WaPo Expands Quest to Torpedo McDonnell; 12 Hit Pieces in 11 Days

The Washington Post on Wednesday expanded its attack on Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, branching out beyond the Republican’s 1989 master’s thesis to a hit piece on the removal of a 2003 judge and whether or not it was because of homophobia on the part of the then-state delegate. The story centered around Verbena M. Askew, a Virginia judge who had been accused of sexually harassing a female colleague.

Post reporter Amy Gardner, who has written or co-written four of the Post’s 12 anti-McDonnell articles that have run over the last 11 days, stated that the 2003 removal of Askew "led to questions about whether the future Republican gubernatorial candidate thought gays were fit to serve on the bench." In the piece, Gardner left out any mention of the fact that two State House Democrats also voted to deny Askew reappointment. Gardner belatedly admitted this point in a blog on WashingtonPost.com:

The Republican Party of Virginia, Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell and state Sen. Ken Stolle want you to know something about the controversial reappointment hearing in 2003 of Newport News Circuit Judge Verbena M. Askew: Two prominent Fairfax County Democrats, Janet Howell and now-Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, also voted to deny Askew a second term.

In the posting, Gardner tried to spin a reason for leaving this salient point out of the story:

However, McDonnell's role in the episode -- and the focus of this morning's story -- stretched beyond the hearing itself when he spoke individually to a reporter about the relevance of homosexual behavior to qualifying to be a judge.

And while it’s true that the Post article contains some quotes corroborated by a Daily Press reporter (but disputed by McDonnell as to their authenticity) about homosexual conduct, wouldn’t the fact that some Democrats agreed with McDonnell be worth including in the story? Apparently not.

Jim Geraghty, in a posting on National Review Online, broke down McDonnell’s reason for opposing the reappointment of the Virginia judge:

McDonnell said at the time of the hearing, "Homosexuality is not an issue with regard to the qualifications of a judge... I imagine we have gay judges on the bench now. That’s not a material inquiry."

When voting against Askew’s reappointment, he gave four specific reasons for his no vote on Askew. They included:

1) Askew had given confidential documents relating to the settlement to a local media outlet, contrary to the applicable confidentially agreement.

2) An objective, anonymous survey of the Newport News Bar Association found 45 percent of respondents indicated her rating was unsatisfactory and 47 percent of respondents found her judicial demeanor unsatisfactory.

3) The settlement amount of $64,000 was far more than a typical "nuisance claim," and Collins had received positive performance reviews.

4) There was a credible and documented pattern of retaliation against Collins by Askew after Collins filed a formal written complaint against Askew in August of 1999. McDonnell deemed the conduct unacceptable for a Circuit Court judge towards an employee.

McDonnell also noted that only 7 months earlier the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates — a Republican — was removed from his leadership position after revelations of a sexual harassment claim and settlement became public, and concluded that a similar standard should be applied to judges.

The Post also included this untoward passage relating to Terry Scanlon, the aforementioned reporter who quoted McDonnell as saying that certain homosexual conduct raises "some questions about the qualifications to serve as a judge." Gardner wrote:

Terry Scanlon, the Daily Press reporter who interviewed McDonnell, and Ernie Gates, the newspaper's editor, both said last week that McDonnell never complained about the quotation's accuracy.

Scanlon, who now lives in Colorado and is no longer a reporter, also remembers asking McDonnell whether he had ever violated the crimes against nature statute himself -- a fair question, he thought, because McDonnell had raised the legal point. The statute, among other things, prohibits oral or anal sexual contact, regardless of the sex of the participants. McDonnell's response, Scanlon reported, was: "Not that I can recall." [Emphasis added]

Will the Post soon be turning its investigative focus on Creigh Deeds? Will the paper run stories about the Democratic candidate and his thoughts on oral and anal sex? Or is this just another Post smear job on a Republican?

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org