Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Newsweek's spin: An amazing piece of journalistic architecture

Newsweek magazine quoted this blogger in a swipe at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, apparently intending to imply that the embattled Republican chief ignored warnings against going to Russia as part of a sleazy lobbying operation in 1997.

The implication is false. I did warn congressional staffers and a couple of congressmen in advance about the funders of the August, 1997 trip - as I warned the trip's organizers repeatedly - and I wrote about it in my newsletter later that month after the trip had taken place. But I never warned Tom DeLay because I didn't know him at the time and he was not active in foreign affairs. In fact, I never discussed the matter with DeLay until more than four years after the trip, in late 2001 or early 2002, by which time the congressmen himself had discovered on his own that the Russian sponsors were undesirable.

Even so, Newsweek managed to string together some facts that might lead some readers to conclude falsely that DeLay was guilty of wrongdoing after I had warned him.

A study of the article's structure reveals first-class Washington political spinning disguised as a news story.

First, the top-of-the-sandwich setup: “Aides to DeLay insist he was in the dark about the Russian money behind the trip.” (As far as I know, the aides are right. The money was run through a nonprofit group. Journalistic tip: Always start with the denial, because the target looks guilty that way.)

Next, contextually apparent but nonexistent contradiction, and therefore proof-of-lying, by a fellow conservative: “But one conservative think-tank analyst, Michael Waller, was aggressively trying to warn congressional staffers about the Naftasib connection. Even after the trip, he continued to press them. The excursion was ‘bankrolled by influence peddlers tied to [the then] Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin,’ Waller wrote in a bulletin faxed and e-mailed to congressional staffers shortly after the trip.” (The statement is true - but it had nothing to do with warning DeLay. It went out in e-mail and fax bulletin I edited at the time, Russia Reform Monitor, to hundreds of congressional offices, think tanks and journalists.)

Then, the guilty-looking bottom of the sandwich. . . “DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, said Naftasib's business interests were irrelevant to DeLay. ‘The main purpose of the trip was to talk about religious persecution,’ he said.”

. . . followed by speculative dismissal - anonymous, of course - of the denial. . . “But DeLay's many political enemies in Washington aren't likely to buy that explanation.”

. . . and ending with a hint of blackmail and therefore guilt, however unsubstantiated: “And the one man who may know best so far isn't talking, except to those he invites to his restaurant for lunch.”


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