From Trusted Source to Jayson Blair

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 24 2011 11:10 AM

From Trusted Source to Jayson Blair

Darrell Issa's office has conducted a days-long scorched earth battle against the reporting of Eric Lichtblau. The New York Times reporter opened his story about Issa's personal wealth and public priorities with a color lede.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Here on the third floor of a gleaming office building overlooking a golf course in the rugged foothills north of San Diego, Darrell Issa, the entrepreneur, oversees the hub of a growing financial empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Issa's office has raised a couple of problems with the piece, the most compelling of which being that Issa didn't actually make money on the purchase of a medical complex. But a lot of the fire's been trained on that color lede. Yesterday, Issa's office released a memo with the explosive title of "Does the NY Times have a Jayson Blair/Rick Bragg Problem with Reporter Eric Lichtblau?" In it, the congressman's staff offers speculation that Lichtblau parachuted in to San Diego and lied about what he saw. (The disagreement is over grammar -- the building is near a golf course, but the office itself does not overlooking it. The verb, it seems to me, is attached to "office building," not "office.")

How could Lichtblau, who says he visited Rep. Issa’s district office, flub such a simple fact about a view of a golf course?  
If Lichtblau really visited the building as he claims, why didn’t he attempt to enter the District office and ask to speak to someone or see the view?   How did Eric Lichtblau gain access to the Shadowridge Country Club when the Union-Tribune was unable? 
Where exactly was he when he claims to have seen Issa’s district office from there?  Does he have a photo or other evidence to back-up his claims?
Is The New York Times delaying corrections of obvious errors to protect the reputation of a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter? 
After the experience with Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg, is the New York Times making a serious effort to examine why Lichtblau presented false claims that his story implied he personally witnessed?

That's a hell of an accusation, based not on proof that Lichtblau never went to San Diego, but on the way one detail was phrased. Yes, Lichtblau has won a Pulitzer. Actually, his previous reporting has been cited by Issa's staff as ballast for their previous investigations and requests. Here's a letter from June, in which Litchblau's story about lobbyists getting unreported access to the White House by having meetings just outside the building is cited as a recent to gather data from Microsoft.

So does the Issa team consider Lichtblau a reporter who gets his facts right, or is he a Jayson Blair? "If anyone, including the White House, challenged the accuracy of any item reported by Eric Lichtblau the committee would treat that concern seriously," said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill. Can we have that standoff without accusing a previously trusted reporter of being a fabulist? Apparently not.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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