THE ISSA MAT­TER

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

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.

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