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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Howell's Howler Case Closed

Deborah Howler has written a column which has been printed in which she, finally, admits that the 11 word sentence "And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties." was false not unclear, a poor way to put it, or anything else.

I wrote that he gave campaign money to both parties and their members of Congress. He didn't. I should have said he directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.

My mistake set off a firestorm. I heard that I was lying, that Democrats never got a penny of Abramoff-tainted money, that I was trying to say it was a bipartisan scandal, as some Republicans claim. I didn't say that. It's not a bipartisan scandal; it's a Republican scandal, and that's why the Republicans are scurrying around trying to enact lobbying reforms.

Her current claim that "he directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties" is unproven given the anomaly noted by Mark Schmitt.

Howell also approvingly quotes Michael Crowley who considers the difference between a false statement and an arguable true statement "foolish semantics." If a factual error is challenged, it must be corrected. No serious journalist can consider a factual error "foolish semantics." There is no plus side to refusing to correct an error immediately. At least two Post journalists refused to quote the offending 11 words for days debating readers obout what had been written in the Post and was available on its web page. That was dumb.

There is no evidence that Abramoff controlled his clients enough to justify the word "directed" as opposed to "advised." The scrap of evidence that Howell presented to prove such "direction" undermines her claim since actual money was not given as "directed."

Howell and the Post have presented no evidence that Abramoff ever encouraged anyone to give anything to a Democrat as opposed to reluctantly accepting that he could not prevent them from doing so.

Still the key issue of an uncorrected unambiguous error has been settled.

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