Times reporter Eric Lipton blasted House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner on Sunday's front page for his "especially deep" and "especially tight ties" with "lobbyist friends," loose talk that falsely suggested Boehner has some kind of unique troublesome ties to lobbyists, in "A G.O.P. Leader Tightly Bound to Lobbyists."
President Obama went after Boehner by name several times in a speech last week, which the paper used as a half-hearted excuse for its hit piece. With convenient circularity, the resulting Times article was quickly forwarded by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs the morning of its publication on his Twitter feed, making it come off like a coordinated Democratic effort than professional journalism.
Lipton opened with a vignette, before a vote on the financial industry overhaul, of Boehner summoning "more than 100 industry lobbyists and conservative political activists to Capitol Hill for a private strategy session" and telling "Wall Street lobbyists and trade association leaders that by teaming up, they could still perhaps block its final passage or at least water it down."
That sort of alliance - they won a few skirmishes, though they lost the war on the regulatory bill - is business as usual for Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader and would-be speaker if Republicans win the House in November. He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation's biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.
Lipton unloaded this self-fulfilling prophecy:
As Democrats increasingly try to cast the Ohio congressman as the face of the Republican Party - President Obama mentioned his name eight times in a speech last week - and as Mr. Boehner becomes more visible, his ties to lobbyists, cultivated since he arrived here in 1991, are coming under attack.
The woman he hopes to replace, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, derided him on Friday as having met "countless times with special-interest lobbyists in an effort to stop tough legislation" that would regulate corporations and protect consumers. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, through a spokeswoman, charged that he "epitomizes the smoked-filled, backroom, special-interest deal making that turns off voters about Washington."
Lipton made no mention of Pelosi's own lobbyist ties, although a Monday story by the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney revealed Pelosi has "pocketed nearly twice as much lobbyist cash as Boehner," and that Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer have also raised more money than Boehner.
Mr. Boehner, who declined to be interviewed for this article, and his lobbyist allies ridicule such criticism as politically motivated by desperate Democrats. His actions, they say, simply reflect the pro-business, antiregulatory philosophy that he has espoused for more than three decades, dating back to when Mr. Boehner, the son of a tavern owner, ran a small plastics company in Ohio. And fielding requests from lobbyists is nothing unusual, he says.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said the industry ties only help make Mr. Boehner a better Republican leader. "Like the American people, Boehner - a former small-business man - is most concerned right now about the issue of jobs," he said. "So he often speaks with employers, rather than, for example, labor unions or environmentalists who support job-killing policies."
His lobbyist friends also defended the close ties.
While many lawmakers in each party have networks of donors, lobbyists and former aides who now represent corporate interests, Mr. Boehner's ties seem especially deep. His clique of friends and current and former staff members even has a nickname on Capitol Hill, Boehner Land. The members of this inner circle said their association with Mr. Boehner translates into open access to him and his staff.
The print edition has a graphic headlined "Boehner's K Street Cabinet" identifying "some of the lobbyists and public affairs consultants with tight links to Representative John A. Boehner."
Lachlan Markay noted at NewsBusters that Boehner's staff was furious with the article's implications, challenging one paragraph in particular. Byron York at the Washington Examiner outlined the change the Times was obliged to make in its original slanted report.
[The report] says Boehner has "especially deep" ties to a "tight circle" of lobbyists who give large sums of money to Boehner's political organization and are rewarded with Boehner's support on important legislative matters. In one key passage, the Times cites a lobbyist who says he "won" Boehner's backing on a number of high-profile matters. This is the passage, emphasis added:
One lobbyist in the club - after lauding each staff member in Mr. Boehner's office that he routinely calls to ask for help - ticked off the list of recent issues for which he had won the lawmaker's backing: combating fee increases for the oil industry, fighting a proposed cap on debit card fees, protecting tax breaks for hedge fund executives and opposing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says he received a fact-checking email from Times reporter Eric Lipton Friday evening asking if Boehner did in fact oppose the cap on greenhouse gases, the tax change for hedge fund executives, the debit card fee cap, and increased fees on oil and gas companies. "Yes, that is correct," Steel responded to Lipton, adding "I can tell you why, if you care." Steel says he received no further notes from Lipton.
Steel says Boehner has long held those positions and does not hold them as a result of lobbying.
Hours after the email exchange, the Times story was published online, with the statement from the lobbyist that he had "won" Boehner's backing on those matters.
After Boehner's staff complained, the article was changed to something slightly more balanced. York explained:
The statement that a lobbyist "won" Boehner's backing was changed to one in which a lobbyist "sought" Boehner's backing. That's a rather critical change. The Times also added Boehner's defense that these were long-held positions.
That's how it appears in the print edition read by Times Watch Monday morning.
Also don't overlook that the Times used an anonymous source (a tactic which the Times keeps promising to limit but never does) to "praise" Boehner and brag of their own lobbying prowess.
Lipton's concerns over congressional propriety weren't nearly as evident in his August 3 story on prominent Democrats with ethics problems, which he and coauthor Eric Lichtblau reacted to with cynical shrugs of disdain:
In the bazaar that is Capitol Hill, there is nothing surprising about lawmakers' doing favors for campaign donors or intervening with federal agencies on behalf of constituents or friends.
So why are Representatives Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat, and Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, facing the rare spectacle of public ethics trials for actions their defenders say are just business as usual in Congress?
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