Rep. Darrell Issa's strident criticisms of the Obama administration and his steady presence on cable news over the past few years have put him in the spotlight. Now, with the gavel of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform where he leads multiple investigations of the Obama administration, Issa has become a target.
Which makes the 2,700 word piece critical of California Rep. Darrell Issa in Monday's New York Times—"A Businessman in Congress, Helping His District, Himself"—hardly surprising.
In devoting so many column inches to Issa, the New York Times, doing work no doubt pleasing to the Obama administration and House Democrats, is on the attack. Insinuation after insinuation is lobbed: the congressman has started businesses and bought buildings while using his position as a member of Congress, the article alleges, for his personal benefit.
Bizarrely, the article even notes Issa's attendance the Consumer Electronics Association annual convention in Las Vegas, an event attended by countless members of Congress—Democratic and Republican—over the years. [Follow the money in Congress.]
The problem with the insinuations and innuendo: while salacious, there's little, if anything, in the way of substance. There's no there there.
During slow August recesses, such stories can spread like wildfire. After weeks of other issues (say, the debt ceiling) taking up all the oxygen in a room, during Congressional recesses there is often painfully little to discuss. Even in this vacuum, the story has not caught fire as it otherwise might.
Credit the aggressive communications team at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for much of this. Like much news, many Washingtonians learned of the Times story through Mike Allen's indispensible Politico Playbook, where, just below a snippet and link to the story, readers saw the Issa team's pushback via a quote from spokeswoman Becca Watkins.
From there, the team went into overdrive pushing out its side of the story in blog after blog. From Politico's Huddle to The Hill, The Daily Caller and Talking Point Memo's Muckraker (not viewed by many as being particularly conservative-friendly), the blogosphere buzzed with headlines similar to that of the Heritage Foundation's Rob Bluey, "New York Times Story on Rep. Issa Riddled With Factual Errors." Many of these offered point-by-point refutations of the Times' piece, including noting that the Times used stories from left-leaning Think Progress without attribution.
Later in the day Monday, Bluey wrote a second piece based on the first sentence of the Times story.
"Here on the third floor of a gleaming office building overlooking a golf course in the rugged foothills north of San Diego, Darrell Issa, the entrepreneur, oversees the hub of a growing financial empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars."
In his post titled, "Photographic Evidence: NYT Reporter Incorrectly Describes Rep. Issa's Office," Bluey includes several photos from the office in question, the photos showing trees, parking spaces and a road, but no golf course in site—the insinuation being that if the story can't get the lede right, what else is wrong.
Tweets and re-tweets of these stories ensured they were seen by a wider audience. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]
Before the explosion of blogs and mass email lists, there was relatively little that could be done to correct a story. You could call the reporter or their editor or perhaps write a letter to the editor that may or may not be published. Those were pretty much the only options. In other words, there was little accountability.
It's too early to know if the "paper of record," will correct the record (the paper has, so far, run one technical correction on the piece), but as the swift actions of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's communications team demonstrates, news organizations can be held accountable; the other side of the story is no longer necessarily ignored.
Information has become more democratized.