I wrote last night about an article by Eric Lipton in the New York Times of February 21 titled “Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute.” I called attention, in particular, to this paragraph in Lipton’s article, which was based on his telephone interview with Tim Phillips, the head of Americans For Prosperity, a grass-roots organization that is supported in part by the Koch family:
Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.
I was struck by the fact that Lipton quoted Mr. Phillips in at least two other paragraphs of his article, but in this case–the only remotely controversial statement that he attributed to Mr. Phillips–he paraphrased but did not quote. That made me wonder what record Lipton had of what Mr. Phillips had actually said, so I sent Lipton this email:
Eric, I believe we have corresponded before, but it has been quite some time. I have a web site called Power Line where I do political commentary, along with two co-authors.
I am writing about your article in Monday’s paper called “Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute.” You quote Tim Phillips of Americans For Prosperity in a couple of places in your article, but I was struck by the fact that the most controversial statement you attributed to him was not a quote: “Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.”
As you probably are aware, Mr. Phillips denies making any such statement to you. Since you didn’t put the statement in quotes, it apparently was not exactly what Phillips said. So my question is, what record do you have of the interview with Mr. Phillips? Did you record it? Did you take notes? If so, would you be willing to share your notes or recording with me? As you may know, the statement you attributed to Mr. Phillips has attracted a good deal of attention, and it would be worthwhile, I think, to determine what record you have of what he actually said.
To date, Mr. Lipton has not responded to my inquiry. In the meantime, I have interviewed Tim Phillips. He adamantly contends that he did not make the statement attributed to him by Eric Lipton. He says that Lipton read back to him several quotes to verify their accuracy, but this statement was not one of them. He says, further, that in the interview Lipton tried to get him to say something along the lines of “Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown,” but that he did not say this because it isn’t true.
Meanwhile, even as we have been trying to determine the basis for Lipton’s characterization of his interview with Phillips, the story has grown in the telling. First, the left-wing web site Think Progress supplied the missing quotation marks to make the attribution to Mr. Phillips more specific:
Tim Phillips, … current president of Americans for Prosperity, a front financed by David Koch, told the New York Times that Koch operatives “had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown.”
Next, as pointed out by Matt Welch of Reason, the Los Angeles Times took the story even farther:
And now today the quote was extended still further by syndicated L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten, who ironically was the paper’s longtime media critic:
In fact, as Tim Phillips, head of Americans for Prosperity, a group created and funded by the Koch brothers to the tune of $40 million last year, told the paper, “even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown.”
Were Koch executives really working behind the scenes with Gov. Walker to precipitate a showdown with unions? Who knows! Sounds vaguely plausible, if conspiratorial. But I do know this-Tim Phillips did not say the words Tim Rutten says he said. And Rutten really, really ought to know better.
Thus do noses on the Left grow progressively longer. And, since the tale grows in the telling, it becomes still more significant to find out whether Eric Lipton has anything at all–a recording of the conversation, notes–to support his characterization of what Tim Phillips told him.
I think it would be helpful if more people asked Lipton to respond to my inquiry. Based on what I have seen of the Times’ email protocol, I think his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you do what I did, go here and click where it says “Send an Email to Eric Lipton.” If you feel so inclined, please send a polite email to Mr. Lipton, asking that he respond to my questions about his interview with Tim Phillips.