Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog

Thursday, April 07, 2005
Washington Post fingers Martinez counsel for memo.

The Washington Post is reporting that the legal counsel for Florida Senator Mel Martinez has admitted to writing the infamous Schiavo memo.  The counsel, Brian Darling, resigned from Martinez's office, which he accepted.

At least that brings a much needed answer as to where the memo came from and who wrote it.  However, another question pops up, as the Post explains how it got into Democratic hands:

Martinez, a freshman who was secretary of housing and urban development for most of President Bush's first term, said he had not read the one-page memo. He said he inadvertently passed it to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had worked with him on the issue. After that, officials gave the memo to reporters for ABC News and The Washington Post.

Harkin said in an interview that Martinez handed him the memo on the Senate floor, in hopes of gaining his support for the bill giving federal courts jurisdiction in the Florida case in an effort to restore the brain-damaged Florida woman's feeding tube. "He said these were talking points -- something that we're working on here," Harkin said.

First, I don't buy Martinez's explanation.  The idea that he just so happened to hand Harken the memo without knowing what he was giving him is not a reasonable excuse. 

Once Martinez was given the memo he should have:

(1).  Thrown it away and given Darling a reprimand.

(2).  Kept it away from the Senate floor and made sure there weren't any other copies.

I don't see how hard it was for Martinez to do this.  Maybe he somehow considered Harkin to be an ally (Harkin supported the Schiavo bill, but can hardly be considered a tweener) and didn't think he would spread the memo around.  Regardless, I think he knew what was on that paper.

With this article another piece has been added to the puzzle.  Of course, some would think the puzzle is complete, but that isn't the case.  You see, all of the Republican senators have been placed on record as saying they hadn't seen the memo.  Now this could go two ways.  Either there were some senators that were lying, as Martinez obviously was, and indeed saw the memo, or Martinez didn't pass it to anyone but Harken, who went to his party colleagues and smeared the Republicans with it. 

My intuition tells me that a little bit of both happened.  I don't think Harken was the only one that Martinez showed the memo to, but I think once Democrats got a hold of it, they were determined to make some political fortune out of it, which of course is how the Washington Post, New York Times, and ABC News got a hold of the story.  Having said that, I doubt if this story will be investigated any further than it already has, but it would be interesting to find out how it was truly distributed.

Finally, Hindrocket over at Powerline makes the case for retractions and corrections to be made by ABC News and the Washington Post:

Mike Allen, the Post's reporter, has previously said that the memo came from a Democratic Senator who said he got it from a Republican Senator. That is consistent with the current AP account. But the story that Allen wrote with a Post colleague on March 19 is not consistent with the current version of the facts. On March 19, Allen wrote:

Republican officials declared, in a memo that was supposed to be seen only by senators, that they believe the Schiavo case "is a great political issue" that could pay dividends with Christian conservatives, whose support is essential in midterm elections such as those coming up in 2006.

A one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators by party leaders, said the debate over Schiavo would appeal to the party's base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson (news, bio, voting record) (D-Fla.), who is up for reelection next year and is potentially vulnerable in a state President Bush won last year.

In fact, if the current AP account is correct, the amazingly inept "talking points memo," which got the number of the Senate bill wrong, misspelled Terri Schiavo's name, and contained a number of other typographical errors, did not come from "Republican officials" or "party leaders," but rather from an anonymous, unknown staffer. Senator Martinez himself--forget about members of his staff--is a freshman senator, in office for three months, not a "party leader" or "Republican officials." (The plural in the Post's original article is interesting.) Also, the reporting by ABC and the Post suggested that the memo was widely or universally distributed among Republican senators, while a survey reported by the Washington Tmes indicated that none of the 55 Republican senators had seen it. So, if the current AP story is correct, it confirms that ABC and the Post mis-reported the story--in the Post's case, in an article that was picked up by dozens of other newspapers off the paper's wire service.

I bet I can guess what the Post and ABC News did:  they simply took the word of Harkin and the Democratic staffers at face value. 

"What's this?"

"A memo by those dirty Republicans."

"Who's is it?"

"We don't know...but it's been passed around the whole Senate floor by those guys."

" looks like I have a story to write."

That's pretty much how it went down.  I'll be surprised if the fact that they still haven't concocted proof that this memo was distributed on the Senate floor isn't swept under the rug.

UPDATE:  Malkin has responded to the Post article here and here.  There are a couple of points that I want to address.

First, did Mike Allen, the WP reporter who broke yesterday's Martinez story, try to set Malkin up?

Judge for yourself.  Here's the email he sent Malkin:

From: "Mike Allen"
To: "Michelle Malkin"
Sent: Wednesday, April 06, 2005 1:37 PM
Subject: WP request

Howdy--I'm doing an article for tomorrow about what senators are saying about the Schiavo memo--I'd love to include your comments--I'd be interested in how you took an interest in this, where you think the memo originated, why you think it came from Democrats, etc.--We remain anxious to pin down the author and if you have clues, I'd love to pursue them--Appreciatively, Mike
Is it possible that by the time Allen emailed Malkin he knew about Martinez and Darling's role in the Schiavo memo?  If he did, that would mean he was trying to do a hatchet job to Malkin and possibly other conservative bloggers (he emailed Hindrocket too, but to the best of my knowledge only to relay the article to him, as that's the only correspondence Hindrocket mentioned).  I'm not saying they wouldn't have deserved it if they gave him the soundbites he wanted, but still; I think he tried to pull a "gotcha".

Also, I think Malkin went a bit too far with this statement:

After I blogged my criticism of Claybourn, he quickly and contritely retracted the post--unlike ABC News or the Post.

That's stretching the truth, as Claybourn retracted the story four days after Malkin and others questioned Claybourn's sources.  Others might call that quickly, but I wouldn't.  It's true that Malkin was on top of the matter in the middle of the night and wrote a critique questioning the validity of Claybourn's sources.  But Claybourn only retracted his story once he could no longer rely on his sources.  That's not a knock on Claybourn either; he took credit for the errant story and did so responsibly.

As far as Claybourn's link to Martinez's office, it will be interesting to see how Claybourn moves forward with this information.  But I'm starting to wonder whether he can actually confirm that the two sources that claimed to work for Martinez actually does.  Claybourn's already responded to the WP article here, but didn't mention his connections with the Martinez office. 

Maybe Malkin's right.  There is a lot more of this story to be told.

Posted at 05:12 am by Expertise



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