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August 07, 2012

BuzzFeed Continues To Shoot First, Aim Later UPDATE: BuzzFeed Didn't Contact Portman's Office Before Running Story

Today's breathless BuzzFeed hit job is that Rob Portman was a registered lobbyist for notorious former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Now, technically this is true. The problem is Andrew Kaczynski stopped there. Strangely enough ABC News didn't stop there. They contacted Portman's staff and found out Portman was a junior associate at the firm which did lobby for Haiti in the 80s but that Portman himself never worked on the account. He merely filled that paperwork because he could have been called on to do legal work for any of the firm's clients (again, he didn't d any work on the Haiti account).

Here's the kicker...the ABC News story (which Kaczynski links as an update) is from July 13 of this year! So it's not news in any way, shape or form that Portman was a registered lobbyist for Haiti. A fact you wouldn't have known from the original breathless BuzzFeed "report".

Kaczynski's job seem to be mainly to dig up old, forgotten factoids about candidates. He seems to be good enough at that. Of course his Google-Fu wasn't good enough to find out that his story is old news.

Kaczynski defended his story saying it was accurate. Again, that's technically correct but that doesn't mean it's entirely true. Think of the old example about a guy who shoves an old lady out of the way of a bus and saves her life but she breaks her wrist in the fall. The next day the paper reads, "Old lady injured after man shoves her to the ground". That headline would be accurate and entirely misleading.

I asked Kaczynski if he contacted Portman's office before running the piece and haven't heard back. I haven't heard back yet but I think it's safe to infer he didn't since he had to rely on almost month old ABC report to get the actual story (that there wasn't one).

So what exactly was the point of this story except to create a bit of noise that invites people to draw the conclusion that Portman was a lobbyist for a blood thirsty dictator?

Kaczynski then took issue with me saying I gave him a hard time when he claimed Scooter Libby was the source of the Plame leak. He based his statement on Judith Miller's testimony at Libby's trial. He said my claiming she couldn't be trusted because she contradicted her earlier grand jury testimony was the same as these two documents and I was being inconsistent.

How is this any different? A 1985 document saying one thing, vs. a 2005 document saying another.

That's nonsense and here's why...Miller contradicted herself in two different sworn testimonies. There's no reason to think she is a reliable witness given the contradiction of her own testimonies. This is called "impeaching a witness" and it happens every day in courts across the country and it's damning to anyone who wants to be believed.

These two Portman documents however don't contradict one another. One, the lobbyist registration, simply allows someone to do the work, it is not connected to whether or not they actually did any work for a particular client. The statement from Portman's office doesn't deny he registered as a lobbyist, just that he never did any work he was eligible to do.

Think of this way, you can have a drivers' license but that doesn't tell anyone if you ever actually operate a car.

In Miller's case both her statements can't be true, she was wrong or lying in one of them. In the case of the Portman documents both can be true. If Kaczynski can't understand that difference, he shouldn't be working as a reporter (as he calls himself).

The question is, is Kaczynski or anyone at BuzzFeed actually a reporter or are they something less? A reporter would have done two things Kaczynski appears to have failed to do....

1. Make sure the story is actually news and not a month old non-story.

2. Contacted the subject of the story for comment before publishing it. Simply running what you know will be a "ding" without comment is simply a partisan hit.

I should know, I do hits all the time but even I contacted Harry "The Ripper" Reid's office as part of my political stunt. Of course the comment from Ripper's office was the stunt and I admitted it. What's Kaczynski's and BuzzFeed's excuse for not letting facts get in the way of a good "ding" on a Republican?

Two last points...

1. Why does this matter? Andy already covered that but it comes down to, the Democrats have allies in media organizations who pretend to be neutral and non-partisan. We need to call them what they are and document it.


2. Considering there was an ABC News story out there on this, did Kaczynski really dig this up on his own or was he tipped to it by someone trying to knock a possible Romney VP choice. I've asked him about it and I'll let you know if he responds.

Until then, if you aren't already, it would be wise to treat everything you read from BuzzFeeders as Democratic oppo research.

UPDATE: I emailed Sen. Portman's office, no one from BuzzFeed contacted them before running this hit. So where did the story come from? If Kaczynski was Googling around for Portman and lobbying material, why didn't he see the ABC News story from last month?

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posted by DrewM. at 02:26 PM

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