In the words of Hollywood mogul David Geffen, "Everybody in politics liesŠ" But when some politicians tell lies that damage a person's character in the eyes of voters and ultimately lead to his defeat, those are damnable lies that need to be corrected.
Last fall, about a month before the November election, the Associated Press ran a story that claimed Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, had failed to disclose stock options he had earned while serving as a director of Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc. (CBI). The story suggested Allen might have violated ethics rules because the company, which is based in Richmond, had conducted business with the state when Allen was governor. Allen had served on CBI's board between his departure as governor and his election to the Senate.
Allen reported the stock options in 2000, but he did not file subsequent reports because the price of CBI stock plunged, making the options worth less than he paid for them, denying him a profit.
Last October, the Associated Press ran a story that said Allen had failed to report his CBI stock options and hinted at possible wrongdoing by Allen when he was governor because the company had done business with the state. This was all that Allen's challenger, now Sen. James Webb, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee headed by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer needed. They prepared an attack ad, alleging that Allen's stock options were worth $1.1 million and were not worthless, as he had claimed. The ad also made the connection between CBI and the state, charging Allen tried to "steer government contracts to a company that paid him in stock options." AP did not report anything about Allen trying to steer government contracts to the state, but Jim Webb "approved this message" anyway.
An analysis of the negative ad by AP political writer Bob Lewis revealed its inaccuracies. One must conclude that, since the information was available to Webb and Schumer, the two deliberately used factual inaccuracies in the negative ad. But why let truth get in the way of an effective election strategy? The damage was done and since the ad fit nicely into the Democrats' theme of "the culture of corruption" in the Republican majority, the desired result was achieved. Allen lost the election by 9,000 votes.
The Allen camp asked for a formal ruling by the Senate Ethics Committee and on Feb. 16, it came. In a letter to Allen, signed by committee chairman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and committee vice chair John Cornyn, Texas Republican, Allen was exonerated of any wrongdoing: "The committee has determined that your ownership of CBI stock options did not constitute deferred compensation during the relevant reporting periods." Therefore, they said, Allen was not required to amend the reports.
Allen made his share of mistakes during his re-election campaign, but this was not one of them. His opponent and Sen. Schumer, neither of whom has apologized or retracted their accusations, unfairly smeared him.
In commenting on the Senate Ethics Committee letter and the incorrect negative ad that contributed to Allen's defeat, a Richmond Times Dispatch editorial asked a question familiar to many public figures who have been unfairly slimed, "So where does George Allen go to get his reputation back, never mind his job in the Senate?"
Where, indeed? The AP printed a story on Feb. 21 correcting the errors in its earlier story that were used in the Allen attack ad, but it came nearly four months too late.
This saga is important for a number of reasons. First, it cost a good man an important job. Second, it significantly contributed to a change in the balance of power in the Senate. Third, it again exposed an unholy alliance between liberal politicians and the leftist big media who are quick to attack someone whose policies and party they don't like, but rarely correct errors of their own making, or investigate bogus charges when they help the policies and party the media prefer.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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