Amtower: The story behind the Davis expos

Recent Washington Post article about Rep. Tom Davis illustrates why business people distrust the press

Why do so many people in business distrust the mainstream press? Could it be that overzealous Bob Woodward/Carl Bernstein wannabes call and mislead people about what they are writing about?

In a recent story in the New York Times about the revolving-door nature of government service for some senior executives, the Times reporter used such tactics to develop that story. He claimed to be calling about one issue and then revealed his true intent two-thirds of the way into the interview. The story ignored that almost all the executives mentioned were political appointees, not career feds. But the reporter probably does not know the difference, and if he did, he left it because it was not germane to his goal.

On its July 28 front page, the Washington Post had a story headlined “Wife, Friend Tie Congressman to Consulting Firm.” The newspaper apparently has at least one of those misleading reporters in Robert O’Harrow. He called a friend of mine and said he was writing about different consulting firms in the Washington, D.C., market and how they work with companies such as the one for which my friend works. Then O’Harrow mentioned one consulting firm in particular, ICG, and my friend took the bait.

O’Harrow later said his goal was to write an expos of the Upson/Davis relationship.

The O’Harrow story is about possible influence-peddling and a long-standing relationship between ICG President Don Upson and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). The story contains much innuendo and selective reporting. O’Harrow omitted many facts that did not support the apparent direction he wanted the story to take.

There simply was no wrongdoing. Members of Congress act every day on behalf of their constituents, including companies in their districts. The fact that members of Congress do not write all the letters that go out from their offices is not news to anyone who has a clue about how much paperwork exists on Capitol Hill.

I am far from a fan of lobbying and influence-peddling, but I see nothing illegal or unethical about the relationship between Upson and Davis. In the Post-Abramoff — pun intended — environment, I do think the government should tighten lobbying rules. But if O’Harrow was looking for a smoking gun, he found a dribbling water pistol.

I am not going to thoroughly discuss the merits of this story and whether ethics regulations for Congress and the press need to be tightened. But reporters, take note: If you do not have sufficient courage to be honest about why you are calling, you are not much of a reporter.

Postscript: The Post held an online discussion with the reporter. I sent in a question before the Webcast to ask about the ethics of reporters who mislead the people they interview. The moderators ignored the question.

I tried three more times during the Webcast with similar questions — all were ignored. So although they were discussing the ethics of Davis and Upson, they refused to address their own ethics in this matter.

The Webcast did state that the “moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.”

I suppose questions about the ethics of Post reporters were irrelevant.

Amtower, of www.federaldirect.com, is a federal marketing consultant and founding partner of Amtower and Co.

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