THE ISSA MATTER
It’s been four weeks since a New York Times front-page story framed Rep. Darrell E. Issa as an entrepreneurial opportunist and gadfly, prompting the California Republican to strike back, and demand a full retraction. On the front page. In the course of 10 days, Mr. Issa wrenched three factual corrections from the newspaper. The Times backed off on claims about Mr. Issa’s worth, his business profits and the value of his office property in California. But there was no real mea culpa on a story that critics deemed a hit job.
Even after almost a month of thrust and parry, fascination with this duel continues in political and media circles. And no wonder. The 2,700-word account by political reporter Eric Lichtblau on Aug. 15 stated that Mr. Issa had “overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman’s government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.”
Those were fighting words: In two letters to Times public editor Arthur Brisbane and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet, Mr. Issa and his communications director Frederick Hill deconstructed the story, citing 13 errors that warranted a full retraction. Mr. Baquet, however, replied that the Times ultimately stood by the story and refused their request.
The match has been covered by mainstream media, insider blogs, muckrakers, think tanks and media watchdogs; none can get enough of big media vs. tough and tenacious Republican. Was the Times story “sanctioned hit piece or sloppy work by a newspaper?” So asked Fox News in a Sunday roundtable that included James Pinkerton. The American Conservative magazine contributor felt that the paper was “happy” to be part of an effort to protect President Obama from Mr. Issa’s investigations of “gangster government” at the White House.
But should New York Times officials approve a retraction of Mr. Lichtblau’s damning story?
“They have it out for Issa, and this reporter obviously wasn’t careful enough. The thrust of the story is that Issa is corrupt, and if you put that on the front page and played it with a big headline, you have the responsibility to take it back,” said National Review editor Rich Lowry.