On The Edwards-NY Times Story: Left Blogs Pulling Punches?

Hilzoy writes about the Left blog reaction and it related to a post I wrote arguing for the need that the Left blogs NOT pull their punches. Hilzoy writes:

I'd also be interested in reading reactions from bloggers on the left. However, as far as I can tell, most of the left-wing bloggers have gone dark on this one. . . . [I]t is striking that when I search the 60 left blogs that are on my main bookmarks list, I found three (3) posts on this story. . . . One is from Big Tent Democrat, and concerns the fact that the story's first two paragraphs are unfair. (I agree: it's speculation, not fact, that Edwards came up with the idea of this organization as a "solution" to the "problem" of keeping his public profile alive without a campaign. I also think the larger story is worth commenting on.) . . .

The implication is that the Left Blogs, and me, shied away from the Edwards angle. I reject that charge. Since I have been arguing that the Left blogs have been pulling their punches I'll respond to this on the flip.

I was also bothered by this comment in the thread of Hilzoy's post:

Armando has a post at Talk Left in which he admits that this looks bad for Edwards, but instead of commenting on the substance, he castigates Wayne for the opening few sentences.

Oh just the "opening few sentences," what is the big whoop? The big whoop is the first few sentences are outrageous. About Edwards (and for those who do not know, I am a supporter of Senator Chris Dodd for President) I wrote:

In what should have been a good, hard hitting and relevant story about something John Edwards should explain, his employment of political operatives in his non-profit poverty organization, Leslie Wayne of the New York Times breaches the most important rule of journalism - report facts as facts, not the reporter's opinions as facts. Wayne's lede is simply intolerable . . . And now the irresponsible work of Wayne should become a story, along with Edwards' practices. Shame on the New York Times, Leslie Wayne and the editor who let this through.

Why did I not write about the practices? Because I do not know enough about them nor I am well versed in the relevant laws. I want more information before I write a post on the subject. This is precisely why I stated that Edwards' practices should be a story. But unlike the Times, I would like to write something fair, responsible and knowledgeable. I don't have the knowledge or information to do that yet. When I do, I will write something more comprehensive.

On the Times angle, the grievous journalism practiced was perfectly obvious to me from the moment I read the lede.

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    Why is this something to explain? (5.00 / 3) (#18)
    by BruceMcF on Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 05:39:59 PM EST
    ... a good, hard hitting and relevant story about something John Edwards should explain, his employment of political operatives in his non-profit poverty organization

    The not-tax-exempt Center for Promise and Opportunity is a 501(c)(4), a "social welfare organization", allowed unlimited lobbying and education, but not campaigning ... and along with that, of course, contributions are not tax exempt. There is plenty for a political operative to be doing at a 501(c)(4).

    And if they are free to work on poverty programs because they hope you will run for President and they hope to work on that campaign ... what in the heck is wrong with that? That much of the story is a step below the Obama fax machine storm in a tea cup ... its complying with both the letter and the spirit of the law. A 501(c)(4) is allowed to be political in pursuit of its objective, as long as that falls in the tax code definitions of lobbying and education, and any "political activity" in the tax code definition is restricted to the membership.

    Saying that netroots is softpedalling is silly ... this tax code stuff is complex, and it often takes until the weekend for the lawyers to get to blog with the details ... I got those details (and more) that I rattled from a diary on the tax law posted by ElaineinIN, Edwards' Nonprofits: Here's some tax law, and comments there like burrow owl's Here's the quick and dirty summary  

    Of course, this is all simpler for a sitting Senator, since the House and Senate voted themselves the power to roll over their re-election campaign funds into Presidential election campaign funds, so an entire running re-elect campaign operation can be transformed to a Presidential election campaign operation without any of this complex PAC plus taxable not-for-profit plus non-taxable not-for-profit framework that is used to pursue public policy reform in the private sector.

    hilzoy's last comment in the thread (none / 0) (#1)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 07:22:23 PM EST
    "LB: true enough. I await further data.

    Posted by: hilzoy | June 22, 2007 at 07:58 PM "

    Me too Hilzoy.

    You are consistent and persistent. (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 07:33:08 PM EST
    Nice explanation of why you aren't presently blogging the merits of Edwards's non-profits.  

    merits of caution (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 07:54:35 PM EST
    Perhaps it is true that one should be cautious before blogging about this.  However, isn't the point that if Giuliani did this, many left bloggers would blog first from the hip and think later?

    I think that is true (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 08:12:27 PM EST
    But I would not. I'll give you an example.

    I have not and won;t blog about the alleged child abusing ex-priest that Giuliani apparently supports as I do not know enough about the story.

    And the word "alleged" sticks in my craw, so I personally, won't write about that.

    I am very tough on Giuliani but it is all based on solid facts. Quarrel with my interpretations but you can't say I am using unverified facts.


    Sounds like you already did blog about it. (none / 0) (#5)
    by jondee on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 08:30:45 PM EST
    But I agree: the fact that Guliani seems to have a propensity to employ the most sordid, morally stunted, bi-pedal hominids in positions of responsibility ( and sometimes, in the vicinity of innocent, vulnerable children) is a phenomenon that, seemingly, will have to await the inevitable full-blown disaster for further explication.

    Integrity (none / 0) (#6)
    by Alien Abductee on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 09:03:10 PM EST
    I appreciate your point that the left blogs shouldn't pull their punches where Dems are concerned - sunlight is a good thing. But I'd like to throw out an idea: there's a limited space for public attention to news stories and issues, in the MSM and the main channels of the blogosphere. The Bush administration and a whole range of Republicans have committed major crimes damaging to the country and the public interest that should be the primary focus for uncovering, analyzing, and countering. John Edwards, whatever the intent behind his nonprofit, has stayed on the legal side of things even according to the IRS lawyer quoted in the NYT story. So why fan the story? Why should the left blogs be pursuing this as if it's a worthwhile issue? Why help the swiftboating from the right that's surely going to follow to try to drive Edwards out of the race? I have almost zero faith that anyone in the MSM is going to pursue this or any other story to do with alleged malfeasance of Dems with anything like "fair, responsible and knowledgeable" journalism.

    If it is worthwhile (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 09:34:54 PM EST
    then we should.

    Not really an answer (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Alien Abductee on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 10:21:43 PM EST
    Agitating for the left blogs to pursue this particular story seems a bit perverse and counterproductive, given the way the original story was just trying to spin something nefarious out of what even it admitted was legal. Worthwhile to debunk the sleazy journalism, yes. But to push the left blogs to put Edwards under a critical spotlight on an admitted nonissue? Why?

    I am not sure it is a nonissue (none / 0) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 10:40:38 PM EST
    I'll pursue it if I conclude it IS an issue.

    Sorry: (none / 0) (#7)
    by hilzoy on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 09:03:32 PM EST
    I actually didn't mean to imply anything about you in particular. I was struck by the fact that, at the time, no one had written about the actual problem for Edwards, and since it wasn't true that no one had written about the story, I ended up listing the people who had and saying: but they are not writing about the issue the story raises.

    It's not that I thought anyone in particular should have, and specifically not that you should have; I was just struck by the fact that it was around 4 and no one had said anything. (Naturally that changed within a couple of hours, but oh well.)

    I agreed with your basic point, and said so, and didn't mean any criticism of you in particular.

    I didn't write about the Edwards angle (none / 0) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 09:32:56 PM EST
    because I stil am not sure of what he has done and how it stacks up legally or otherwise.

    I can't say that the Times article really helped me understand what entity did what.

    The only plausible motivation Edwards would have to  do what the Times is alleging (basically "laundering" campaign expenditures through a non-profit poverty entity) that I can see would be to escape disclosure requirements.

    The donations were not tax deductible for the entity in question.

    I really want to know more.


    Fwiw (none / 0) (#14)
    by hilzoy on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 11:41:58 PM EST
    Thanks to our commenters, I found some more info on which entity did what. Me finding figures: 1, 2. Actual 990s for 2005: CPO, CPOF. (These last 2 may not work, since they're search results.)

    Oh, also (none / 0) (#15)
    by hilzoy on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 11:49:37 PM EST
    Best I can figure, the organization itself is tax-exempt, though donations to it are not. The main differences with campaigns (which I assume are tax-exempt, right?) would be the absence of caps on donations, disclosure requirements, and so forth.

    Also: here's CPO's 2005 spending:

    $142,196.38: Opportunity Rocks

    $80,417.62: retreats and seminars with foreign policy experts

    $540,599.03: "Exploration of new ideas".

    Total: $763,213.03

    (There's roughly another $440,000 spent on management and fundraising.)

    I have no quarrel at all with counting Opportunity Rocks. It's the seminars on Iraq etc., the staff salaries, and whatever "development of new ideas" means that strikes me as worth looking into.


    BTW (none / 0) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 09:34:01 PM EST
    Let me applaud you for raising questions about OUR side. We do not do that enough.

    So please, don't stop. It gave me a chance to explain my thinking.


    I didn't Pull My Punch (none / 0) (#13)
    by GDAEman on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 11:10:33 PM EST
    Of the Dismalcrats, I support Edwards (& Kucinich and Richardson for full withdrawal from Iraq). Nevertheless, I hammered Edwards on his Pandering Speech Broadcast to Herzliya Israel.

    Sorry John, your speech writers really let you down on that one.

    The Edwards response (none / 0) (#17)
    by zaczaca on Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 07:12:13 AM EST
    Rather than address the issues related to the subject of the stories (NYT and AP), which is the Center for Promise and Opportunity and whether or not it served as a presidential campaign vehicle, they seem to be trying to deflect by calling attention away to the Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation, which did do some good things. While the Times story can be criticized, the substance of it shouldn't be allowed to be tap danced away by the Edwards campaign. Either we want transparency and accountability in our campaigns or we want it except for Democrats.