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Accuracy in Media: Not So Accurate

Cliff Kincaid thinks CJR Daily unfairly labeled Doug Bandow a "conservative pundit." Problem is, conservative pundits think Bandow's a conservative pundit, too.
February 13, 2006

We enjoy reading the latest dispatches from our friends over at Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog organization. And we’re happy that Cliff Kincaid linked a December post of ours in his February 13 column about Jack Abramoff. Kincaid takes issue with reporters referring to Abramoff as a “Republican” lobbyist, writing, “The liberals want the public to believe that Jack Abramoff was a ‘Republican’ lobbyist, even though his clients, and associated firms showered money on Democrats such as Harry Reid and Byron Dorgan. Abramoff’s non-conservative tendencies were also in evidence in his selection of subsidized columnists.”

As BusinessWeek revealed in December, one of the columnists on the Abramoff payroll was Doug Bandow, at the time a CATO fellow and syndicated columnist, who Abramoff paid to tout his clients in his work — without disclosing the relationship to his editors. Kincaid takes issue with CJR Daily for having called Bandow a “conservative pundit.” Kincaid goes so far as to call Bandow an “anti-Bush” writer, explaining that he describes himself as “pro-drug legalization, anti-abortion, pro-free market, and anti-Iraq War. He says he dislikes President Bush. In fact, Bandow wrote an article before the 2004 presidential election encouraging people to ‘Vote Democratic’ for President.”

That’s quite a selection, and we have concerns. For starters, where is it written that a conservative can’t be against the war in Iraq? Pat Buchanan, one of the founders of American Conservative magazine, sure isn’t a Daily Kos liberal, although he has come out time and again against the war, as has Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (who outlined some of his criticisms in an excellent profile in this week’s New York Times Magazine). Just because Bandow opposed the war — and articulated this view in that ultra-leftist propaganda rag the National Review back in August 2002 — doesn’t mean that the former aide to President Ronald Reagan is an apple that falls far from the conservative tree.

Whatever one thinks of Bandow’s politics, it seems at least some conservatives regard him as an ideological ally. Brent Bozell, founder of the conservative Media Research Center, seemed to view Bandow as a conservative columnist when, writing on on January 5, he equated Bandow with another faux journalist for hire, Armstrong Williams: “Williams and Bandow both could argue they were only promoting conservative causes they would support anyway, [but] it made them look like they were primarily advancing conservative issues through columns because there was personal profit involved.”

Kincaid then trots out a piece Bandow wrote for Fortune magazine in April 2004, which Kincaid says “encourag[ed] people to ‘Vote Democratic’ for president.” We wonder if Kincaid read the piece, whose title was actually “The Conservative Case for Voting Democratic,” and focused on the concerns many conservatives have over the president’s free-spending, deficit-bloating ways.

As for Kincaid’s search for “Abramoff’s non-conservative tendencies,” as he put it, he again comes up empty-handed. As a piece in Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard noted in December 2004, “For 25 years Abramoff has been a key figure in the conservative movement … Abramoff is mentor and close friend to the prominent activist Grover Norquist, and to Ralph Reed, founder of the Christian Coalition, highly successful political operative, and self-advertised adviser to the Bush White House.” And the Boston Globe reported last week that Abramoff, after being elected to the chair of the nationwide College Republicans group in 1981, wrote, ”Our job is to remove liberals ‘from power permanently — [from] student newspaper and radio stations, student governments, and academia. We are replacing these leftists with committed conservatives.”

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We’re not really seeing any “non-conservative tendencies” there. But let’s move on.

As for whether the Abramoff scandal has tainted Democrats as much as Republicans, the answer so far is: not even close. As National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote on January 10, “The only people referred to directly in Abramoff’s recent plea agreement are a Republican congressmen and two former Republican congressional aides. The GOP members can make a case that the scandal reflects more the way Washington works than the unique perfidy of their party, but even this is self-defeating, since Republicans run Washington.”

But don’t take Lowry’s word for it. On January 31, Martin Frost wrote on that “It is clear that ‘Abramoff’ is a Republican scandal. The vast majority of Congressmen and staffers who ultimately will face criminal charges will be Republicans. In fact, there may be no Democrats indicted for dealings with Abramoff — a longtime Republican Party operative.”

So when Kincaid accuses CJR Daily of “trying to smoke out those ‘conservatives’ on Abramoff’s payroll,” we must humbly admit that if we have managed to see so far, it’s only because we’ve been standing on the shoulders of conservative media giants.

The final highlight comes when Kincaid calls CJR Daily’s labeling of Bandow a “conservative” a case of “failing to do elementary research to see if the label really applies.”

Glass houses, Cliff.

Paul McLeary is a former CJR staff writer. Since 2008, he has covered the Pentagon for Foreign Policy, Defense News, Breaking Defense, and other outlets. He is currently a defense reporter for Politico.