In the last bullet point, Wagner quoted NAC executive director Keith Kizer saying "the credential" Reid received from the NAC "was Sen. Reid's ticket to the fight." The AP also claimed that "[o]n the value of the tickets, both [former NAC executive director Marc] Ratner and Arum said the seats that Reid and McCain used for the Oscar De La Hoya fight were worth about $1,400 to $1,500 each. That's why McCain insisted on paying that amount. The commission arranged for McCain's check to be sent to Arum, who cashed it and donated the money to charity." Therefore, according to the AP, there is no difference between the "credential" Reid received and ringside tickets, as "[r]ingside seats have clear monetary value." Kizer, however, was not quoted or mentioned in any version of Solomon's May 29 article (or, according to a Nexis search, in any AP story about Harry Reid), nor did the word "credential" appear in any version. Solomon simply wrote that Reid received "tickets" that "were close to the ring and worth between several hundred and several thousand dollars each," and did not quote anybody in support of this statement. Similarly, Arum is not quoted or mentioned in any version of Solomon's May 29 article -- although he was mentioned in a follow-up June 1 article by Solomon -- and Ratner was not quoted discussing the value of the "tickets."
Moreover, according to a May 31 Las Vegas Review-Journal article, Ratner and NAC chairman Skip Avansino in fact drew a distinction between the "credentials" Reid received and ringside tickets, as Media Matters has noted. From the Review-Journal article:
Ratner said Tuesday the seats Reid and McCain got weren't tickets available to the general public but "credentials" the commission gives only to public officials hoping to observe the commission's activity.
Skip Avansino, current chairman of the athletic commission and a commission member since 2002, said Reid, McCain and the athletic commissioners sat on folding chairs in a small, cramped area, not in the posh ringside seats for which pricey tickets are sold. Avansino also said the commissioners were too busy to spend much time bending Reid's ear during the fight.
TPM Muckraker also quoted Kizer saying that there is a difference between a "ticket" and a "credential." According to TPM Muckraker:
He went on to explain that credentials are given out to governmental officials and others in order to observe the commission's activity. Sometimes the credentials are provided in addition to tickets -- sometimes officials sit in the commission's area.
Additionally, the Review-Journal quoted Arum saying that "credentials cannot be sold," and that "[t]here's no price on them," which flatly contradicts what Wagner claimed Arum said -- but Solomon did not actually include in any version of the original story -- about the market value of the tickets.
In the first bullet point -- the only bullet point that specifically addresses Media Matters -- the AP falsely claimed Media Matters accused Solomon of omitting from his May 29 article the fact that the NAC "was opposed to legislation that would create a federal boxing commission." In fact, the third paragraph of Media Matters' May 30 item clearly states: "In the article, Solomon revealed that Reid had been treated to ringside seats at several Las Vegas boxing matches while the Senate was considering whether to create a federal boxing commission -- legislation that Reid had designed and supported, but that the NAC opposed." Media Matters also quoted the portion of Solomon's article in which he noted that the NAC opposed the legislation: "Reid took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority."
Moreover, according to the Review-Journal, the NAC says it did not actually oppose the legislation: "While Ratner may have had an opinion about federal regulation's potential effect on Nevada, Avansino said the commission never took an official position on the federal proposal but merely monitored the bill's progress to see if the commission would be affected." Media Matters based the assertion that the NAC opposed the legislation on Solomon's May 29 report.
Also, in her email, Wagner did not address Media Matters' original criticism of Solomon's article: that Solomon failed to note that six months after attending one of the boxing matches, Reid allowed to pass the legislation Solomon claimed the NAC opposed.