Yesterday, my colleague Kate Conway pointed out that the American Spectator blog Washington Prowler had published another of their trademark anonymously "sourced" hit pieces on progressives, this time speculating why Colin Crowell -- a senior adviser to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski -- is leaving his position. Kate warned that readers should consider the Prowler's report skeptically due to the Prowler's past record, and it looks like she was right: their story is quickly unraveling.
According to the Prowler piece -- based on unnamed "sources," "FCC staff," and "speculation" from the "telecommunications industry" -- Crowell is leaving because Genachowski has decided not to regulate broadband networks, which would have "left Crowell's many friends on the extreme left very angry" and put Crowell "in an untenable position and unable to defend it, and thus forced to resign."
Prowler's claim that Genachowski is planning to leave broadband unregulated was based on an anonymously-sourced May 3 Washington Post article that reported that Genachowski was "leaning toward" such a decision. And -- wouldn't you know it -- Prowler has "sources" saying that "Crowell or his allies may have been the sources for the Post piece."
And then today's Wall Street Journal hit the newsstand, and the Prowler piece dissolved.
That didn't take long. The American Spectator's blog, the Washington Prowler, is again circulating a baseless, anonymously-sourced claim about a public official, this time speculating about why Colin Crowell -- a senior adviser to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski -- is leaving his position.
The only evidence The Prowler offers up for its conjecture comes from unnamed "sources," "FCC staff," and "speculation" from the "telecommunications industry."
Media Matters for America has exclusively obtained emails from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) chief actuary Richard Foster to the American Spectator's editor-in-chief, in which Foster criticizes the American Spectator's Washington Prowler column for "reporting factually incorrect information," and demands a correction.
On April 27, the American Spectator's Prowler column accused the Department of Health and Human Services of intentionally hiding a report by the CMS actuaries to keep it from influencing the health care vote, citing unnamed "career HHS sources." Media Matters debunked this claim at the time, noting that Foster had written a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell expressing his inability to score the health care legislation in the requested period of time.
That same day, Foster also addressed this falsehood in an email to American Spectator editor-in-chief R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. in which Foster wrote:
The American Spectator's Washington Prowler blog was at the center of a controversy this week as its anonymous quote of a "HHS source" provided the impetus for a right-wing freakout over the Obama administration's alleged cover-up of an unfavorable analysis of the health care reform bill performed by Medicare's chief actuary. As it turned out, not only did the alleged cover-up never happen, but the rigors of legislative analysis and the unforgiving timeframe meant that it was all but impossible that a cover-up ever could have happened. Despite the weight of evidence against them, the Prowler is sticking by their sources.
All this, of course, leads us to one question: Who, exactly, was this Health and Human Services official who was so woefully misinformed about his/her bosses' sinister plan to suppress vital information from the voting public? The identity of the Prowler's anonymous source will likely never be known, but we do know what this source represents -- just the most recent manifestation of the Prowler's preternatural talent for tracking down always-unnamed Washington insiders and Democratic officials who are willing to dish bombshell quotes maligning the Democrats to an anonymous blogger working for a super-conservative magazine.
Now, please don't think I'm questioning the Prowler's credibility or suggesting that these quotes are the stuff of pure fiction, deliberately manufactured in order to smear Democrats and provoke reactions in the conservative media. I'm not going to do that. But I will note that other people have done exactly that, such as conservative blogger Allahpundit: "[The Prowler] has an amazing knack ... for squeezing hypercynical, Snidely Whiplash-ish comments out of unnamed Democrats revealing their sinister political motives. ... Believe what you like."
So with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the Washington Prowler's greatest moments in anonymous quoting.
American Spectator's Washington Prowler is not backing down from their debunked claim based on dubious, anonymous sources that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) withheld a report on health care reform until after the health care vote. However, they are now lying about what they originally reported. From today's post (emphasis added):
The Prowler reported via sources inside Health and Human Services that data from the study that indicated that costs would hit consumers in the pocketbook was made available to the senior officials in HHS, prior to final passage of the legislation in the House. The report never stated that it was submitted for approval.
Where would people get the crazy idea that the HHS report had been "submitted for approval"? From the Prowler's actual original report (emphasis added):
The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama's health care "reform" law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius's staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.
The analysis, performed by Medicare's Office of the Actuary, which in the past has been identified as a "nonpolitical" office, set off alarm bells when submitted. "We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff," says the HHS staffer, "and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary's office. Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report."
This is how the Prowler is apparently getting around Medicare chief actuary Richard S. Foster's response that Prowler's article was "completely inaccurate" because they only "began working" on the health care reform reconciliation bill when it was released March 18, and so couldn't finish by the March 21 House vote on the Senate reform bill - claiming that the "report" wasn't done, but HHS had some "data."
Prowler goes on to basically say that HHS officials should have leaked that raw data, which sounds like a complaint they should be directing to their HHS "sources." Incidentally, "HHS had raw data and it didn't leak" isn't a story. "HHS had a report and withheld it" is -- which is probably why that's what the Prowler originally (falsely) reported, contrary to their current protestations.
In short, Prowler has entirely changed the story they claim to have gotten from their "sources," all the while claiming that those "sources" are "stand[ing] by" their claims.
The Fox Nation is currently highlighting a November 6 Red State post titled "Another Czar Bites the Dust" that claims that "Internet Czar" (actually, special assistant to the president for science, technology, and innovation policy) Susan Crawford was the latest "body tossed under the insatiable Obama bus."
So according to the active imaginations of right-wing bloggers, the announcement that Crawford will leave the White House (sometime in January) is their latest victory in the Fox-led witch hunt against supposed "czars." The only problem with that theory is that there isn't any evidence that it's true, and there is significant evidence that it's not.
The Washington Post first reported Crawford's planned departure in an October 27 piece that undermines the right-wing media's narrative of a "czar" forced to resign amidst growing public outcry. According to the Post, "Crawford will leave her position in January to return to the University of Michigan Law School where she is a tenured professor, according to the Obama administration." The Post reported that Crawford "has been on temporary leave from the university to serve in the White House" but that her "sabbatical, which began two months after she received tenure at the University of Michigan, will end in January." The Post quoted an Obama spokesperson saying:
Susan has done an outstanding job coordinating technology policy at the National Economic Council where her expertise on issues from intellectual property to the Internet has been invaluable. ... We understand that she needs to return to her responsibilities in Ann Arbor, but we will miss having her wise counsel in the White House.
So what evidence do right-wing media have that the Post report is wrong or that the Obama administration is lying about why Crawford is leaving? Well, the Red State post that Fox Nation highlights cites two sources: a November 2 "Washington Prowler" column in The American Spectator and a November 5 post on Andrew Breitbart's Big Government blog, which in turn cites only the Spectator column. And here's what the Spectator claims:
Crawford resigned, citing the need to return to her tenured position at the University of Michigan law school, but White House sources say that when Crawford signed on to the administration, she told them the university had given her a two-year waiver before requiring a return. "There may have been miscommunication there, but we thought it was two years," says the White House source. Similar waivers -- usually two or three years -- were given to a number of academics who joined the Bush Administration in various positions back in 2001.
Crawford's exit comes at a time when some Obama Administration aides, after seeing the fallout from the resignation of Van Jones and the spotlight placed on leftists inside the administration, like Anita Dunn, wonder if it is too late to pull back many of the more radical aides now placed in a number of different cabinet level departments, including the Department of Justice, and the Energy and Education departments, and federal agencies. "They haven't done us any good on any level," says the White House aide. "And now they are just a bunch of targets on our back that we can't shake."
So that's it. A right-wing gossip column claims to have somehow obtained a statement from an anonymous "White House source" saying something that appears to contradict what the White House is telling actual journalists.
As any regular reader of the Spectator knows, however, highly improbable anonymous quotes are a staple of the Washington Prowler column. For example, "Allahpundit," a conservative writer for Michelle Malkin's Hot Air blog, has made the following observations about the reliability of the Prowler's reporting:
There's another apparent problem with Fox Nation's latest tale. The Washington Post first reported Crawford's planned departure the evening of Tuesday, October 27. But Glenn Beck -- who had criticized Crawford a couple times in the past, and who was on the air that entire week -- never declared victory. He never even mentioned on Fox News that she planned to step down. In fact, a Nexis search reveals no examples of anyone on Fox News discussing Crawford's departure.
If this really was the great right-wing victory Fox Nation now wants us to believe it was, wouldn't Fox News hosts have mentioned it two weeks ago?