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Darrell Issa Sticks It to the Times

Darrell Issa is a brilliant businessman who made a lot of money the old-fashioned way: he earned it, rather than marrying or inheriting it as so many Democratic politicians do. Which is another way of saying that he is just the kind of man we need in Washington.

The Left, of course, doesn’t see it that way. The New York Times hates Issa because, as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he has launched several investigations of wrongdoing that have embarrassed the Obama administration. So ace reporter Eric Lichtblau, no longer occupied with illegally leaking national defense secrets now that a Democrat occupies the White House, went looking for dirt on Issa.

“Looking” isn’t exactly the right word; let’s say he went “trolling.” We have written a number of times about how the relatively respectable left-wing organs, like the New York Times, the Washington Post and MSNBC, rely on the far-left blogosphere for material. They monitor the crazy stuff that the Daily Kos, Democratic Underground, Think Progress, etc., spew out, and if they see something they think they can turn into a plausible story, they steal it.

That is what happened here. It started at Think Progress, where cub reporter Lee Fang wrote an article in March claiming that Congressman Issa had secured earmarks for highway construction that benefited properties he owns in his San Diego district. Lichtblau picked up Fang’s “research” and amplified it in a hit piece in the Times. Of course, as we have often noted, one of the problems with lifting stories from the fever swamp is that they generally turn out to be wrong.

Before getting to Lichtblau’s errors, however, a more basic point: his story in the Times is intended to put Issa in a bad light and to imply some sort of wrongdoing on Issa’s part. But if you read to the end of the article, the question that will occur to you is, What was the point? Where was the wrongdoing? There isn’t any alleged. Lichtblau’s article is sheer atmospherics; it attempts to portray Issa as a shady character without offering facts in support of that characterization.

Now, on to Lichtblau’s mistakes. The first one was a howler. He wrote that Issa’s splitting up of his holding company involved the disposition of several “multi-billion dollar companies.” That, of course, would make Issa one of the richest men in America–richer even than John Kerry’s wife–which he obviously is not. The fact that Lichtblau can’t tell the difference between a million and a billion should cause one to question his reliability whenever he reports on business matters. The Times, red-faced, ran this correction to Lichtblau’s piece:

An article on Monday about the business empire of Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, misstated the worth of the companies involved in his splitting up of a holding company. The split entailed separate multimillion-dollar companies, not multibillion-dollar ones.

But that was only the beginning. Congressman Issa points out that Lichtblau didn’t just get a few details wrong; rather, the whole essence of his story was false:

The New York Times story cites three central examples it believes justifies these allegations:

* A medical complex purchased by Rep. Issa in 2008 that the Times story alleges enjoyed a 60 percent appreciation as it increased in value from $10.3 million to $16.6 million, “at least in part because of the government-sponsored road work” that Rep. Issa supported.

* That he “went easy” on Toyota during 2010 hearings on unintended acceleration due to “his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota.”

* An alleged 1900 percent profit: Rep. Issa’s charitable foundation made on an investment of “less that $19,000″ that was sold seven months later for $357,000 “months before the stock market crashed.”

All of these central examples, however, are wildly inaccurate, and the truth deserves to be told.

* The medical complex the Times story alleges enjoyed a 60 percent appreciation since it was purchased for $10.3 million and is now valued at $16.6 million is a patently false claim. According to the buyer’s final settlement statement, the property in question was not purchased for $10.3 million as the New York Times reported but for $16.6 million – the exact same figure of its current tax assessment. According to these numbers, the appreciation is not 60 percent but roughly zero. In addition, the government sponsored road work noted in the article has not even begun and Rep. Issa’s requests for the project (which were publicly announced and made on behalf of and at the request of the City of Vista, and the San Diego Association of Governments which is the regional transportation planning authority) all came before the 2008 property purchase.

* The allegation that Rep. Issa “went easy” on Toyota during 2010 hearings because of “his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota” is again an example of a factual error in the Times story that lends no support to the story’s central premise. While the Times story tells readers that Rep. Issa’s former company, Directed Electronics, is a “major supplier of alarms to Toyota,” the story offers no evidence, and Directed Electronics is, in fact, not a supplier to Toyota. The New York Times also fails to note that Rep. Issa does not have a personal financial interest in Directed Electronics.

* The “1,900 percent” profit allegation is, again, based on reporting errors by the New York Times. This is assertion is based on an incorrect form obtained by the Times. According to a financial transaction record, the Issa Family Foundation’s initial investment in the AIM Small Company fund was not $19,000 but $500,000. The asset was later sold for $375,000 resulting in a $125,000 loss – not a 1900 percent gain as was reported.

So the Times’ attack on Issa consists of nothing but lies and fabrications, and its story never should have been published.

Lichtblau’s article included another howler in its very first paragraph. Did he rely on a goofball internet lefty without doing any fact-checking, or did he just make it up?

In addition, the lede line of the Times story…contains a factual inaccuracy in introducing intentionally distorted imagery. The story begins, “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.” As this video shows, however, the office building located at 1800 Thibodo Rd. in Vista does not overlook a golf course.

Why can’t the New York Times ever report a story straight? Why do the paper’s reporters and editors have to just make stuff up to advance their political agenda? Maybe the paper’s Public Editor will try to answer these questions.

Issa itemizes thirteen errors as to which he has requested that the Times issue corrections:

* The title, “Helping His District and Himself” implies that Rep. Issa has engaged in self-dealing. The only evidence the story offers for this assertion are factually flawed assertions.

* The lede, “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.” The building where Rep. Issa’s office is located does not overlook a golf course as the reporter Eric Lichtblau implies he personally observed.

* “Mr. Issa has … split a holding company into separate multibillion-dollar businesses.” Rep. Issa does not own a single multi-billion business (The Times has issued a correction for this error).

* “As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the 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.” The only examples the New York Times raises of Rep. Issa’s public actions benefiting his private holdings are the erroneous examples previously noted.

* “In one case, more than $800,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $10.3 million.” The story erroneously reports the property’s purchase price which was, in fact, $16.6 million. It also fails to mention that at the time he sought funding for his district he did not own this property.

* “At the same time, the value of the medical complex and other properties has soared, at least in part because of the government-sponsored roadwork.” The roadwork in question has not begun and, as noted previously, the New York Times’ assertion that the value of the medical complex has “soared” is based on false information. The Times’ statement also conflicts with the statement of a quoted source in the story, Dean Tilton the local commercial property broker, who describes this as the worst market in twenty years. The Times suggests road projects miles away from those owned by Rep. Issa benefit him. By this logic, wouldn’t the entire area be booming as a result of Rep. Issa’s earmarks?

* “But beyond specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses, Mr. Issa’s interests are so varied that some of the biggest issues making their way through Congress affect him in some way.” The New York Times fails to provide accurate examples of “specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses.”

* “After the forced sale of Merrill Lynch in 2008, for instance, he publicly attacked the Treasury Department’s handling of the deal without mentioning that Merrill had handled hundreds of millions of dollars in investments for him and lent him many millions more.” The New York Times fails to note that Rep. Issa’s transactions with Merrill Lynch have been appropriately disclosed in his annual ethics filing.

* “In Mr. Issa’s case, it is sometimes difficult to separate the business of Congress from the business of Darrell Issa.” Again, the New York Times story fails to provide factually accurate examples for this assertion.

* “Then, Mr. Issa brushed aside suggestions that his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota made him go easy on the automaker as he led an investigation into the recalls.” Rep. Issa’s former company is not a supplier to Toyota.

* “In one 2008 sale, months before the stock market crashed, his family foundation earned $357,000 on an initial investment of less than $19,000 — a return of nearly 1,900 percent in just seven months, the foundation reported to the Internal Revenue Service.” This assertion is based on an incorrect document. The actual purchase price was not $19,000, but $500,000 and resulted in a $125,000 loss.

* “That suggests the foundation may have acquired the shares from a third-party broker.” This assertion is based on the false 1900 percent claim.

* “Mr. Issa is keenly interested in Goldman’s performance.” This statement lacks a basis in fact as Rep. Issa does not have investments dependent on Goldman Sach’s performance.

How has the Times responded to this embarrassment? So far, it is stonewalling:

The Times is standing by Lichtblau and the story. The paper is not going to issue the front-page retraction that Issa’s camp demanded Friday morning, though the paper did issue a correction on the story on Tuesday on a separate matter.

Dean Baquet, the Times’ D.C. bureau chief who is becoming a top editor in New York this fall, said he is looking at Issa’s office’s complaints.

“I think if you look carefully at Mr. Issa’s complaints, and the story, you will see that there is nothing that gets to the heart of it,” Baquet said. “Happy to consider any mistakes they point out, and we are looking at those. But I’m not seeing a need for any sort of retraction.”

Actually, if you look carefully at the Times story and at Issa’s critique, you will see that there is no “heart” to the story–to the extent that it contains any content, as opposed to innuendo, that content is almost entirely fabricated.

Think Progress’s cub reporter Lee Fang tweeted a complaint that Lichtblau had plagiarized his blog post: “lhfang (Lee Fang): Hey @EricLichtblau & @thepubliceditor your NYT Issa piece looks awfully familiar (see http://t.co/uZQBIsz &http://t.co/NSw0Wrc).” I would recommend to Fang that he back off. Lichtblau’s article was so bad, and introduced so many new errors, that Fang would be wise to disavow any association with it.

I have sent this email to Eric Lichtblau with a copy to the Times’ Public Editor:

Eric, your article on Darrell Issa appears to be false in almost every material detail. I wrote about it here:

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/08/darrell-issa-sticks-it-to-the-times.php

Do you have any evidence that any of Congressman Issa’s factual statements are incorrect? Beyond that, do you have anything to say in your own defense? I will be happy to publish any defense that you may wish to offer.

John Hinderaker

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