With D.C.’s legacy paper in tangles over the issue, online outlets have picked up some slack. Media Matters’s report on what it calls the “phony Black Panthers scandal”—cited by many liberal bloggers including Salon’s Joan Walsh over the weekend—effectively breaks down how Fox built the story. Kelly alone, it reported, aired forty-five segments on the issue after interviewing Adams on her daily Fox News program at the end of June. But the report’s assessment of Adams is hardly damning:

Adams is a longtime right-wing activist who is known for filing an ethics complaint against Hugh Rodham that was subsequently dismissed. Adams served as a poll watcher for George W. Bush in Florida in 2004, and he reportedly volunteered for a Republican group that trains lawyers to fight “racially tinged battles over voting rights.”

Adams was hired at the Justice Department in 2005 by Bradley Schlozman, who was found by the Justice Department’s inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility to have improperly considered political affiliation when hiring career attorneys — the former head of the DOJ voting rights section reportedly said that Adams was “exhibit A of the type of people hired by Schlozman.”

All we learn here is that Adams is a conservative, hired by a superior who liked that fact, who has a failed ethics complaint behind him.

Politico’s Ben Smith, however, strongly indicted Adams and his backers with a fine piece of reporting on July 16. Noting that the Bush-appointed vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom, had called the case “small potatoes” in a piece she wrote for National Review, Smith followed up with her. What she told him said much about the “ideologies and party politics at play” in the Panther case and story and the suspect nature of Adams’ claims.

”This doesn’t have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use the issue to topple the [Obama]administration,” said Thernstrom, who said members of the commission voiced their political aims “in the initial discussions” of the Panther case last year.

“My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president,” Thernstrom said in an interview with POLITICO.

As Smith notes, the revelation is all the more damning because Thernstrom is a noted conservative. His story ran two days before Alexander’s column but was never cited in it.

Smith’s is the kind of pushback we need when ideologically driven news outlets are so determined to ram their stories into the mainstream—whether with forty-five heated segments or a mailroom full of letters. His call to Thernstrom should have been one of the first calls The Post’s ombudsman made. The next should have been back to Adams.

“Remember that thing you said about your sole motivation? Well…”

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.