A few final thoughts on Ziegler, Keene, ACU

posted at 9:30 am on October 20, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Both Dan Riehl and J. Peter Freire criticize John Ziegler for his conduct at Western CPAC this morning on their respective blogs.  Both are fine bloggers, and I’d encourage people to read their posts, in order to get a rounded perspective on conservative thought.  Freire comes closer to the truth on this, I think, but still misses a point that has been lost since last July.  And I think it is a point worth remembering.

As bloggers, I’d assume that they would be offended to discover that an influential political blogger anywhere on the ideological spectrum took a large amount of money to write posts supporting certain political positions without disclosing the relationship.  We have recently scoffed at the FTC’s notion of regulating such conduct because the government lacks proper jurisdiction for it, but also because — as we have all argued — we police ourselves pretty well in that regard.  Bloggers would consider that an ethical rupture, not just a lapse, and would give the blog and the blogger no credibility whatsoever.

That’s what the ACU offered to do with David Keene and the other members of its board, in service to FedEx, for a payment of over $2 million dollars.  Dennis Whitfield, the ACU VP, didn’t even make the point particularly subtle in the letter:

Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and / or other members of the ACU’s Board of Directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)

One should note, too, the more subtle warning that goes along with that offer.  Give us $2 million, and those columns will support your positions.  Turn us down, and …

In response, the ACU and its defenders offered a bit of a dodge by claiming that the ACU didn’t actually change its position in the FedEx/UPS dispute.  Keene had signed a letter critical of FedEx’s tactics in the fight after the ACU made this offer to FedEx; Politico insinuated that his signature was a retaliation for not buying the ACU’s services.  Keene disputed this, saying that Politico got the timing incorrect and that one had nothing to do with the other, and the ACU said that Keene acted on his own.  However, given the ACU’s offer to have Keene and other board members essentially sell space in their op-ed columns, there is a question of credibility on this point as well. (Be sure to read Keene’s response at the time in full at the link above.)

Keene and the ACU have never addressed the real pay-for-play issues in this controversy.  Now we have to ask ourselves how many of the ACU’s clients accepted similar offers, and how many of the op-eds written by Keene and others resulted from those relationships.  Or at least we should have been asking those questions, but there seems to be a reluctance to hold our own side to account for ethical behavior.  David Keene has been a stalwart for the conservative cause, but if he used that position of high esteem to sell ad space in his columns, that makes the damage all the greater to conservatism.  And conservatives should be addressing that damage and ensuring that it doesn’t get repeated.

Or would we rather leave that to the FTC?

People are free to disagree with John’s tactics, as both of these fine bloggers do.  But at least John is still asking the question, and we should at least make an effort to get some real answers.

Update: Dan has a lengthy post today on this subject, which you should read in full.  However, I do want to quote and respond to this argument.  I responded to it when Keene made it in July, but I’ll repeat it here:

The sole issue there, if there is one, is should the ACU invoke Keene’s name, or the offer of a potential Op Ed as part of any paid promotional campaign. It should also be noted the ACU was not seeking a donation, but transacting a piece of business in the professional promotions area. I picked up the phone to reach the ACU on the one possibly remaining issue left open for some. While we did discuss the issue at length, for a statement they simply referred me tothe very end of David Keene’s Hill column of July 20th:

The offer for an an Op Ed in the FedEx proposal was included without permission. The Hill column is not and has never been for sale and it never will be.

Last week an article in another publication alleged that I made an unethical proposal as chairman of the American Conservative Union to a potential contributor that could be read in part to imply that I might write a column in this space favorable to the contributor’s position.

Upon seeing this allegation I read the solicitation for the first time, found the inference appalling, and reprimanded the ACU staffer who wrote it. I have never used this column to benefit my clients or non-profits and never will.

I find this argument unconvincing for a number of reasons.  Remember, Whitfield was working on a proposal that would have brought more than $2 million to the ACU.  It would be surprising indeed if Keene had taken so little interest in the project that he had never asked Whitfield for a presentation on the proposal before it went out the door.  The fact that Whitfield didn’t get fired for making this incredibly damaging offer, but was merely “reprimanded” instead, tends to indicate that either (a) Whitfield didn’t go off the reservation at all with this proposal but merely got caught at it, (b) Keene doesn’t take its implications seriously, or (c) both.

Whitfield offered to sell Keene’s integrity, and that of the other ACU board members.  Unless that was SOP around the ACU, it deserves more than a reprimand.  If Keene doesn’t understand that, he’s not the man to lead the organization any longer.

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Me thinks,its troubling!!

canopfor on October 20, 2009 at 9:35 AM

The corrupting power of money rears its ugly head??

docdave on October 20, 2009 at 9:39 AM

Where is it written that exposing the truth was going to be easy and traditional? Especially at a time where reporters are being threatened by the WH.
Zeigler did what he had to do and the fact that we’re talking about it worked.
Unfortunately, as HA loves to say… it’s come to this…

katy on October 20, 2009 at 9:41 AM

I agree Ed. Ziegler might have a style that is off-putting to some, but at least he’s doing the work that others are not doing. Conservatives need to take on Keene. This scandal is horrible for ACU and conservatism. We need new leadership. This incident alone should have taken Keene out of leadership.
It makes me wonder if there are people protecting Keene for monetary reasons.

cubachi on October 20, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Ed, why wasn’t anyone asking questions to Ralph Reed? Did you read the Abramoff emails?

ninjapirate on October 20, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Zigler is divisive , the corruptocrats might leave the big tent..

the_nile on October 20, 2009 at 9:46 AM

Ed is quoted often around the blogosphere lately…as in the Freire piece…he must be doing something right!

JetBoy on October 20, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Does Keene realize what we have in the White House and in Congress? The future of the nation is at stake and he wants to hamstring the opposition?

rbj on October 20, 2009 at 9:51 AM

FedEx, call me :)

faraway on October 20, 2009 at 9:52 AM

I’ve got a big problem with Keene’s adoration of Arlen Specter, and I have to ask – is he “loyal” to Specter because he’s being paid to be “loyal” to Specter?

Questions like this bring up the most important point, which is this: I cannot support someone whom I cannot trust, no matter how “conservative” they may seem to be.

Arlen Specter and his supporters being excellent examples.

WWS on October 20, 2009 at 9:56 AM

I am going try some product placements in my comments today to see if I can make a buck. I should be able to whip off a lot of comments today using my 40 Mbps Ultra High-Speed internet service from Comcast that I would recommend to everyone.

WashJeff on October 20, 2009 at 9:58 AM

I’ve got a big problem with Keene’s adoration of Arlen Specter

WWS on October 20, 2009 at 9:56 AM

WWS: Keene admits that Arlen is a friend,the question is,
did Keene,write a chegue to Specter,yes or no!:)

canopfor on October 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM

I should be able to whip off a lot of comments today using my 40 Mbps Ultra High-Speed internet service from Comcast that I would recommend to everyone.

WashJeff on October 20, 2009 at 9:58 AM

I hear you. However, I will be trying to eradicate extreme poverty & hunger :)

faraway on October 20, 2009 at 10:03 AM

David A. Keene (born May 20, 1945) is the current chairman of the American Conservative Union, a position which he has held since 1984.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Keene

Been there a while, eh?

Tom

marinetbryant on October 20, 2009 at 10:07 AM

Nationalize the blogosphere, I say.

Akzed on October 20, 2009 at 10:09 AM

I am going try some product placements in my comments today to see if I can make a buck. I should be able to whip off a lot of comments today using my 40 Mbps Ultra High-Speed internet service from Comcast that I would recommend to everyone.

WashJeff on October 20, 2009 at 9:58 AM

What an excellent idea! I was just sitting here thinking that as I drank my Maxwell House coffee. Then my cell phone rang, an LG from Verizon, and I answered it while scanning a document on my Lexmark X7675 Professional Series printer.

Jeff from WI on October 20, 2009 at 10:09 AM

However, I will be trying to eradicate extreme poverty & hunger :)

faraway on October 20, 2009 at 10:03 AM

Socialism has already solved this. If we just force everyone to care for each other, the problem is solved. ;-)

WashJeff on October 20, 2009 at 10:14 AM

As an old man, I can’t keep up with this spin, it’s making me dizzy.

Someone check my conclusions.

If you take money from someone, you have sold your opinion to the devil. If you take money from a third party, you have still sold your opinion depending on what the third party wants you to write. Does this apply to professional journalists who are paid to write?

Money is the root of all evil? Or lack of money is the root of all evil? Or we are all evil?

Clearly I am a saint, because no one pays me, or cares what my opinion is, therefore, it has to be right.

Skandia Recluse on October 20, 2009 at 10:15 AM

What Keene doesn’t seem to understand is the reservoir of good will — or at least the willingness to trust Republicans to do what they promise if they’re put in charge of Congress again — is far smaller than it was in 1994. Back then, the GOP hadn’t controlled the House in 40 years, while they only had the Senate for six of those 40 years, all under Reagan, so there was no recent negative track record to go by.

This time, people remember what the GOP Congress did, especially from about 1998 to 2006, and while the new people elected might be conservatives, the leadership would be the same old group of pay-to-play career pols that caused voters to turn away from the party in the first place. They only way they’re going to change is if voters and groups like the ACU hold their feet to the fire, and if they’re practicing the exact same principles that turned off voters in 2006 and 2008, you’re not going to get those same voters to go the extra mile to back you in 2010 and 2012.

jon1979 on October 20, 2009 at 10:18 AM

Internecine schisms like this have to be worked out and the mercenaries with conservative masks like Keene need jettisoning. But this is the perfect storm for the Left, which wins on division. Maobama’s solid core will come out for him, but the Independents (some might sa “the uninvolved”) are going to stay home when they do the corruption math between Left and Right.

And to Skandia Recluse: Yes, you’re a saint. Happy now?

Western_Civ on October 20, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Influence peddling, its not OK.

No cred, no blog.

Speakup on October 20, 2009 at 10:40 AM

None of this matters with the video. Unfortunately, Ziegler’s idiotic Michael Moore-esque style is so obnoxious, you can’t help but almost feel sorry for Keene.

TheBlueSite on October 20, 2009 at 10:41 AM

His pay for play point was actually excellent. The problem was by interjecting the Palin stuff in there it made it seem like retribution for comments about Palin more than the hard hitting topic of selling support.

Just my take on the optics..

NextGen on October 20, 2009 at 10:46 AM

Ed, what’s your deal with this guy? He’s a self-serving baffoon. I mean, after the USC debacle, I can’t see why anyone would take him seriously.

He’s a terrible interviewer–it’s all about him and his opinion. He was not “trying to get answers.” He was using his interview to attack the dude he was interviewing and pretty much pulled off the impossible: he made me sympathize with a Republican who was probably selling his opinion to corporate influences.

Zeigler gets all in a huff about about Couric’s interview with Palin, but Couric is a picture of objectivity compared to Zeigler’s interviewing style, which seems to be making an accusation in question form then talking over the respondent before he has time to adequately answer the charges.

The guy’s an idiot.

Tom_Shipley on October 20, 2009 at 10:48 AM

I don’t think I missed the point at all, really. You can think the worst things about David Keene and realize that John Ziegler had managed to get a sit-down interview with the man. Every single point you bring up is valid, and very much should have been brought up in the course of this interview. Not simply to give Keene an opportunity to defend himself, but also to force him to level. The same post could likely be written following that interview, but at the very least, there’d be more information. (One hopes.)

Instead, Ziegler chose a different path, one where he would provoke Keene against answering the questions. He chose entertainment over inquiry. So while yes, “at least he’s asking those questions,” he’s doing so without bothering to elicit answers.

That’s a wasted opportunity.

JPFreire on October 20, 2009 at 10:58 AM

If Ziegler had been interviewing a democrat/liberal in this fashion, and getting them to squirm I think Riehl (whom I think is great) & Freire would be singing a different tune.

If conservatives don’t hold other conservatives accountable for their own bad behavior, this hypocrisy will continue to strangle out the message we try to get out.

Sometimes the Kamikazee journalism of John Ziegler is needed for a slippery snake like Keene.

portlandon on October 20, 2009 at 11:17 AM

Wow, when the resident socialist troll attacks John, you know he must be leaving a mark.

The fact is that John is doing the same work that recently went on at ACORN, cleaning out the corruption so the Conservatives can go forward. May the disinfection continue!

GunRunner on October 20, 2009 at 11:19 AM

Western_Civ on October 20, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Happiness is an illusion.

This whole thing is a cat fight in an animal shelter. The problem is, after wading through most of the linked articles, that two different government agencies RLA/NLRB regulating competing industries and labor groups, have created conflicting regulations that hinder one special interest group to the detriment of another while losing sight of what is in the best interests of the nation.

In pursuit of special interest, favored treatment, money changes hands, and government becomes even more corrupt.

Y’all are focused on one guy or two guys when government, and the pursuit of favored treatment by a corrupt government is the real issue here.

Skandia Recluse on October 20, 2009 at 11:33 AM

Ziegler is running the risk of becoming a flake. I like him and his efforts but at some point the Geraldo factor comes into play. The other thing is that all of the Republican upper leaders have been there a long time and seem to not have learned very much. Keene is a good example. Trying to shake down FedEx is stupid but more troubling is the philosophy of such a tactic. Where are the conservative values in such a program? We are truly in need of a new party with new people who can lead by example.

inspectorudy on October 20, 2009 at 11:34 AM

Since I became aware of John Ziegler(his film,his radio show and his smackdown of some msnbc pukes) I have to say he is one of my favorite conservatives in the media. I agree with him that there are way to many conservative posers out there.
He needs to have his own platform somehwhere since his radio show ended.

kangjie on October 20, 2009 at 11:37 AM

Ziegler is an Integrity Martinet.

The Monster on October 20, 2009 at 12:23 PM

People are free to disagree with John’s tactics, as both of these fine bloggers do. But at least John is still asking the question, and we should at least make an effort to get some real answers.

Then John should stop talking about Sarah Palin and get on with asking these questions. IMO, he went down a rat hole where reasonable people can disagree about Palin’s political strategy when the real red meat in this interview should have been about the FedEx debacle. IMO, loving or not loving Palin should not become a litmus test for conservatism (I personally like her, but think it’s very reasonable for other conservatives to dislike her).

PersonalLiberty on October 20, 2009 at 12:36 PM

Then John should stop talking about Sarah Palin and get on with asking these questions. IMO, he went down a rat hole where reasonable people can disagree about Palin’s political strategy when the real red meat in this interview should have been about the FedEx debacle. IMO, loving or not loving Palin should not become a litmus test for conservatism (I personally like her, but think it’s very reasonable for other conservatives to dislike her).

To be fair, he wants to correct the historical record about Palin and the way she was treated in the 2008 election by the media (egregious misquotes, attacks on family etc) I’m sure your personal opinion about her doesn’t matter whatever it may be.

nazo311 on October 20, 2009 at 12:42 PM

To be fair, he wants to correct the historical record

Yeah, that cracked me up. He wanted to “correct the historical record.” WTF does that mean? What exactly needed correcting that’s a matter of historical record? Are people claiming Rush Limbaugh interviewed Palin, not Couric?

What Zeigler and Palin hard liners don’t or can’t acknowledge is that it wasn’t Couric who was responsible for Palin coming off like an amateur, it was Palin. The questions Couric asked were not all that challenging. Even if you made the case that democrats were asked easier questions (I’m not conceding that point), the questions weren’t that difficult. Palin’s poor and sometimes incoherent answers did her in. This is not just the opinion of liberals, there are many conservatives (of course, they’re not REAL conservatives if they have this opinion… I know) who believe Palin was in way over her head.

Tom_Shipley on October 20, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Ziegler is running the risk of becoming a flake. . . . . The other thing is that all of the Republican upper leaders have been there a long time and seem to not have learned very much. Keene is a good example.

inspectorudy on October 20, 2009 at 11:34 AM

Whether or not John Ziegler comes off as a flake is not the issue, or even an issue, for me. Whether “conservative” leaders are working the ‘pay to play’ system is not “the other thing”, it is the issue here. I could care less whether Ziegler is polite. I want the corruptocrats exposed and gone.

james23 on October 20, 2009 at 1:01 PM

Agree with james23. The ACU has no credibility anymore, because of Keene. Ziegler did come across as an ass, and the Palin crap obfuscates any good that Ziegler might have accomplished. He could actually learn a few things from Breitbart’s young’uns at Big Government.

Bruce NV on October 20, 2009 at 1:16 PM

No Shipley, Ziegler gets what most conservatives do, that the MSM stood silently by while the Obama people astroturfed Palin and basically spread lies about her, because they were complicit in what the Obama Campaign was doing.

Ziegler goes over the top sometimes, as with his going on about Couric and Palin, which was a disaster for Palin because Palin simply wasn’t prepared well for the interview, but the main thrust of his film he made was correct: the News Media was a willing tool of the Obama Campaign.

You don’t have to believe that. But that’s the way it is. Proof of the pudding? Axelrod, Plouffe and Dunn are now conducting an agitprop campaign against FOX News which, unlike Palin, has the resources to defend itself. Ziegler was right the first time-it’s just that nobody was in a mood last year to listen.

victor82 on October 20, 2009 at 1:24 PM

Get out, Keene. Get out now.

pabarge on October 20, 2009 at 1:43 PM

First: I published a blog post at the time critiquing the Politico story while other conservative bloggers pounced on Mr. Keene. I still believe that, after the dust had settled, Mr. Keene was not demonstrated to have done anything unethical whatsoever–even going back to NRO’s scathing article in 2003 which Ed cited here.

My second point would follow up on what I posted yesterday regarding this “interview.” It’s plain to see that Mr. Ziegler did not ask anything–he ranted and raved while keeping the microphone quite clear of Mr. Keene, who was therefore powerless to respond. Nice tactics, those!

Ed’s final point regarding the reprimand of Mr. Whitfield is probably his best, though. Even if Mr. Keene was not at fault, it does take a serious lapse of judgment for Mr. Whitfield to issues such an unethical statement. Not knowing more of the circumstances, however, I’d be a tad more reluctant to call for heads to roll. I mean, have conservatives become the new Jacobins or something?

cackcon on October 20, 2009 at 2:05 PM

How does Keene hold his position? Is he elected? Is he accountable to a board? Can a movement take off to remove him from his position?

AnotherOpinion on October 20, 2009 at 2:44 PM

I’ve got a big problem with Keene’s adoration of Arlen Specter

WWS on October 20, 2009 at 9:56 AM

WWS: Keene admits that Arlen is a friend,the question is,
did Keene,write a chegue to Specter,yes or no!:)

canopfor on October 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM

I don’t so easily dismiss who ones friends are, it says quite it a bit about a person.
I wonder who is other friends are. I think this Keene guy is a flake, ziegler is normal upstanding very brave right-winger media person, your just not use to seeing it to often.
He should go forth and continue the ass kicking tour.

kangjie on October 20, 2009 at 3:21 PM

John owned Keene. If people are upset, they should point the finger at Keene who did it.

I won’t support CPAC as long as they have ties with Keene.

Tim Burton on October 20, 2009 at 3:48 PM

blockquote>
WWS: Keene admits that Arlen is a friend,the question is,
did Keene,write a chegue to Specter,yes or no!:)

canopfor on October 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM

Keene gave a total of $2000 to Specter’s campaign in 2007. http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/david-keene.asp?cycle=08

Deanna on October 20, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Why some choose to defend outright corruption at worst, or its appearance at best, is beyond me.

TheBigOldDog on October 20, 2009 at 4:50 PM

I’ve been the entire gambit:
as a democrat union worker
as a republican business owner
and now a conservative independant…

All of this no longer surprises me. I hate to sound jaded but are there any HONEST organizations left? When a conservative organization like ACU is even questioned with bribary there should be an open and honest investigation. I don’t need Zieglar to be the point man–ACU should have done it on their own. Period.

There are several inconsistencies by Keene that should be resolved by an outside party: I signed this on 7/15 but it was dated 7/1, I was for NRLB with Fedex but against UPS’s desire to apply NRLB to Fedex.

Maybe, just maybe it’s time for Keene to consider an upgrade to retirement and have someone less “inconsistent” take his place.

Just one man’s opinion.

SFTech on October 20, 2009 at 9:40 PM


“In my seven and a half years in Congress, that was the most unusual alignment I ever saw,” says Largent. “I saw people at the ACU, who are typically very conservative in their views, basically prostitute themselves to a monopoly. My experience is that there are few people in Washington that are pure, and David Keene is surely not one of them. To hide behind the moniker of the ACU and then hold some of the positions that he holds is wrong.” – Steve Largent

http://www.nationalreview.com/nr_comment/nr_comment072203c.asp

How many rank ‘n file conservatives knew that David Keene, was the “pay to play” guy, the wolf in conservative dress, the Quisling of the Conservative movement? How many knew he was in Arlen Spectre’s vest-pocket? How many knew he was tossing the left’s grenades at Sarah Palin — and, under whose political banner was he attacking her?

Today, many more conservatives know about Keene’s lack of character(political, psychological & philosophical) thanks to a reporter, who did his job and illuminated the frauds perp’d by David Keene, and his cohorts at ACU.

Either we have ideologically consistant conservatives in the leadership positions at our Shop, or we don’t. If not, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that our “Conservative Movement” will be able to defeat the Socialist & Fascist forces that are massing against US. It’s time to clear the decks of the poseurs and prepare for the battles ahead — commission conservative officers, who we can trust to lead our political charge, up a very steep hill…

“Let’s Roll”

On Watch on October 21, 2009 at 1:11 AM

I’m against Unions. They are a corrupting influence.

MSimon on October 21, 2009 at 7:50 AM