There are a few news reports of the dramatic testimony given to the Civil Rights Commission by former Department of Justice voting rights section chief Christopher Coates yesterday. The Washington Post carries a serious story. The Los Angeles Times has a short article.
The AP effectively drains the story of all the facts that give the story drama and color. In another version, the AP devotes a grand total of six sentences to the story, narrowly beating out the New York Times. The Times of course maintains radio silence.
Josh Gerstein reports the story for Politico. Gerstein’s story is a model of good journalism. Here are Gerstein’s lead paragraphs distilling the essence of the story:
A Justice Department prosecutor defied his superiors by testifying at a U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearing Friday, where he leveled an explosive allegation: top officials in the department gutted a voter intimidation case against a fringe African American militant group because the suspects were black and their alleged victims were white.
The prosecutor, Christopher Coates, also said the downgrading of the case against the New Black Panther Party was evidence of a Justice Department culture which discouraged “race neutral” enforcement of civil rights laws, frowned on prosecuting minority perpetrators and folded under pressure from black and Latino rights groups. After President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder took office, the culture intensified, Coates told the panel, ultimately leading to his departure as chief of the voting rights section early this year.
The Department of Justice denies Coates’s charges, but indirectly. It prefers to attack the commission:
Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler in a statement Friday derided the Civil Rights Commission for its “so-called investigation” that is “thin on facts and evidence and thick on rhetoric.”
The spokeswoman has nothing to say about Coates. He has first-hand knowledge of the subject of his testimony. He is an eyewitness and an expert. He has no apparent partisan motivation. Gerstein notes that Coates is an experienced civil rights prosecutor who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and who also served under President George W. Bush. (By contrast, the AP’s Jesse Holland identifies Coates as the attorney who “ran the Voting Section under President George W. Bush.”)
Gerstein includes a pungent quote from Coates at the end of his story :
In his testimony yesterday, Coates took issue with the Inspector General’s finding that Bush Administration political appointees, including acting civil rights division head Bradley Schlozman, acted improperly by using political litmus tests when hiring new lawyers for the unit.
“Mr. Schlozman found a Civil Rights Division that was almost totally left-liberal in the basis of the ideology of the people who were working in it. And he made some concerted effort to diversify the division so that conservatives as well as liberals could find work there,” said Coates. “I found the criticism by the career management in the Civil Rights Division that Mr. Schlozman had hired on ideological grounds to be akin to Pete Rose criticizing Willie Nelson for not paying his federal income tax.”
In the person of Coates we have a genuine whistleblower. He was ordered by his superiors at the Department of Justice not to testify so that he would be prevented from taking issue with the administration’s line on the NBPP case. The Justice Department flack to the contrary notwithstanding, Coates’s testimony is thick with facts and short on rhetoric. Indeed, it would rightly cause heads to roll in a Republican administration.