The Lonely Centrist

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Most Naive Man in America is Back - And We Learn That He's Dishonest, Too

Fred Wertheimer, the Most Naive Man in America, is out with another of those classic Democracy 21 press releases, this one a scathing attack on Don McGahn, whose has apparently been rumored as a possible appointee to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), to replace Brad Smith.

Like most Democracy 21 releases, the release is a mixture of hysterical adjectives, scathing rhetoric, simplistic and internally inconsistent thinking, and so many misleading assertions, half-truths, and outright mistatements of fact that one hardly knows where to begin. Perhaps with some ridicule: Where does Wertheimer find his writers? Did he pull them all from Pravda when the Soviets went under?

Wertheimer begins this latest salvo by taking a McGahn quote out of context to change its meaning, as the Skeptic demonstrates by showing the entire quote. Essentially Wertheimer uses the oldest, cheapest, trick in the book - using an elipsis (that's a ... for we normal folk) to leave out something that changes the meaning of the sentence. Wertheimer quotes McGahn as saying:

''It's not like other agencies because you have...the fox guarding the hen-house.' You gonna appoint your guys to make sure you are taken care of. The original intent was for it to be a glorified Congressional committee. That's the way I see it.''

But here is what McGahn actually said:

It’s not really like other agencies. It’s not an executive branch agency. You have the president who nominates and the Senate confirm, the President appoints. But it’s not like other agencies because you have the charge of the fox guarding the hen-house. You gonna appoint your guys to make sure you are taken care of. The original intent was for it to be a glorified Congressional committee. That’s the way I see it. But over time it has gotten more independent and more money.

In other words, Wertheimer edits the quote to make it sound, first, as if McGahn is not repeating a charge that Wertheimer himself has made, but making the charge (he leaves out McGahn's words, "you have the charge of"). Then he lops off the end of the quote to make it appear that McGahn's words ("That's the way I see it") indicate approval of the description, rather than McGahn noting that that is what he understands the criticism of the Commission to be; and to ignore the fact that McGahn appears to disagree with that description, at least to a degree.

This is flagrant, fundamental dishonesty of the worst kind. One would hope that respectable reporters would take this man off their rolodexes.

But of course, as always with Wertheimer, there is more - indeed, as always, much more. We are told over and over again that McGahn has represented Tom DeLay - apparently this is important because we all know that a) Tom DeLay must be guilty, even if we're still waiting on the trial; and b) any lawyer who represents Mr. DeLay must himself be sleazy and condone the things Wertheimer assumes DeLay has done.

We are told that McGahn was counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, because in the fall of 2002, right as McCain-Feingold took effect, the General Counsel to the FEC - which is elsewhere in the release criticized as a totally incompetent agency - suggested that the NRCC had done something illegal - though it had immediately corrected its error. Accusing the NRCC of "attempting to circumvent the new law," Wertheimer ignores the actual findings of the FEC's General Counsel in his "First General Counsel's Report," available here, which are that (see p. 25), "the NRCC appears to have attempted to comply in good faith with at least the spirit of [the law - the report gives the statutory citation]." In other words, a report that finds that while Don McGahn was counsel to the NRCC, the NRCC "appears to have attempted to comply in good faith" with McCain-Feingold is used by Wertheimer to claim that McGahn sought to circumvent the law.

Intentional dishonesty? I'll let you judge. But since Wertheimer's group was one of the groups filing the complaint in the case, we can probably assume he is familiar with what actually happened.

Wertheimer goes on to excoriate McGahn for defending, "questionable" campaign finance practices. Not "illegal" campaign finance practices, mind you, merely "questionable." Well. How dare a lawyer represent someone who has done something - well, not exactly illegal, but "questionable" (questionable to whom? Fred Wertheimer?). Sort of like storing bananas in your refrigerator - it's not illegal, exactly, but you really shouldn't do it.

For paragraph after paragraph this goes on, typically relying on sweeping and misleading generalities of the state of the law, and quotes from the pages of newspapers who are first fed these arguments by - Fred Wertheimer. Thus, in a clever cycle, Wertheimer feeds gullible editorialists the type of half-truths and outright lies outlined above, which they print, and which Wertheimer then sites as independent "authority" that his group is correct.

If the public is ever to be enlightened on campaign finance; if there is ever to be a serious debate on these issues - somebody in the mainstream press needs to take note of Wertheimer's misrepresentations and lies, and see that he is excluded from debate among respectable people who actually think the truth should matter.

Is the Centerman steamed? You bet. As the masthead on this blog says, we strive for "reasoned debate." I take people such as Wertheimer as a direct affront to that goal.

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