An ellipsis is a dangerous thing in the hands of L.A. Times reporter Richard Serrano.
In his coverage of Kyle Sampson’s testimony, he uses an ellipsis in quoting Sampson’s prepared remarks:
Noting that “the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance-related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial,” Sampson said: “A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective … is unsuccessful.”
This sounds an awful lot like Sampson is confirming the worst charges of the Democrats — that the Administration sought to remove U.S. Attorneys who didn’t fashion political prosecutions in a manner pleasing to Washington politicians.
Except . . . what’s in the ellipsis? Let’s go to the source:
Presidential appointees are judged not only on their professional skills but also their management abilities, their relationships with law enforcement and other governmental leaders, and their support for the priorities of the President and the Attorney General.
. . . .
Thus, the distinction between “political” and “performance-related” reasons for removing a United States Attorneys is, in my view, largely artificial. A U.S. Attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the Department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district important to effective leadership of the office, is unsuccessful.
The L.A. Times‘s Serrano uses an ellipsis to remove the bolded passage, which explains that “unsuccessful from a political perspective” doesn’t mean “prosecutes too many Republicans and not enough Democrats,” but instead means “refuses to implement Administration priorities, and alienates local law enforcement and home Senators.”
I know, I know. They have to cut out something. But somehow, the part they cut out is always the part that helps the Administration case.
bold = Recommend retaining; strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General.
strikeout = Recommend removing: weak U.S. Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.
Seeking to emphasize the political motivations of the Administration, Serrano removed the bolded parts, which showed that the Administration cared about good results and management, and left in the portions dealing with loyalty. Serrano quoted Sampson as recommending the retention of “strong U.S. attorneys who have … exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.” The article further quoted Sampson as recommending “removing weak U.S. Attorneys who have … chafed against Administration initiatives.”
There is a pattern here, and it isn’t pretty.
UPDATE: Interesting. The story has now been edited to remove the above passage. It now reads like this:
Sampson denied that any of the firings was done for improper reasons, but he said that politics in the broadest sense was a legitimate reason for replacing U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by the president.
It still doesn’t explain what Sampson meant by “politics in the broadest sense” — but the misleading ellipsis is gone. The deceptive ellipsis apparently didn’t make it past the editors . . . this time.
But the episode is very revealing about how the reporters want to portray things. For that reason, I’m glad I caught the initial version.