The “Readers’ Representative” Responds: L.A. Times Readers Won’t Be Told that the Central Premise of a Previous Article Was Dead Wrong
The editors of the L.A. Times know that fired U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins disputes the central premise of an article they published, about whether his dismissal was tied to a political investigation.
They know it — but their readers don’t. And they have decided to hide this fact from their readers.
The paper reported that Cummins feared there was a connection between his firing and an investigation he had conducted. Cummins has since unequivocally said that he does not fear that, and knows of no possible connection. He believes he was misquoted. Even if he wasn’t, he says, the quote did not accurately state his beliefs, as should have been clear from the context of the conversation.
No matter. The paper has decided to leave its readers in the dark. Here is the e-mail I received from the Readers’ Representative:
I had assumed that you meant this more as an advisory on Cummins’ thoughts on the subject as discussed with another outlet. As The Times story said, Cummins “wonders whether it had something to do with the probe he opened into alleged corruption by Republican officials in Missouri.” The Times story emphasized that point as more evidence that DOJ simply won’t tell the fired prosecutors why they were terminated. According to what you sent, Cummins said that he didn’t “intend” to say something in a certain way; he didn’t, as seems to be your interpretation, “deny the central premise” of the Times story.
The hell he didn’t.
The story in question was titled Cummins fears corruption investigation led to his firing. What do you figure the central premise of that story is? Bingo! The premise was that Bud Cummins feared a corruption investigation had led to his firing:
Still uncertain exactly why he was fired, former U.S. Atty. H.E. “Bud” Cummins III wonders whether it had something to do with the probe he opened into alleged corruption by Republican officials in Missouri amid a Senate race there that was promising to be a nail-biter.
Cummins, a federal prosecutor in Arkansas, was removed from his job along with seven other U.S. attorneys last year.
In January 2006, he had begun looking into allegations that Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt had rewarded GOP supporters with lucrative contracts to run the state’s driver’s license offices. Cummins handled the case because U.S. attorneys in Missouri had recused themselves over potential conflicts of interest.
But in June, Cummins said, he was told by the Justice Department that he would be fired at year’s end to make room for Timothy Griffin — an operative tied to White House political guru Karl Rove.
In an interview Thursday, Cummins expressed disgust that the Bush administration may have fired him and the others for political reasons. “You have to firewall politics out of the Department of Justice. Because once it gets in, people question every decision you make. Now I keep asking myself: ‘What about the Blunt deal?’ “
As I previously noted here and here, Cummins disputed the central point of the article in an e-mail to the TPM Muckraker blog. In his e-mail, Cummins said that he does not fear that a corruption investigation had led to his firing. As for his quote in the L.A. Times, he said:
Unfortunately, that isn’t what I said, or at least what I intended to say, and it is not the case.
The context of my conversation with LA Times reporter Richard Serrano was clearly that I do not know of ANY connection between the Missouri investigation (which actually had nothing to do with Governor Blunt) and my termination.
The L.A. Times “Readers’ Representative” claims that “Cummins said that he didn’t ‘intend’ to say something in a certain way.” But if you read the entire e-mail — and I reprint the whole thing below, with certain parts emphasized — you can see that Cummins firmly believes he was misquoted. He says more than once that he believes L.A. Times reporter Richard Serrano misunderstood him. He believes that he said to Serrano: “Now you are asking me — what about the Blunt deal?” He explains that he said this, not to suggest that there was a connection, but simply “to illustrate the point that people are questioning things that weren’t an issue before the information about the firings was recently disclosed.”
What’s more, he says, even if there was somehow a slip of the tongue and he was quoted accurately, the entire context of the conversation made it clear that he knew of no connection between his firing and the investigation.
It is crystal clear from his e-mail that this is not a situation where he simply regrets what he told a reporter. It’s not as if Cummins regrets saying something bad about the Administration, and wants to make nice with the Bush crowd. In his e-mail, Cummins expresses his belief that the Administration lied about the other U.S. Attorneys. These are not the words of someone who regrets something he said. He just doesn’t think he made this particular statement to the L.A. Times.
For L.A. Times readers to understand what Cummins meant, it is absolutely critical that this information be reported. The editors thought the original story was important enough to report. But now that the main player has clarified that the story’s central premise was dead wrong, that’s somehow not news. The editors have decided to allow the original misleading point to stand — just as they have left other misleading impressions to stand in recent weeks with respect to the U.S. Attorney firings.
And somehow, all these misleading impressions harm Bush.
P.S. It’s not “defending the Administration” to point this out. It’s defending the concept of giving the public the whole truth. The L.A. Times has made a deliberate decision to hide the whole truth from its readers. That’s what upsets me.
Cummin’s full e-mail is in the extended entry, with my emphasis in bold.
I noted today that you have referenced a LA Times article in which it is suggested that I harbor doubts about a connection between an investigation I conducted in Missouri and my termination as a US Attorney. I am quoted in the article as saying ‘Now I am asking myself-what about the Blunt deal.” It has stimulated about 6 media calls this morning from Missouri. Unfortunately, that isn’t what I said, or at least what I intended to say, and it is not the case.
The context of my conversation with LA Times reporter Richard Serrano was clearly that I do not know of ANY connection between the Missouri investigation (which actually had nothing to do with Governor Blunt) and my termination. The quote he offered (and I think he misunderstood what I actually said) was made if at all during my discussion of the unfortunate affect [sic] these events have had on the credibility of DOJ. I explained that DOJ lives on credibility and without it they are unable to perform their mission.
As I explained to Mr. Serrano, the public must perceive that every substantive decision within the department is made in a neutral and non-partisan fashion. Once the public detects partisanship in one important decision, they will follow the natural inclination to question every decision made, whether there is a connection or not.
Now, it appears that improper political considerations were on the table when some or all of the US Attorneys were fired. This has cost DOJ its credibility. Now, many folks are asking questions they weren’t asking before about the motivations behind various prosecutions and policies. I submitted to the reporter that one example was his call to me. I believe I probably said “Now you are asking me — what about the Blunt deal?” to illustrate the point that people are questioning things that weren’t an issue before the information about the firings was recently disclosed.
At any rate, I will tell you here: I do not know of any connection whatsoever to the Missouri investigation and my firing. I am not asking myself (or anyone else) about that.
I am asking myself why the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General are not making it a priority to retract the lies that have been told about my seven colleagues (they have essentially told the truth in my case). I do not know why the seven were fired. It no longer matters to them or me. We served at the pleasure of the President, we were asked to leave and we did.
But it did not have to do with their “performance”. They all served loyally, professionally, ethically, and effectively. There is no evidence that performance was any consideration in these decisions at all. The President may now want to go in a different direction. The move is unprecedented, but is his absolute legal right. But he should be thanking them and commending them for excellent service, not permitting his subordinates to slander those professional reputations to protect themselves. It is simply wrong.
Don’t try to tell me that this guy is retracting his quote just because he’s trying to make nice with the Bush Administration.
The Times doesn’t care. The days when accuracy trumped the agenda were the days when I renewed my subscription. The left wing blog world, like Kevin Drum’s blog, is full of this stuff. Kevin is a fair guy albeit a lefty. That’s why I read his blog. His own readers have scolded him in comments for speculating that there may have been valid reasons for the firings. He has since toed the Democrat line. This is a manufactured scandal, unfortunately at least half the credit for it belongs to Gonzales and his clueless management of DoJ.
I don’t know if I can claim credit but after I sent an e-mail to NRO reminding them of Casey Stengel’s plaint about the early NY Mets, “Can’t anybody here play this game ?”, National Review had a cover story with that theme. Republicans just can’t get out of their own way in PR situations. Reagan was the only one they’ve had in decades who was agile with the press. McCain is another but he is too full of himself, not unusual in Senators but far too obvious.Mike K (86bddb) — 3/29/2007 @ 6:30 am
My apologies for not following this as closely as I would if I actually, you know, cared about it, but is not having a contract renewed when it expires the same as being fired? If so (and if that is, in fact, the nature of the employment action as I have heard), that’s certainly news to a lot of consultants!Hogarth (a721ef) — 3/29/2007 @ 7:12 am
Cummins, in the email to TPMMuckraker:
It’s all very lawyerly, on all sides.AF (c319c8) — 3/29/2007 @ 8:14 am
That’s pretty discouraging. A correction or clarification from the LAT is clearly in order.Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4) — 3/29/2007 @ 8:17 am
So there is a dispute between the LA Times and Cummins over what he said, might have said, could have said, etc…. Even Cummings is not sure or he would not equivocate.
But the fact remains that the actions of the Bush people have cast a pall over the Department of Justice.
Justice should be administered fairly and without bias. It is wrong for a president to ask the Justice Department to do their political dirty work. It is wrong for the Republicans to ask Justice to dig up dirt on only Democrats, and vice versa. But that looks exactly like what Bush, Rove, and Gonzales were doing.
Let’s get to the bottom of this pile of garbage, and hope we get an honest Justice Department when it’s all over.JayMagoo (fc7c50) — 3/29/2007 @ 8:48 am
The Times is not interested in Patterico contacts them claiming that Mr. Cummings was misquoted. They might be more interested if Mr. Cummings were the only to contact them.aunursa (1b5bad) — 3/29/2007 @ 11:12 am
But that’s unjustifiable. Let’s say I interviewed a Democrat and quoted him as saying something harmful to Democrats. Then he credibly denies the accuracy of my quotation. Surely you don’t think I can plausibly justify failing to report that denial, regardless of whether I heard the denial from the source or elsewhere?Patterico (f6a03d) — 3/29/2007 @ 11:32 am
Yeah, I think they’d be justified in failing to report the denial when it didn’t come from the source. What I don’t think they’re justified in doing is failing to re-contact the source upon being told of the denial to determine if the reported denial is his, and subsequently reporting on it if he verifies it. Rushing into print with a third party’s claim of a denial without verifying it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to me.Jerry (56f893) — 3/29/2007 @ 12:21 pm
I don’t think that’s at all what they were doing. It may be what the media has been implying, but there are no credible accusations to that effect. Leahy wants to go on a fishing expedition hoping to discover some wrong-doing, but no one has come forward claiming obstruction of justice by Rove or Gonzalez. Was politics involved? Of course, these are patronage jobs, and if they feel another prosecutor will focus better on the administration’s law enforcement priorities (immigration, death penalty, child porn, voter fraud), then the AG has the right and responsibility to change horses.
The media has gotten in the habit lately of assuming the worst about the administration and then trying to find the wrong-doing. I wish they would investigate first, find the proof, then publish the stories, instead of going with innuendo from the start.Ray (e61274) — 3/29/2007 @ 12:22 pm
"Ex-Aide Says Gonzales Was Involved in Firings"…
From The New York Times:The former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales testified today that contrary to Mr. Gonzales’s earlier assertions, the attorney general was involved in discussions to fire United States attorneys. “…protein wisdom (4dbdc8) — 3/29/2007 @ 12:28 pm
” Let’s say I interviewed a Democrat and quoted him as saying something harmful to Democrats.”
Cummins did say things that were and remain harmful to republicans. And he seems to have said that he understood that people were asking similar questions about the circumstances of his own dismissal. He then says he has no questions about his dismissal. But he also seems to say that he has questions about the others.
Considering what happened before or since (and Kyle Sampson is testifing at this moment) this post is little more than a way of avoiding the issues.AF (c319c8) — 3/29/2007 @ 12:42 pm
The LAT was a but sloppy.
Meanwhile Abu Gonzalez is in trouble
A friend in the newspaper business once told me newpapers write to a level for readers with 8th grade reading and comprehension skills. Seems to me Jamie Gold is a satisfactory readers’ representative.Dusty (e28a9f) — 3/29/2007 @ 12:49 pm
Considering that it was the Clinton adminstration’s enforcement priorities that led to such fiascos as Ruby Ridge and Waco I’d say the left needs to pipe down just a tad.ThomasD (21cdd1) — 3/29/2007 @ 1:07 pm
“The L.A. Times has made a deliberate decision to hide the whole truth from its readers.”
About four years ago, the LA Times made the decision to hide the fact I cancelled the paper from their own delivery and billing departments for about six months, so at least they’re being consistent.Sean P (e57269) — 3/29/2007 @ 1:32 pm
I attended the Gathering of Eagles on 3-17-07 to counterprotest the moonbat parade from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the Pentagon. We outnumbered the antis, but AP’s first newswire reported there were only 50 of us. I’ve always thought the MSM was slanted leftward, but I never thought they would be a party to such a blantant misrepresentation of the facts. (NPS unofficial estimate of our rally…30,000)
How long until they shrink to insignificance?Arlo (35fb4c) — 3/29/2007 @ 1:37 pm
“Considering that it was the Clinton adminstration’s enforcement priorities that led to such fiascos as Ruby Ridge and Waco…”Jim,MtnViewCA,USA (3aa831) — 3/29/2007 @ 1:43 pm
Isn’t it clear that the Left wants to extend those sorts of priorities to include Republicans (esp leaders and activists, but eventually all)? Crimes will be found….
You people are gasping at straws. The attoney firings scandal doesn’t hinge on allegedly errorious coverage in the “L.A. Times.”David Ehrenstein (2289f8) — 3/29/2007 @ 1:47 pm
Actually, the Ruby Ridge incident happened during the George Herbert Walker Bush administration.Jake Gittes (dab029) — 3/29/2007 @ 2:41 pm
Ruby Ridge was during the GHWB administration (8/21/92).Kustie the Klown (1fc3eb) — 3/29/2007 @ 2:52 pm
Jake and Kustie:
But it was Clinton Justice Dept. officials that decided to promote the FBI supervisors responsible for the rules of engagment at Ruby Ridge, while allowing the State of Idaho to pursue criminal charges against the FBI Agent who followed those rules.wls (077d0d) — 3/29/2007 @ 3:09 pm
By coincidence, shortly after reading this post, I opened today’s mail and found a subscription solicitation from the LAT.
After I finished laughing hysterically, I tossed the envelope in the recycle bin.
There is absolutely no way the LAT, NYT and all the rest will ever again honor the truth until brute economic pressure forces a total house cleaning. As long as there is someone to underwrite the losses, it will only get worse.
As far as this little dust-up goes, to paraphrase Jessie Jackson speaking of Bill Clinton, they are immune from shame. Or more simply put, they simply don’t give a damn.GaryS (b25f26) — 3/29/2007 @ 4:01 pm
A friend in the newspaper business once told me newpapers write to a level for readers with 8th grade reading and comprehension skills.
That they do. But the notion that this means newspapers or journalists are “dumb” is kind of goofy.
Is there a problem with liberal bias in the media? Absolutely. Do newspapers make mistakes, often because of this bias? Positively. Did the Los Angeles Times make one here? Sure looks like it.
But newspapers — successful newspapers — are written at an “8th grade level” for a good reason: clarity and quickness. It’s actually quite difficult to make a complex subject comprehensible to a general public that has busy lives to live.
The “new journalism” of blogs and the online world may very well usurp newspapers in the long run, but trust me: The ones that make it will be the ones that “write at an 8th grade level.” It’s an elemental part of the whole thing, not some quirky, arbitrary choice made by some entity that happens to be called “the newspaper business.”Tomalin (7d8235) — 3/29/2007 @ 5:22 pm
It’s all very lawyerly, on all sides.
Comment by AF
Translation:The Ace (085125) — 3/30/2007 @ 6:11 am
Yeah, the LA Times is wrong, but I won’t admit it.
Considering what happened before or since (and Kyle Sampson is testifing at this moment) this post is little more than a way of avoiding the issues.
Uh, you don’t even know what “the issues” are.
Oh, Sampson said:
Eight federal prosecutors were fired last year because they did not sufficiently support President Bush’s priorities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ former chief of staff says in remarks……
Yeah, some “issue” there, huh?The Ace (085125) — 3/30/2007 @ 6:14 am
Smoke smoke smoke that crack, son. Pop those pills.AF (c319c8) — 3/30/2007 @ 7:39 am
[…] was a connection between his firing and an investigation he had conducted”. The thing is, he never said anything like it and in fact has denied the entire basis for the story and ther rampant allegations that flowed from the deception. “I noted today that you have […]The L.A. Times "truthiness" about U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins at Herd Watching (1d0ae5) — 3/30/2007 @ 8:46 am
Note how there really isn’t a point there.
I’m shocked by that development.The Ace (085125) — 3/30/2007 @ 9:13 am
[…] has the goods: on the Times’ latest effort to create something out of nothing in the US Attorney firings […]BizzyBlog » At the LA Times, Agenda Journalism Never Sleeps (34f45e) — 4/5/2007 @ 6:14 pm