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.