Abramoff pleads; AP takes a dive

And the AP gets the story all fouled up.

As far as the actual news goes, not a bad way to start the new year. As far as the reporting goes, not so good.

The AP story is predictably bad:

1. Just at a technical level, the statement that Abramoff “faces thirty years” is meaningless. Is that:

* The total of the maximum terms for the crimes he’s agreed to plead to? (Probably.)

* The guideline sentence for his actual conduct? If so, is that the minimum of the guideline range, its maximum, or its midpoint? (No way a reporter could know this, but it’s much more relevant than the sum-of-the-maximum-terms question.)

* What the prosecutors actually agreed to ask for at sentencing? (This is the number that will control, and therefore the number the reader needs to know; the Washington Post story, which is much better-reported than the AP story but which doesn’t show up on a Google search for “Abramoff plea,” reports that the sentence is likely to be about 10 years, which is a long, long time to spend behind bars.)

All the sentence actually tells you is that the reporters AP assigned to this story either don’t understand Federal sentencing and couldn’t be bothered to found out or do know but thought your tiny little mind couldn’t hold the information.

2. Abramoff (along with Norquist) has been the chief fundraiser for the ruling Republican kleptocracy. Tom DeLay called him “one of my best and dearest friends.” That’s never mentioned. Indeed, the term “Republican” never occurs alone, except in the party-and-state designation of Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) Instead we get this bit of phony “balance”:

The continuing saga of Abramoff’s legal problems has caused anxiety at high levels in Washington, in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The LA Times takes a dive into the same tank:

Democrats hope the scandal will bolster their 2006 campaign theme that Republicans have brought a “culture of corruption and cronyism” to the capital.

Republicans seek to neutralize the scandal by portraying it as a bipartisan matter. Bush recently called Abramoff an “equal money dispenser,” and a National Republican Senatorial Committee analysis found that 40 of the 45 Democrats in the Senate had received campaign funds from Abramoff clients.

It’s been said before, but the convention that journalistic impartiality requires reporting the truth and a lie as merely two different claims gives a big advantage to liars.

By contrast, Anne Kornblut of the New York Times gets it right, and so does her headline-writer: G.O.P Lobbyist Pleads Guilty in Deal with Prosecutors

Once a masterful Republican lobbyist with close ties to the former House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay, he [Abramoff] earned tens of millions of dollars representing Indian casino interests and farflung entities like the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Through a complicated web of financial arrangements, he helped funnel donations to his lawmaker friends’ and their campaigns, and took members of Congress, mainly the Republicans in power, on lavish trips.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

It’s possible that there were Democrats on the take from Abramoff; if so, I won’t weep when they go down. But right now, this is a Republican scandal, and linked directly to DeLay’s legal problems, which threaten to blow the lid off what Susan Schmidt and James Grimaldi described as “potentially the biggest Congressional corruption scandal in generations.”

The voters haven’t been told often enough or loudly enough that, with Republicans controlling Congress, Congressional corruption is Republican corruption, and linked to the corruption of the Republican Administration. (The NPR poll results make depressing reading.) It’s depressing, though not surprising, to see AP contributing to this with false even-handedness.

Update Jane Hamsher has more. There’s a difference between getting money from Abramoff (which only Republicans did) and getting money from Abramoff’s clients (which, given the length of his client list, virtually everyone did, especially those on the Indian Affairs committees). And there’s a difference between getting a campaign contribution and putting money in your own pocket, for example through a well-paid no-work job for your spouse. And finally, there’s a difference between accepting campaign contribuions and taking bribes to perform specific illegal acts.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com