As media digest the recent John McCain sex scandal allegations by the New York Times, one side of the story seems destined to get ignored: one of the four co-authors took money from a liberal activist group to fund a hit piece about Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) in 2006.
Before becoming an investigative reporter for the Times, Pulitzer Prize winner Marilyn W. Thompson was editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky.
As Howard Kurtz reported in October 2006, Thompson was in the middle of what one might call a pay for play hit piece against that state's leading Republican figure (emphasis added):
Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday launched an investigative series on Sen. Mitch McConnell pushing legislation for his affluent donors -- an effort originally paid for by a foundation that has financed several liberal groups that oppose the Republican lawmaker.
The paper's parent firm, McClatchy Co., decided last week to repay the $35,000 grant, which underwrote six months of salary and expenses for a Herald-Leader reporter on leave. The grant came from the respected Center for Investigative Reporting, which was passing on money provided by the St. Louis-based Deer Creek Foundation.
Deer Creek has funded a variety of liberal groups, including New York University law school's Brennan Center for Justice, which represented opponents of McConnell in a campaign-finance lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court.
"It's like the NRA funding a report about Sarah Brady," the gun-control advocate, says McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. "You've got to be somewhat leery about the objectivity."
American Journalism Review coincidentally addressed this very matter in its February/March 2008 issue (emphasis added):
In 2006, as editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, Marilyn W. Thompson wanted her paper to undertake a major project examining Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's political fundraising practices and suggestions of influence peddling. When she realized her lean newsroom budget alone wouldn't cover it, Thompson got her Knight Ridder bosses' enthusiastic approval to seek a grant from the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. The California-based center provided $37,500 to underwrite the salary of reporter John Cheves, who took an unpaid six-month leave of absence to do the project, as well as to cover expenses.
Just before the October publication of Cheves' four-part series, "Price Tag Politics," McConnell staff members complained of liberal bias - at the center. They cited center board and staff members' donations to Democratic candidates or causes. They called it "a known liberal entity, but what they seized on was the underlying funding," Thompson remembers. In particular, the McConnell camp objected to involvement by the Deer Creek Foundation of St. Louis, which had funded groups seeking campaign finance reform. McConnell had led the fight against the bipartisan measure in Congress and in court. He was the lead plaintiff in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2002 law.
Yet, there's more, for in November 2007, Dan Riehl reported that at the time the Herald-Leader was working on this piece, its author, John Cheves, was a Congressional Fellow for Sen. Ron Widen (D-Oregon).
Add it all up, and one of the McCain sex scandal co-authors, when she was editor of one of the leading newspapers in Kentucky, took money from a liberal activist group to hire a Democrat Congressional Fellow for a hit piece on a leading Republican senator.
Seems a metaphysical certitude this will elude journalists that cover the McCain story, doesn't it?
*****Update: Check out who's on the advisory board of the organization that funded the McConnell hit piece:
Ben Bagdikian, author, former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Lowell Bergman (Co-founder), UC Berkeley
Belva Davis, KRON-4 News
Mark Dowie, journalist and author
Elizabeth Farnsworth, PBS
Herb Chao Gunther, Public Media Center
Seymour Hersh, journalist and author
Jules Kroll, investigator
Bill Moyers, PBS Bill Moyers Journal
Raul Ramirez, KQED San Francisco
Orville Schell, former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Daniel Schorr, National Public Radio
Susan Stamberg, National Public Radio
Mike Wallace, formerly with CBS 60 Minutes
Judy Woodruff, PBS