The NYT files: More than 13 errors in front-page piece about Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) apparently poses an irresistible temptation to the mainstream media. As chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he’s too important in Congress to ignore. As the relentless investigator of the ATF gunrunner scandal, he has proved himself even more effective at garnering answers from difficult-to-prime sources than the average reporter (subpoena power helps!). And as a self-made millionaire, he’s a figure to inadvertently evoke the class envy President Obama and others seem so determined to perpetuate.

So, the MSM writes about him. Articles in The Washington Post. A profile in The New Yorker. A front-page story in The New York Times. But, in the last example at least, they don’t trouble to ascertain the facts — and Issa isn’t one to give inaccuracy a pass. Oversight is his specialty, after all. The congressman’s director of communications yesterday sent a letter to the NYT to request a full front-page retraction for its recent front-page piece. The letter explains that the three primary pieces of evidence to support the premise of the original article — which was that Issa uses his power as a congressman to benefit himself in appropriate ways — are flat-out wrong. The letter states:

On behalf of Rep. Darrell Issa, please accept this as a formal request for a full front page retraction, including the headline, “Helping His District, and Himself,” that ran in the Monday, August 15 edition of the New York Times. The request for a full front page retraction is based on numerous errors that invalidate the primary assertions made in the story that is a false and sensationalized account [of] Rep. Issa’s efforts to conduct congressional oversight of the Obama Administration and other matters.

This request is being sent after New York Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau, who wrote the story, refused to share the contact information of his editors for a discussion of errors in the story as requested by Rep. Issa’s congressional office.

The central claim in the New York Times story is an allegation of self-dealing on the part of Rep. Darrell Issa, as the story describes, “with at least some of the congressman’s actions helping to make a rich man richer” and “specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses.”

The New York Times story cites three central examples it believes justifies these allegations:

  • A medical complex purchased by Rep. Issa in 2008 that the Times story alleges enjoyed a 60 percent appreciation as it increased in value from $10.3 million to $16.6 million, “at least in part because of the government-sponsored road work” that Rep. Issa supported.
  • That he “went easy” on Toyota during 2010 hearings on unintended acceleration due to “his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota.”
  • An alleged 1900 percent profit Rep. Issa’s charitable foundation made on an investment of “less that $19,000” that was sold seven months later for $357,000 “months before the stock market crashed.”

All central examples, however, are wildly inaccurate, and the truth deserves to be told.

  •  The medical complex the Times story alleges enjoyed a 60 percent appreciation since it was purchased for $10.3 million and is now valued at $16.6 million is a patently false claim. According to the buyer’s final settlement statement, the property in question was not purchased for $10.3 million as the New York Times reported but for $16.6 million – the exact same figure of its current tax assessment. According to these numbers, the appreciation is not 60 percent but roughly zero. In addition, the government sponsored road work noted in the article has not even begun and Rep. Issa’s requests for the project (which were publicly announced and made on behalf of and at the request of the City of Vista, and the San Diego Association of Governments which is the regional transportation planning authority) all came before the 2009 property purchase.
  • The allegation that Rep. Issa “went easy” on Toyota during 2010 hearings because of “his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota” is again an example of a factual error in the Times story that lends no support to the story’s central premise. While the Times story tells readers that Rep. Issa’s former company, Directed Electronics, is a “major supplier of alarms to Toyota,” the story offers no evidence, and Directed Electronics is, in fact, not a supplier to Toyota. The New York Times also fails to note that Rep. Issa does not have a personal financial interest in Directed Electronics.
  • The “1,900 percent” profit allegation is, again, based on reporting errors by the New York Times. This … assertion is based on an incorrect form obtained by the Times. According to a financial transaction record, the Issa Family Foundation’s initial investment in the AIM Small Company fund was not $19,000 but $500,000. The asset was later sold for $375,000 resulting in a $125,000 loss – not a 1900 percent gain as was reported.
The letter goes on to state at least 10 additional errors contained in the piece. Over at The Heritage Foundation’s investigative journalism blog “Scribe,” Rob Bluey and Lachlan Markay have independently verified at least five of these errors, as well. A few of the mistakes might have been overlooked as poetic exaggeration — for example, NYT reporter Eric Lichtblau writes that Issa’s office in California overlooks a golf course, when, in fact, the course is miles away — but, in the context of the entire piece, the “exaggerations” begin to look like intentional errors.
Lichtblau so far has corrected only a typo in the article — but what’s most distressing is, even if the paper does issue a retraction, unless it is on the front page as Issa’s office has requested, too few Times readers will encounter the corrections to piece together the truth.
Some journalists like to say their job is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,” but, as I see it, the job of a journalist is to tell the truth — and, as Glenn Beck likes to say, the truth has no agenda. But an agenda is the only explanation for repeated errors that lean in one direction and tend to confirm a predetermined narrative. It’s disappointing, but, unfortunately, not surprising.