Specter Spins, the Times Swallows

Yesterday’s New York Times carried this brief correction:
“An article on Aug. 10 about the Club for Growth, a conservative political organization, referred erroneously to a comparison between the voting records of Senator Arlen Specter, who has courted the group’s support, and Representative Patrick Toomey, who is challenging him in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for the Senate. According to ratings in National Journal, Specter’s record is less conservative than Toomey’s.”
Behind this rather cryptic correction lies a story. On August 10, the New York Times Magazine ran an article called “Fight Club” which was a vicious attack on the Club for Growth. The centerpiece of the Times story was the Club’s support for Toomey in his Republican primary challenge to Arlen Specter. (The Times article has been archived and it doesn’t seem to be cached on Google, so I bought the article from the Times and have quoted from it below, but can’t link to it.)
Here is what the Times said about Specter and Toomey:
“Although Specter is a powerful committee chairman and can count on the strong support of the White House, he is clearly anxious; he is already spending much of his time shaking hands back in Pennsylvania, and he has called some members of the club himself to plead his case. A few months ago, Specter even invited Moore [Steve Moore, the President of the Club for Growth] over to his Capitol office for a chat. A masterly politician, Specter gave it all the charm he could muster, graciously showing Moore his trove of family photos before launching into a defense of his voting record, which, he rightly pointed out, is broadly more conservative than Toomey’s, according to National Journal’s ratings….To Specter’s astonishment, however, Moore, a nerdy 43-year-old economist with an affable, self-mocking laugh, didn’t seem to care much about Specter’s record.”
The Times reported further that Specter was “bewildered” by “what was happening inside his own party.” This account was central to the Times’ story because it depitcted the Club not as a group of principled conservatives–which it is–but as opportunists, mostly interested in getting Specter’s “scalp on the wall” to demonstrate their own power.
Let’s dissect the Times’ account carefully. The Times says that Specter “rightly pointed out” that his “voting record…is broadly more conservative than Toomey’s” as measured by the National Journal. Which tells the reader two things: 1) that Specter said that the National Journal’s ratings showed his voting record was more conservative than Toomey’s, and 2) that the Times has checked Specter’s claim and found it to be true.
In fact, however, Toomey’s voting record is more conservative than Specter’s as reflected in the National Journal ratings; this is what the Times has acknowledged in its Correction. So two conclusions seem clear: 1) Arlen Specter, now focused on re-election, falsely tried to burnish his conservative credentials by misrepresenting his record as compared to Toomey’s; and 2) the New York Times, rather than doing an elementary check of sources like the National Journal, the ADA and the ACU, lazily accepted Specter’s assertion and said that he “rightly” claimed that his record is “broadly more conservative” than Toomey’s.
Why would the New York Times put up with such an incompetent report on the Toomey/Specter race? Because the Times’ interest was not in reporting accurately on the Republican primary but in savaging the conservative Club for Growth. These are just a few of the Times reporter’s comments about the Club:
“In Bush’s Washington, where party loyalty gets confused with moral rectitude…Republicans generally speak with a kind of bland, Orwellian unanimity….what could the radical supply-siders possibly have to complain about?
“Like all good supply-siders, Moore and his members hold that the best way to stimulate economic expansion is for government to drastically reduce the amount of money it collects from its citizens. This practice, as recent history shows, has a tendency to create budget deficits, but the supply-siders say that’s all right, because deficits force government to scale back spending on inefficient programs….
“This kind of inconsistency — ‘hypocrisy’ would be the less charitable word — has led critics of the club to conclude, not unreasonably, that its talk about cutting taxes and slashing spending obscures a less lofty agenda. Moore wants that scalp on his wall, and the easiest way to get it is to single out moderates like Specter and Boehlert, because moderates are always vulnerable in Republican primaries.
“The Bush White House has created such an aura of discipline that Republicans in Washington often behave as if their offices are bugged, faithfully mouthing the message of the day….For much of the first two years of the administration, Moore was part of the right-wing cabal that administration officials would consult on a regular basis. But Moore proved himself disloyal by publicly criticizing Bush and opposing some of his appointments.
“On any given day in the Club for Growth’s K Street office, another smartly dressed, little-known Republican congressional candidate may come traipsing through to beseech Moore for his support. These meetings often have the feel of job interviews, with the eager candidate sunk into a beaten office chair while Moore, seated at his paper-strewn desk, flips lazily through the applicant’s r


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