The New York Times Takes Baby Steps Toward Integrity

On August 14, the New York Times ran a sloppy hit piece on House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) entitled “A Businessman in Congress Helps His District and Himself.” 

In their zeal to prove the “himself” aspect of that title, the Times racked up an astonishing 13 erroneous and deceitful statements in the article – from major allegations of corruption against Issa to weird inaccuracies about the location of his office.  (For some reason, Times “journalist” Eric Lichtblau thought it was very important to make readers think Issa’s office overlooks a golf course.)  It was as misleading, deceptive, and fact-free as the final season of Lost.

Issa’s office demanded a full front-page retraction of the Times story.  What they got was two more corrections appended to the original piece, which pretty much demolish the entire rationale for the story:

Correction: August 26, 2011

An article on Aug. 15 about Representative Darrell Issa’s business dealings, using erroneous information that Mr. Issa’s family foundation filed with the Internal Revenue Service, referred incorrectly to his sale of an AIM mutual fund in 2008. A spokesman for the California Republican now says that the I.R.S. filing is “an incorrect document.” The spokesman, Frederick R. Hill, said that based on Mr. Issa’s private brokerage account records, which he made public with redactions, the purchase of the mutual fund resulted in a $125,000 loss, not a $357,000 gain.

And the article, using incorrect information from the San Diego county assessor’s office, misstated the purchase price for a medical office plaza Mr. Issa’s company bought in Vista, Calif., in 2008. It cost $16.3 million, the assessor’s office now says — not $10.3 million — because the assessor mistakenly omitted in public records a $6 million loan Mr. Issa’s company assumed in the acquisition. Therefore the value of the property remained essentially unchanged, and did not rise 60 percent after Mr. Issa secured federal funding to widen a road alongside the plaza.

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill responded to Times Assistant Managing Editor Dean Baquet that they’ve toddled a bit closer to journalistic integrity, but still have a ways to go:

As Congressman Darrell Issa’s Director of Communications,  The New York Times’ acknowledgement of two more critical errors in its front page article of August 15 in addition to a previous error corrected on August 16 are steps in the right direction.  The new acknowledgement of these false assertions about enormous profits from the sale of a mutual fund and the appreciation of a commercial real estate property owned by Rep. Issa fully removes all examples cited in the article as evidence that the “congressman’s government actions [help] to make a rich man even richer” and that values of his holdings have “soared” due to his official actions.

However, The Times’ continued refusal to accept clear evidence of other mistakes, your unwillingness to retract a deeply flawed story even after acknowledging that factual pillars of the article are incorrect, and your failure to address or defend the conduct of the story’s author, Mr. Eric Lichtblau, is deeply disappointing and makes your response to the issues raised by our office and others inadequate.  Your August 25 letter to Rep. Issa, in fact, contains a number false assertions and worrisome distortions as I will explain.

Hill does a bit of head-scratching over the “gleaming office building overlooking a golf course” nonsense from the original story, which the author now claims to have gotten (get this!) from an old real-estate advertisement, written “many years ago” when there was a driving range located near Issa’s office building.  Yes, it’s Jayson Blair Syndrome all over again at the New York Times.  Hey, “reporters”: if you’re not going to actually visit the locations you write about, at least look them up on Google Maps.  It’s free.

The Times also needs to retract its false implications about Issa’s connections with Toyota, which Hill illustrates with an awesome “fuzzy dice” metaphor:

The Times’ continued defense of the false claim that Rep. Issa’s former company, DEI Holdings, was “a major supplier of alarms to Toyota” and that this relationship created a conflict-of-interest is deeply disappointing and contrary to the evidence.  Toyota, itself, has disputed this claim telling multiple news outlets, “DEI Holdings is not a direct supplier of Toyota …” 

While we have never disputed that some products made by Rep. Issa’s former company are compatible with Toyotas and that some Toyota owners choose to purchase such products, this is far from any reasonable definition of a “major supplier of alarms to Toyota.”  According to The New York Times’ definition, even makers of fuzzy dice would be considered major suppliers to Toyota.

In a final touch of pure absurdity, Hill notes that portions of the Times piece (the parts he says “could at best be categorized as half-truths”) were apparently plagiarized, without attribution, from left-wing blog sites.  The transmission belt from the nutroots to the “mainstream press” continues groaning and creaking along.

This is a remarkable story of journalistic malpractice, perpetrated by a newspaper that retains great influence over the rest of the media.  Virtually everything conservatives have ever criticized about the left-wing press is on full display, concentrated into a single unappetizing chunk of yellow journalism.  Congressman Issa’s office is right to continue pressing for the full front-page retraction they’ll probably never get.