Sunday, April 29, 2007

Has ABC's Brian Ross Become A Tool For The Democratic Party?

I used to have a great deal of respect for the investigative news reporting of ABC News' Brian Ross, but his latest outing of Bush State Department official Randall Tobias as a customer of the D.C. Madam, who is currently being prosecuted by federal authorities for running a prostitution ring, makes me think he's more interested in helping Democrats bring down Republicans than he is in fair, unbiased investigative journalism. When the woman known as the D.C. madam, Deborah Palfrey, was unable to sell her book of customers she turned them over to ABC News' Brian Ross for free according to a story in today's Star. Her list of customers reportedly includes more than 10,000 names and phone numbers, including some of D.C.'s most powerful. Apparently only Republicans frequent escort services to hear Ross describe it. As Think Progress writes, quoting Ross:

ABC News’ Brian Ross revealed tonight that the list of customers of an alleged Washington-based prostitution service includes White House and Pentagon officials as well as prominent attorneys.

“There are thousands of names, tens of thousands of phone numbers,” Ross said. “And there are people there at the Pentagon, lobbyists, others at the White House, prominent lawyers — a long, long list.” Ross added that the women who worked for the service, potentially as prostitutes, “include university professors, legal secretaries, scientists, military officers.”

On Friday, Ross broke the news that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias had frequented the escort service. Ross added new details to that story tonight, recounting how he asked Tobias in a telephone interview “if he knew any of the young women, their names. He said he didn’t remember them at all. He said it was like ordering pizza.” Under President Bush, Tobias oversaw a program helping men in poor countries “develop healthy relationships with women.”

Ross used the fact that Tobias had urged abstinence in his role organizing AIDS relief for the Bush administration as a ratonale for singling out Tobias among Palfrey's tens of thousands of customers.

Today's Star reports that the Tobias disclosure has many in D.C. on edge. But if you are one of Palfrey's customers, fear not unless you are a Republican. Remember, Ross was responsible for breaking the Mark Foley page scandal late last year. Although Ross got the information from Democratic operatives months earlier, he sat on it and waited to disclose the information until it had a maximum impact on last year's congressional elections and after it was too late for Republicans to replace Foley on the ballot, ensuring a pickup of Foley's seat by the Democrats. Ross carefully picked his target, Foley, so he could point up Republican hypocrisy on the issue of family values and opposition to gay rights. Ross initially misled ABC viewers by suggesting Foley had engaged in explicit e-mails with an under-age male page. In fact, the page reported on by Ross was not underage. That was a big mistake to make because it inferred that Foley had broken a federal law he helped to enact to protect children from online predators.

Don't get me wrong. Foley deserved to be outed just as other members of Congress deserve to be called out when they are engaging in unethical or illegal conduct. Except when it comes to the Kennedy family or other major Democratic players, ABC has a history of sweeping it under the rug. Ross' efforts didn't end with Foley last year. He reported that then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was implicated in a congressional bribery scandal despite denials from the Justice Department. And this just isn't a partisan Republican complaining here. Others in the mainstream media found Ross' report out of line. As Media Research reported at the time,

Meanwhile, on FNC Morton Kondracke recommended that "ABC should remember Dan Rather and the Bush National Guard case where they didn't do the right thing and say, you know, we can't prove the story and just get rid of it." And Jeff Birnbaum revealed that "ABC did not call the Speaker until an hour before the broadcast" and "that ABC did not check for an official response from the Justice Department, which seems sort of basic here."

So when 20/20 reports on other customers later this week, you can bet Ross will only be able to identify folks working at the Pentagon, the Bush White House and others linked to the Republican Party who used the services of the D.C. madam. But I think it's a pretty safe bet that there are an equal number of high profile Democats on her call list as well.


Wilson46201 said...

Sadly, the main defense nowadays of the Republican Party apologists seems to be "Us Republicans are just as bad as we said Bill Clinton was - so get off our backs!"

Repack Rider said...

You are correct that it would be biased to only identify the Republicans on the list. I assume that many on the list are Democrats. Wouldn't it be interesting to know which party is better represented, and what the ratio is?

Post 'em all on a website. All 10,000 or however many.

Let their wives sort 'em out.

Doug said...

I'm a huge fan of skewering people on their hypocrisy about sex and morality. So, to the extent any of them are substantially involved in being morality police, I'm for disclosing that they saw a prostitute or the like, R or D.

But, did I read you right as quoting Fox News as being mainstream media? Maybe I misread your point or the source, but of course Fox News would call for burying any story that was unflattering to Republicans.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Doug, the quotes didn't come from Fox News, they were from Morton Kondracke and Jeff Birnbaum. I wouldn't classify either of them as conservative or Republican. Fox News always gets a bum wrap on that point. They are very good about including people from all political persuasions among their lineup, unlike some of the other major broadcast networks. There's a reason Fox News is #1 by far among the cable news networks.

Anonymous said...

Gary, I have to respectfully disagree with your take on Fox News.

I got tired of television in general years ago, so I just don't watch it at all. The last TV series I watched regularly was Seinfeld!

I get most of my national and world news from NPR; I like it because they don't have anything to sell (unlike the info-tainment that the networks pass off as news).

But I did catch Fox news in a hotel bar when I was on the road last week, and I was taken aback by the presentation of the same stories I had heard on various NPR programs throughout the day (I was in the car a lot that day). Fox was clearly biased.

I'm not questioning your take on ABC, I wouldn't doubt that they have a Democratic/left slant (although I have to confess I haven't watched it), but the Fox Republican/right slant was very apparent to me.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I don't like the position Ross and ABC are in at all to cherry pick who they expose nationally. It was very clear from his comments he was only identifying people who either worked for Bush or are in charge of the unpopular war in Iraq. Who is supposed to be so biased against the Democrats at FOX? Chris Wallace isn't a Republican. Major Garrett isn't a Republican. Greta Van Sustern isn't a Republican. Geraldo Rivera isn't a Republican. Alan Combs isn't a Republican. Their polls during the presidential races in 2000 and 2004 were skewed in favor of the Democratic candidate in comparison to other polls. They always provide equal opportunity for Democrats to appear to debate any topic. It seems to me the Democrats were used to the major media outlets reporting in their favor and when FOX came along with a different approach, they all started screaming that FOX was unfair. I just don't see it. I will agree with you that they look for every bright spot possible to report on the Iraq War, but I see the reports on the setbacks as well at FOX.

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on what the story is about. If it's just about philandering politicians and Washington power-types, then singling out Republicans is unfair.

But if the story is about "do as I say not as I do" hypocrisy, then it's pretty clear which party is going to take the hit.

It's like the Haggard thing. What made that story juicy was not just that he's gay, but the fact that he so often preached against homosexuality.

The people who are going to get the media play with this prostitution story are not going to be your everyday philanderers, but rather the ones who preach abstinence and fidelity (the majority of which are Republicans) but don't see a need to follow their own rules.

Tobias overseeing a program helping men "develop healthy relationships with women" at the same time he's hiring hookers makes him an especially irresistible target don't you think?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Well, Jeff, you are assuming Tobias had sex with the women, which he denies doing. I do know there are people who receive massage services from escorts who are on the up-and-up. I notice there are a lot of escort services operating in Indianapolis judging from the classified section of Nuvo. Do you think everyone who uses those services are having sex?

Anonymous said...

I do not believe that the Dems will get anything near a free ride on this by ABC. Tobias was singled out for reasons which I think are obvious at this point.
More names are sure to emerge when this mess is shown on 20/20 on Friday or whenever.
Both parties I'm sure will get their fair share but we won't know until Friday. Also,I would not be surprised if ABC is sharing this info with other networks, even Fox.

Gary R. Welsh said...

anon 7:56, I hope you are right about that, but in the meantime, I think it's important to hold ABC's feet to the fire. They have people working there who do nothing but surf through the blogs to read what is being said about their reporting.

Anonymous said...

Color me cynical, but I guess I do assume they are having sex when the "escort service" in question has been busted for prostitution.

I believed Tobias as much as I believed that "ex-gay" guy who said he only stopped in the gay bar to use the restroom.

I wonder if anyone has checked out the girls who visited with Mr. Tobias? Surely for $300 an hour he would have demanded only the most impeccably credentialed massage therapists.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Not necessarily speaking from experience, Jeff, but I understand the escorts work as independent contractors. The agency has an understanding with them that "no sex" is advertised to their customers. The escort is required to return between 50% and 66% of what is collected from the customer. If the escort performs extra services for an extra tip, that's between the escort and the customer and the agency doesn't want any part of it, and it collects nothing from the "extra" service. The same thing is true of the dancers at strip clubs. If they decide to leave with a customer for something extra, the strip club has nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should wait until you see Ross' story, before you pass judgment on it...Even if there are more Democrats than Republicans on the list, it would not diminish the GOP's hypocrisy. That's the real story here.

Anonymous said...

Congressional Democrats Spell Reform: CA$H
April 25, 2007 1:05 PM

Brian Ross and Avni Patel Report:

Democrats in Congress appear to be taking full advantage of the "pay to play" system they said led to a "climate of corruption" under Republicans, an ABC News investigation has found.

"Washington looks pretty much the same as it always did," said Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, despite Democratic promises of reform.

Campaign finance records made public this week show Democratic congressional campaign committees taking in substantially more in contributions than their Republican counterparts

One of the Democrats' biggest fundraisers, held at a private estate in suburban Washington, required lobbyists and other big donors to pay as much as $28,000 to have dinner and access to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders.

During last year's campaign, Pelosi strongly criticized Republican fundraising efforts.

"The Republicans have turned Congress into an auction house, for sale to the highest bidder. You have to pay to play," she said as the Democrats announced how they planned to reform Congress.

Lobbyists say little has actually changed in Washington, other than with the Democrats in power, they are in a position to collect the largest share of the contributions.

"There's a cuisine and place to greet your favorite politicians in almost any hour of the day or night in Washington," said Tony Podesta, a leading lobbyist and Democratic party fundraiser.

Democrats say they have moved to change rules banning meals, gifts and trips from lobbyists and plan to introduce a more comprehensive reform bill in the next few weeks.

Blotter Lobster With Kerry: $25,000. Golf With Chambliss: $15,000. Access to Congress: Priceless.
Blotter Ruling Congress, Dems Rolling in Special Interest Cash
Click Here to Check Out Brian Ross Slideshows
According to the records, the Democratic House and Senate committees reported $32.7 million in contributions. The Republican committees reported $22.9 million.

stAllio! said...

as i tried to explain at the time, foley definitely did send explicit emails to underage pages. there was no evidence that he had actual sex with any until they were 18, but there is plenty evidence of emails to minors. for example:

"I was seventeen years old and just returned to [my home state] when Foley began to e-mail me, asking if I had ever seen my page roommates naked and how big their penises were," said the page in the 2002 class.

and also

The second page who talked with ABC News, a graduate of the 2000 page class, says Foley actually visited the old page dorm and offered rides to events in his BMW.

"His e-mails developed into sexually explicit conversations, and he asked me for photographs of my erect penis," the former page said.

The page said Foley maintained e-mail contact with him even after he started college and arranged a sexual liaison after the page had turned 18.

Wilson46201 said...

Tobias outed himself. He had been called by ABC after his home telephone number had come up on the Madam's list. When he realized he had been found out, he promptly quit his high-ranking State Dept job without revealing why he quit. Only then did ABC report the brief conversation about the "massages" from an escort service. In other words, ABC did not specifically choose a high-ranking Republican - he broke the story by his immediate resignation.

A person in a sensitive job would never hire advertised-hookers to do a professional massage. There are certified masseurs though aboveboard entities available. A sensible person like Tobias should shun anything that might even seem fishy. That's like just going to ClubIndy for swimming practice at 3am. Sure!

What got me was his callous remark that he didnt remember anything about "the gals" - he said it was like ordering pizza. That's hauteur!

Anonymous said...

I get the impression from reading the Raw Story reporting and then looking more closely at the other coverage, that she may not have shared all 10,000 names with ABC.

Gary R. Welsh said...

FOX News added this interesting twist this morning. Supposedly the list includes the names of prominent folks in the media, including some well-known pundits. Will any of these people be outed? FOX News also wondered whether ABC was going to cherry pick from the list or allow others to see the list to see who else is on it.

Doug said...

If there are any finger wagging pundits out there, I'd love to see them outed. Maybe I've just become desensitized with politicians, but hypocritical preaching from a pundit somehow seems more egregious than from a politician.

Anonymous said...

Just have to love the fact that Bush's AIDS Czar, Tobias, who preached and endorsed abstinence is calling on prostitutes.

Poor Marianne, no wonder she hangs out with Raymond Leppard all the time.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but this article really is just a biased Republican venting.

FOX news may be #1 of the cable news networks, but that's primarily due to the content of the many incendiary shows it airs. FOX is notorious for its reporting of half-truths, falsehoods and double-speak spin for the Right Wing. If you subtract the white trash conservative wing-nuts who are glued to their sets watching FOX news, the numbers quickly plunge. Then deduct the brain-dead lard-asses who sit around watching the Simpsons and other mindless trash on FOX, the numbers drop even more.

Unlike the always-yelling bigots and brainless bimbos dished up by FOX as news reporters, ABC's Brian Ross is a well respected reporter.

You're just mad that yet another bigoted conservative Republican has been caught up in yet another scandal -- and around sex. Your ilk tried to bring this country down with your relentless attacks against Bill Clinton for a consenting relationship with an adult. But you try to rationalize the behavior of a bigoted bureaucrat, Tobias, who railed against all things anti-famil, anti-moral (read that as all things LGBT my friend!) and who then did all the things that he claimed were immoral and evil. Your efforts to demeans the messenger, Brian Ross, by calling into question his motives as a well-respected reporter do not become you, but are typical and to be expected.

It's laughable that you defend Tobias by implying that he may not have had sex with any or all of the women he ordered "like ordering pizza" to come to his hotel or condo room. Maybe he didn't, but hey, do you REALLY believe that?

Tobias has been singled out for very obvious reasons. Can you say "hypocrite"!

As AIDS Czar, Tobias disparaged condoms numerous times, and therefore presumably does not wear them himself; let's hope he has not infected his lovely, socialite wife with AIDS or any other sexually transmitted disease. My recommendation to her is that she get to her doctor immediately for tests. Early awareness will help her if her husband has infected her.

The real story is the hypocrisy of right wing nuts like Tobias and his ilk. You do a disservice to the LGBT community by trying to diminish that fact or try to toss in red herrings in your efforts to paint Republicans as victims and not the perpetrators of so much pain and suffering as a result of their cozy relationship with all things religious, righteous, moral, anti-gay and good.

Doug may have gotten it right when he said he thinks "...preaching from a pundit somehow seems more egregious than from a politician."

And, OMG, anon 9:22's comment about Marianne and Raymond -- too precious.