Patterico's Pontifications

3/24/2007

Kevin Drum Strikes Out

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:38 pm

Kevin Drum has a “list of reasons” that the U.S. Attorney firings were supposedly fishy. (H/t Andrew J. Lazarus.) Some of Drum’s reasons are simply misleading, but others are just flatly wrong. For example:

On a similar note, the day after Carol Lam notified DOJ that she was planning to expand the Duke Cunningham investigation, Kyle Sampson emailed the White House and told William Kelly to call him so he could explain the “real reason” he wanted to get rid of Lam. What was the real reason that he didn’t want to put in email?

This is not true. Sampson’s e-mail says in relevant part:

Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following:

* [Redacted]

* Tim Griffin for E.D. Ark; and

* The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.

Nowhere does Sampson tell Kelley (not “Kelly”) to call him so he could explain the “real reason” he wanted to get rid of Lam.

Strike one.

Drum also says:

When DOJ released thousands of pages of emails last week, there was a mysterious 18-day gap from a period shortly before the firings were announced. This seems like precisely the period during which there would have been the greatest amount of email traffic. Where are the emails?

This is not true. There was no 18-day gap. Talking Points Memo initially claimed that there was a gap between November 15 and December 4. But several e-mails were subsequently located within the alleged gap, including on November 16, an exchange between November 20 through 22, an e-mail from November 29, and another from December 1. There is no gap longer than a week.

Strike two.

They fired eight USAs at once. This is wildly unprecedented. Why did they feel the need for such an extensive sweep?

Clinton fired 93 U.S. Attorneys all at once. I think I know what Kevin is trying to say, but he put it very poorly, and his statement as written is flatly false.

Strike three.

There are other points cited by Drum that are misleading and inaccurate, but don’t fall into the “flatly false” category like the three mentioned above. For example, Drum says: “The email dump contained virtually nothing from before the firings discussing the reasons for targeting the eight USAs who were eventually fired.” I’m not citing this as a factual error, because you could quibble over the meaning of the word “virtually.” But it is totally misleading, given the plethora of pre-firing material (some of which is discussed here) available in the e-mails.

I think Kevin is an honest guy. It’s my belief that he simply has a poor grasp of some of the details of this controversy — and has perhaps gotten snookered by the L.A. Times on a few points as well.

Hey, that’s OK. It happens to a lot of people.

UPDATE: Drum has corrected his post in response to this one, and says:

I think even Patrick realizes this is pretty desperate quibbling. If that’s the defense’s idea of a defense, the Justice Department is in big trouble.

Well, my intent was not to provide a full defense of the Administration in one post, but to point out several clear and unmistakable errors in Kevin’s post. It’s wrong for Kevin to assume that my post is a full defense, when I explicitly say in the post: “There are other points cited by Drum that are misleading and inaccurate, but don’t fall into the ‘flatly false’ category like the three mentioned above.”

As to a more general “defense,” while I am not in the business of defending the Administration as such, I am in the business of seeking the truth. Relevant to that issue, for several days now, I have been pointing out things overlooked by Big Media on this scandal. I’m not repeating them all in this post. If you want to get to the meat of it — were genuine performance issues flagged before the fact? — I have provided quite a bit of evidence that they were. Much of it is listed in the link cited three paragraphs up. Just because I don’t repeat all of that in this post doesn’t mean that I haven’t said it.

By the way, the reason I noted Drum’s misspelling of “Kelley” was not to be pedantic, but to reinforce the conclusion that he wasn’t actually looking at the e-mail itself at the moment he so badly (and materially) misquoted it.

UPDATE x2: Look: I’m not going to write a book on this issue every time it comes up. In the post, I have a link to a post which, in turn, links three other posts that extensively discuss the issue of whether legitimate reasons existed to fire these people. If I cared to pull out all the arguments from those posts, and set them all out here, it would read like a devastasting response to Drum’s misleading argument that “The email dump contained virtually nothing from before the firings discussing the reasons for targeting the eight USAs who were eventually fired. It’s just not so. There are reams of documentation on issues like Lam’s failure to prosecute immigration cases; Charlton’s overly restrictive immigration guidelines; Ryan’s management issues; McKay’s public complaints about resources and revealing internal guidelines; Bogden’s and Charlton’s neglect of obscenity cases (which I agree with, but which was an Administration priority); Iglesias and McKay’s neglect of voter fraud; and the list goes on and on and on. I’m not going to repeat all of this stuff in every post I write. If you are all too lazy to follow the links, that’s your problem, not mine.

You can argue that there are potential responses to some of the voluminous documentation of these reasons, and it’s a debate that we’ve been having here for days. But to say that there is “virtually nothing” there — I’m sorry, Kevin, but that is just not true, at all. And, like your more blatant errors, it reveals that you fundamentally don’t grasp the details of this subject.

UPDATE x3: Drum’s correction on Lam is still misleading. It now reads:

On a similar note, the day after Carol Lam notified DOJ that she was planning to expand the Duke Cunningham investigation, Kyle Sampson emailed the White House and told William Kelley to call him so he could explain the “real problem” he had with Lam. What was the real problem that he didn’t feel comfortable putting in email?

This is still wrong. Sampson didn’t say he wanted to “explain” the “real problem” with Lam on the phone. He said he wanted to “discuss” it.

These are not minor issues. The issue of immigration had come up repeatedly in previous e-mails. Assume you have been discussing an issue with someone, and have extensively set forth reasons for a proposed action. If you subsequently say, “Call me so I can explain the real reason” or even “Call me so I can explain the real problem we have,” that implies that the problem is different from the one you have been discussing. If you say, “Call me to discuss the real problem we have,” that is consistent with the notion that the problem you have been discussing constitutes a real problem — i.e., a major one that needs to be addressed.

Drum’s mischaracterization of the e-mail, even now, makes it seem inconsistent with the notion that immigration was really the issue with Lam. But the actual e-mail is quite consistent with that notion.

Interesting Passage Disappears

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 9:50 pm

Kevin Roderick quotes Tim Cavanaugh as saying some eye-opening things at the L.A. Times blog:

Our former editor’s Daffy Duck routine has brought with it one benefit: We’ve been getting some better-than-usual traffic on this blog….

At moments of institutional embarrassment like this one, it’s customary to lament that this unfortunate business distracts from the good news of all the terrific work we’re doing, etc. I’d like to say just the opposite. This week’s mess distracts from the bad news (though it’s hardly news to people who follow the issue) that the Los Angeles Times work environment is one where doing anything more than the bare minimum is passively, and often actively, discouraged. On that note, I’d like to thank Andrés Martinez for his steadfast and enthusiastic support in guiding our new features and innovations through the corporate minefield. If not for Andrés, you would be looking at a much smaller catalogue of new features. I wish him the best, and hope that we can continue his ambition of making maximum use of new media to produce a better and more exciting Los Angeles Times.

(All emphasis in this post is mine.)

Interesting stuff. But there is one odd thing . . . it doesn’t seem to say that anymore:

I’d like to thank Andrés Martinez for his steadfast and enthusiastic support in guiding our new features and innovations through a work environment where change is frequently less than welcome. If not for Andrés, you would be looking at a much smaller catalogue of new features. I wish him the best, and hope that we can continue his ambition of making maximum use of new media to produce a better and more exciting Los Angeles Times.

Compare the two bold passages. The second, newer version is a little different, eh? A bit more . . . diplomatic and corporate sounding.

I wonder what happened there?

(H/t Edward.)

UPDATE: Tim Cavanaugh writes to explain what happened, and has authorized me to quote him:

Sorry to cause any confusion. I made that revision. My purpose with that post was to express my gratitude to and support for Martinez, and to draw some attention to our new wares during the excitement generated by the ongoing witch hunt/henpeck/circular firing squad/sewing circle/rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic… (sorry: the cliches just write themselves). After some thought, and in consultation with nobody but myself, I decided I didn’t want to distract from the sendoff with more of the kind of sniping that is so common among LAT staffers. I stand 100 percent behind my characterization of the working culture of the LAT, but I think those comments were more appropriate to another forum–such as the excellent reporting you and Kevin Roderick are doing on this matter.

That sounds reasonable to me. Thanks to Tim for the note and the compliment.

Rutten vs. Hiller on the Facts Underlying the Grazergate Decision

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:01 am

Tim Rutten is reporting the facts of the Grazergate thing differently than his own publisher reported them to the New York Times. Rutten makes it sound like Hiller saw the problem right away, whereas Hiller himself has said that he had to be convinced — and Andres Martinez has said that one of the people who helped do the convincing was Tim Rutten.

Hmmmmmmm.

Here’s Rutten:

To summarize: Martinez resigned in pique after The Times publisher, David D. Hiller, told him he couldn’t go forward with a Current section that was being guest-edited by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Hiller intervened when it was learned that Martinez has been dating a Hollywood publicist whose firm represents the producer. In fact, the agency obtained Grazer’s business after Martinez’s girlfriend’s boss facilitated the arrangement between the producer and The Times.

Hiller may have been slow to see a preposterous idea masquerading as an innovation — there’s a lot of that going around these days — but he had no trouble at all recognizing an ethical train wreck when he saw it coming.

Oh, really? That’s not the way Hiller himself portrayed it. Once again, from the New York Times:

The publisher, David Hiller, initially said he did not see a conflict, only the appearance of a conflict that could be handled with an editor’s note disclosing the relationship, said James O’Shea, the paper’s editor. But Mr. Hiller changed his mind yesterday after several staff members expressed their concern to Mr. O’Shea, and Mr. O’Shea spoke with Mr. Hiller. Yesterday, Mr. Hiller canceled the special edition.

So, actually, Hiller did have a problem recognizing the alleged “ethical train wreck” of the Grazer-edited section. He didn’t think it was a big deal — and had to have it explained to him that (supposedly) it was.

And Martinez has implied that one of the people who helped do the explaining was (drum roll, please) Tim Rutten. Martinez has said:

I think the desire to blend opinion with news is the far bigger breach, but I’m guessing the Henry Weinsteins and Tim Ruttens of the world will continue to conjure up the magical words “Staples Center” to wail against any innovation at the paper, and confusing the hundreds of thousands of readers of the LAT who don’t read LA Observed – sorry, Kevin -­ into believing that Grazergate somehow implied an improper blending of the newspaper’s business side and editorial judgment, which it patently did not.

We know Henry Weinstein was part of the cabal that approached O’Shea, because he has boasted about it in numerous articles. We know from his column that Rutten agrees with Weinstein that Grazergate was a big deal.

I think I believe Martinez when he strongly implies that Rutten was one of the people who went to O”Shea to lobby him to have Hiller kill the section.

Rutten characterizes Martinez’s statement (which he does not quote) as an accusation that he was one of the people who tried to break down the wall between opinion and news. Rutten quasi-denies that accusation, but I think he’s quasi-denying a strawman. What Martinez is claiming here is that Rutten joined Henry Weinstein — who has openly boasted of his involvement — in going to O’Shea to tell him to convince Hiller that the Grazer-edited Current section was all a big deal.

Rutten doesn’t deny that in his column.

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Oddly, he doesn’t even mention that anyone went to O’Shea to get him to lobby Hiller. Instead, he affirmatively makes it sound like it was obvious to Hiller all along — something that Hiller himself has explicitly denied to the New York Times.

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

I said last night that I think there’s something else going on here. This column tends to confirm it. If I’m wrong, why is Tim Rutten falsely portraying how Hiller came to his decision, to make it seem like Hiller saw the problem as significant right away, when Hiller himself says he didn’t? Why is Rutten failing to mention that the editor of the paper has been accused of similar ethical conflicts in the past? Why is Rutten failing to address Martinez’s accusation that Rutten was involved in convincing O’Shea and Hiller that this was all a big deal?

I think my theory — that a cabal of left-wingers blew up this nonscandal as a way to embarrass Martinez — is looking better and better all the time.

By the way, Mr. Rutten? If you were involved in helping to convince O’Shea and Hiller that this was a real scandal, and if you failed to disclose that fact in your column — wouldn’t that create an appearance of impropriety?


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