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CECI REDUX! Has the Washington Post found its new Ceci Connolly? Jim VandeHei’s work makes us ask:


CECI REDUX: Has the Washington Post found its new Ceci Connolly? Jim VandeHei’s work makes us ask.

On January 31, the Post scribe penned a foolish, front-page report about Kerry’s receipt of contributions from lobbyists. As we’ve explained, the report was grossly misleading. It has since formed the basis for a blatantly bogus claim—the claim that Kerry ranks first among all U.S. senators in receipt of special interest money.

This morning, VandeHei is at it again, with another silly front-page report about Kerry’s fundraising. It’s hard to read these reports without recalling Connolly’s work from Campaign 2000—a campaign in which the Post committed vile offenses against you and your American democracy.

This morning, VandeHei is upset about some of Kerry’s contributors and fund-raisers. “Kerry Donors Include ‘Benedict Arnolds,’” the headline screams. “Candidate Decries Tax-Haven Firms While Accepting Executives’ Aid.” Yep—phony old Kerry is at it again! Here’s VandeHei’s opening statement:

VANDEHEI (pgh 1): Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, frequently calls companies and chief executives “Benedict Arnolds” if they move jobs and operations overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

(2) But Kerry has accepted money and fundraising assistance from top executives at companies that fit the candidate’s description of a notorious traitor of the American revolution.

According to VandeHei, Kerry has accepted money from “top execs” at firms whose conduct Kerry decries. But wouldn’t you know it? He smuggles in a helpful new category as he offers a bit more detail:
VANDEHEI (3): Executives and employees at such companies have contributed more than $140,000 to Kerry’s presidential campaign, a review of his donor records shows. Additionally, two of Kerry’s biggest fundraisers, who together have raised more than $400,000 for the candidate, are top executives at investment firms that helped set up companies in the world’s best-known offshore tax havens, federal records show. Kerry has raised nearly $30 million overall for his White House run.
On face, how silly are parts of this complaint? It is plainly absurd to criticize Kerry for accepting money from employees of these companies, the sleight-of-hand which VandeHei work in the first sentence of this paragraph. Should candidates really reject contributions from employees of various companies—from people who have nothing to do with decisions made by the firms for which they work? The notion is absurd on its face. But, even including contributions from such employees, Kerry has only raised $140,000 from people at such firms, Vandehei says—out of $30 million raised! This is a stunningly trivial amount—a figure which VandeHei could only gin up by including “employees” in his figures. This part of his complaint is so absurd that it should never have gone into print.

Meanwhile, note a second category VandeHei smuggles in—the new front opened by the word “helped.” Do Kerry’s two fundraisers work at firms which have set up off-shore havens? No, their companies have only “helped” do that. But that weasel word appears several times as we make our way through the Post’s piece.

At any rate, how about those troubling “big fundraisers,” the ones who have brought in 400K? VandeHei describes the two troubling men—and he shows us how weak his complaint is.

Who are the troubling souls who have raised this money for Kerry? Here is one of VandeHei’s examples—one of only two such complaints:

VANDEHEI (13): Thomas F. Steyer, who said he has raised around $200,000 for Kerry, is a partner at a California investment firm called Hellman & Friedman LLC that helped set up an insurance company in Bermuda, another popular tax haven. The insurance company—Arch Capital Group Ltd.—stated in a 2000 Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it was sinking roots in Bermuda to reduce its U.S. tax bill.
Note again the sleight of hand achieved by that key word, “helped.” Steyer’s firm didn’t set up in Bermuda; it “helped” another firm do so, we’re told. What exactly does that mean? We’re not sure, and you aren’t either. But is aconflict involved in Steyer’s fundraising? Here is VandeHei’s next paragraph:
VANDEHEI (14): Steyer said that it “wasn’t my decision” to set up the company in Bermuda and that he now spends less than 10 percent of his time at Hellman & Friedman. “I believe American citizens should pay their American taxes,” Steyer said. He said he “absolutely” does not consider himself part of a “Benedict Arnold” enterprise.
Is Steyer part of such an enterprise? VandeHei doesn’t try to say. More specifically, did Steyer play any role in his firm’s work for Arch Capital? VandeHei doesn’t tell you that either. In short, there is no sign that Steyer played any role in setting up this one off-shore haven. But because Steyer has worked for a firm which “helped” one entity set up such an enterprise, VandeHei is on page one of the Post suggesting that Kerry’s a phony.

To state the obvious, such stupid work is easily done—by people who want to make a joke of your discourse. Indeed, for eight months starting in March 1999, Connolly aimed stupid financial critiques at Gore, generating a string of inane “news reports” about his fund-raising and campaign spending. Four years later, VandeHei has done the same thing twice, in a pair of front-page reports. The time has come to ask the question: Is the Washington Post up to old tricks again? Is VandeHei the new Ceci Connolly?

One more point from this morning’s piece. Sadly, VandeHei doesn’t shy away from his first, grossly misleading report, the one he wrote on January 31. In fact, he types its basic construction again, grossly misleading Post readers:

VANDEHEI (5): Kerry has come under attack from President Bush, as well as some Democrats, for criticizing laws he voted for and lambasting special interests after accepting more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator in the past 15 years. Some Democrats worry that Kerry is leaving himself open for similar attacks on the latest issue.
Pathetic. “Some Democrats” worry, VandeHei says—and he forgets to say which ones he means. But look at that clip from his previous report. According to VandeHei, Kerry has been criticized “for lambasting special interests after accepting more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator in the past 15 years.” But that formulation is grossly misleading. As we have noted, lobbyist money is just one small part of what is referred to as “special interest” money; Kerry actually ranks 92nd among U.S. senators when it comes to receipt of such money, Peter Beinart has said. But in this passage, VandeHei does what he did on January 31—he takes one small part of “special interest” money, then uses it to imply that Kerry is the king of such dough. That claim is grossly, fiendishly misleading—and the Post should stop putting it in print.

In Campaign 2000, the Post and its inexcusable “reporter,” Ceci Connolly, conducted a twenty-month fraud on the public. VandeHei’s clowning clearly suggests that a pattern is emerging once again.

VACUOUS IS AS VACUOUS DOES: Let’s face it: Reports of this type can be aimed at any candidate who criticizes “special interests.” And clowning clowns are quick to seize on VandeHei’s silly reports. As we have seen, his grossly misleading January 31 report has been used to shape a false but damaging claim—the claim that Kerry is the reigning king of Senate special interest money. That claim is baldly inaccurate—the claim is false—but the Post was happy to let Charles Krauthammer type it up on its own op-ed pages last week. And alas! This morning, readers will draw the same conclusion from VandeHei’s artful but phony construction (paragraph 5, quoted above). Is VandeHei trying to inform Post readers? Or is his work really built to mislead, as was so plainly the case with Ceci Connolly?

And make no mistake—VandeHei’s work has been manna for spinners. This morning, the goony goons on Fox & Friends were eagerly spinning his new report. (Sorry, we didn’t have tape running.) Is Candidate Kerry just a Big Fake? On Fox, of course, they know he is—and even Kiran Chetry drank the Kool-Aid this morning, constructing prime spin out of VandeHei’s trivia. What a shock! Kerry received campaign contributions from employees of some naughty firms! And a Kerry funder works at a firm which may have “helped” one other firm go offshore! To VandeHei’s editors, this is prime, front-page stuff. But then, they plastered Connolly’s devious work all over their front page four years ago. Is a pattern emerging again at the Post? As VandeHei’s churns more trivia today, it’s becoming quite hard to dispute it.

INSIDE THE POST: Two weeks ago, Post ombudsman Mike Getler made a complaint; the Post had tended to bury important news about Iraq inside the paper, he said. Today, Dennis Hastert says he won’t let the 9/11 commission finish its work—and the Post puts the story inside, on A4. Meanwhile, VandeHei’s trivia is out on page one; his bogus constructions get bruited again. The Post just loves that empty stuff. But so it goes when an empty elite makes an endless, sick joke of democracy.