***scroll for updates, questions for ABC…Dan Riehl says ABC’s story is four months’ old…***
ABC News’s Blotter blog reports:
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from senior U.S. law enforcement officials.
Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.
But House staffer Krista Cole e-mails the following statement from the DOJ:
Statement from the department of Justice
“Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.”
Instapundit also got that e-mail and writes:
Perhaps the bizarre bipartisan reaction to the [Rep. William] Jefferson search — and the lack of cooperation preceding it — stems from the fact that a lot of people in both parties have exposure here. And certainly if the Speaker is under investigation it’s easy to see why the FBI might be reluctant to rely further on the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police.
UPDATE: I’ve got an email from the Krista Cole in the House saying that the DOJ denies that Hastert is under investigation. Nothing on the DOJ webpage yet, though.
Here’s the Reuters report denying ABC’s reporting.
Allah floats a theory:
Brian Ross was the reporter who broke the story last week about the FBI supposedly investigating journalists’ phone records to uncover leaks. Might someone in the bureau have fed him bad info on Hastert to make his reporting look unreliable?
N.Z. Bear has questions:
1) Why didn’t ABC provide any explanation or context in the original story for the rather bizarre phrasing “in the mix” ? Did they ask their source if Hastert was an actual target or subject of an investigation? If yes, what did the source say? If no, why the heck not?
2) At least two (ABC specifes sources, plural) officials are leaking** like a sieve on this story. Why? In ABC’s opinion, what is their motivation? Disclosing details of an investigation in progress is a bit of a big deal, last I checked. So why are these sources doing it? And why wasn’t some explanation of ABC’s perspective on their motivations included in the story?
3) It would be nice if ABC could help me understand the following:
Law enforcement sources told ABC News that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has provided information to the FBI about Hastert and a number of other members of Congress that have broadened the scope of the investigation. Sources would not divulge details of the Abramoff’s information.“You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully,” a senior official said.
One focus involves a letter Hastert wrote in 2003 urging the Secretary of the Interior to block an Indian casino that would have competed with tribes represented by Abramoff.
Emphasis mine. So help me out here: your sources “would not divulge details”, but two paragraphs later, you’re specifying the exact area of focus that is zeroing in on Hastert. Sounds pretty detailed to me. So while we’re doing details, what about this question: “a number of other members” could mean one. It could mean 434. Which is it? Or at least, which one is it closer to? What did your source say when you asked them? And why isn’t that answer worth publishing? (It’s the Internet: the bits are cheap).
In conclusion: yes, I know you want to play Woodward in the garage with your source(s), keeping them all mysterious and such (it’s fun!), and sparing the ignorant masses the details of the messy sausage-making that goes into producing a news story. But with a piece like this, the way you got the information is just as important as the information itself — sometimes more. A good blogger would never have run this story without some context on how and, in their judgment, why they got the information — and a good professional journalist shouldn’t have either.
Update: Oh, it gets better and better! Hugh Hewitt points out something I missed: that it would appear that ABC News has changed the text of the story currently on their web site since its original publication!
So here’s the first paragraphs as they appear right now (8:41pm PDT):
Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.
Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.
But Hugh indicates that “Hastert’s office” provided a different version. Which reminded me that I received the story, in email, from a Republican Senator’s office at 3:49pm. Here’s the first paragraphs of that version:
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from high level government sources.
Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.”
Pretty important difference! So I’ll add #4 to my list of questions: is it the policy of ABC news to make substantive changes to high-profile news stories without acknowledging them as corrections?
Bob Owens weighs in:
Gentlemen, start your parsing.
In the original article, Ross was quite careful to only say that Hastert was “in the mix,” a vague, rather nebulous statement that most readers would interpret to mean that Hastert was most likely the target of a criminal investigation. Indeed, the Reality-Based Community (an oxymoron if there ever was one) seems to be exactly under that impression in their update, and the ambiguous wording is also apparently interpreted in a similar fashion at Booman Tribune, The Carpetbagger Report, and Washington Monthly, all leading liberal political blogs.
But these blogs were hardly alone. Mainstream news sources such as Bloomberg were also taken in by Ross’s too-perfect parsing, declaring:
U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is under investigation by the FBI in the corruption scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ABC News reported. ABC News, citing unidentified Justice Department officials, said the information involving Hastert was provided by lobbyists who are now cooperating with the investigation.
Reuters and even local ABC stations were also apparently taken in.
Ross provided an initial report with carefully constructed sentences that are phrased in such a way that even the best of minds inferred that Hastert is most likely the target of the investigation.
Bravo, Mr. Ross. Very well played.