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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

UPDATE: Washington Post Stringer Responds to "Who is Larry Noble?"

Michael Getler, The Washington Post's Ombudsman, passed along my March 21 "Who is Larry Noble?" post that questioned why that newspaper's reporter, Brian Faler, did not identify Noble as a spokesman for a pro-campaign finance reform advocacy organization. Faler responded in detail and I reproduce it here in full exactly as I received it, followed by my analysis.

I suggest you read the original post - which includes a link to the Post article that is still available in the paper's online archive - before going through Faler's response and my analysis:

"the reader complains that larry noble and his organization “are advocatesof the very legislation that caused the fec to consider regulatingpolitical speech on the internet” and therefore, apparently, have an axe togrind. [technically, the reader's assertion is not true. a federal judge isforcing the fec to consider the issue -- not the legislation. i explainedthat in my article. also, the fec, by law, regulates political money, notspeech]. anyway even if noble supports the original campaign financelegislation [i assume that’s true, but dont know it for a fact], i dont seehow it matters. i didnt quote noble on what he wants the fec to do. or whatit should do. i quoted him on what he thinks the agency will do. and ithink he’s in a pretty good position to say. he’s a former general counselfor the agency and continues to follow their day-to-day stuff. (and isntnoble -- who said he expects the fec to do relatively little -- saying theopposite of what the reader would apparently expect from a campaign financereform supporter? wouldnt such a person say: ‘the situation is a mess, indesperate need of federal guidelines and i expect the fec to live up totheir responsbilities’?) what’s more, i didnt find anyone who disagreedwith noble. i talked to the four commissioners quoted in the article (twodems, two gop), along with a who’s who of the world of election law (trevorpotter, richard hasen, fred wertheimer, ken gross) and they all said prettymuch the same thing: that the fec would tackle a relatively narrow slate ofissue. the reader himself doesnt even seem to disagree with noble. he justseems annoyed that noble was presented as an “informed, disinterestedobserver” who runs a “watchdog” group. all of that is fine, but it doesntseem all that relevant to my article. for whatever its worth, i think itsself-evident that noble is an informed observer. and if his group isnt awatchdog group, then i dont know how to describe it (and neither apparentlydo our colleagues -- a lexis nexis search turned up 106 previous postarticles with the phrases “watchdog” and “center for responsive politics.”)-brian"

And here is my analysis of Faler's response:

Michael, thanks for passing along Faler's response. If I were to characterize that response in general terms, I would say it illustrates the obtuse arrogance that in part fuels the declining respect accorded the mainstream media. More specifically:
>the reader's assertion is not true
Please ... Kholar-Kotelly is occasioned by FEC proposals for implementing McCain-Feingold. No McCain-Feingold, no Kholar-Kotelly decision, no Faler piece.
> the fec, by law, regulates political money, not speech
If Faler doesn't understand why the issue at the heart of the current controversy is precisely whether political speech on the Internet has measurable value that can be equated to political money, then he has no business writing for a respected newspaper like The Washington Post.
>i dont see how it matters. i didnt quote noble on what he wants the fec to do. or what it should do. i quoted him on what he thinks the agency will do.
True but ...Noble's assessment of what the FEC will do matches precisely the assessments of McCain, Feingold, the FEC commissioners who seem favorable/resigned to the prospect of regulation of political speech on the Internet and the many other pro-McCain-Feingold advocates who seek to reassure critics that the FEC would never, ever regulate political speech on the Internet. Just like the Supreme Court would never uphold a law granting Congress authority to regulate freedom of speech. Because Noble is not identified as a spokesman for a pro-campaign finance reform organization, Faler's use of his quote is mis-leading.
>i didnt find anyone who disagreed with noble.
If I were Faler's assigning editor, he would be in hot water because his response makes it clear he either didn't try to find a credible authority with a different view of what the FEC could do or he did but ignored them. I would be happy to provide Faler with a list. When I was a desk editor, when one of my reporters came back with the "I couldn't find anybody who thought otherwise" response, they were sent to the corner to sit and think about it until their attitude changed.
>if his group isnt a watchdog group, then i dont know how to describe it
How about this for a description - "The Center for Responsive Politics received $14 million from the Pew Charitable Trust and seven other foundations identified in a recent Political Moneyline report as the principal funders of pro-campaign finance reform advocacy prior to passage of McCain-Feingold in 2002."
Again, thanks for passing along my critique to Faler and I will, of course, post his entire response with my comments.