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Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), chooses an unlikely reporter to anchor Fox’s election night coverage: John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political adviser and the first cousin of George W. Bush (R-TX), the Republican presidential candidate. (Ellis is the son of George Herbert Walker Bush’s sister, Nancy Ellis.) Ellis was originally hired to cover the party primaries. A later study of voting patterns by the University of California will determine that in areas where voters have access to Fox News, the network’s relentless pro-Bush coverage shifts some 200,000 votes from Democrat Al Gore (D-TN) to Bush, but Ailes wants to make sure his network’s coverage is favorable to Bush, and has always had Ellis in mind for the election night anchor position, for which he specifically gives Ellis a 30-day contract. Ellis is very close to Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida (“Jeb” is an acronym for his full name, John Ellis Bush). Ellis recused himself from campaign coverage in a June 1999 Boston Globe column, defending George W. Bush from allegations of cocaine use, calling the Clinton-Gore administration “morally berserk,” and telling his readers, “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.” Instead of this posing an ethical dilemma or being seen as a conflict of interest at Fox, Ellis is Ailes’s first and only choice to anchor the network’s election coverage. (Ailes will later tell a February 2001 House committee hearing, “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections”—see February 14, 2001.) (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Boehlert 11/15/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis will pre-emptively call the election for Bush, sparking the Florida recount controversy and helping propel his cousin into the White House (see November 7-8, 2000). In a response to testimony in the same February 2001 House committee hearing, Joan Konner, a journalism professor who will lead a CNN-commissioned independent study of the problems in that network’s election night coverage, will call Ellis’s hiring a substantial breach of journalistic ethics and standards. “If John Ellis had, indeed, made comments stating that his loyalties to the Bush family superceded any commitment he has to his profession or his employer, then I would judge that to be not only a perceived conflict-of-interest but a real conflict-of-interest for a journalist,” she will write in a letter to Representative John Dingell (D-MI). “While that does not disqualify an individual from any position as a journalist, it would, in my judgement, disqualify that person for any decision-making role involving reporting on his relatives during an election. Often friends and relatives are hired by journalism organizations because of their connections to the newsmakers. Their access to sources makes them valuable to the organization. However, the news organization should take every precaution against placing such an individual in an assignment that could result in bias in reporting.” (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on the news networks’ election night decision to project George W. Bush the winner of the Florida election, and thereby the winner of the US presidential election (see November 7-8, 2000). One of the matters at hand is Fox News’s choice to have its election night coverage anchored by John Prescott Ellis, President Bush’s cousin and an intensely partisan Bush supporter (see October-November 2000). The chairman of the committee is W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA).
Opening Statements - In his opening statement, Tauzin tells the assemblage that the hearing is to “give us a real sense of what went wrong in terms of the election night coverage of the presidential election of November 2000.” He notes that news coverage issues have been raised in every election since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. Early calls—the practice of news outlets to “call,” or project, winners in states before elections in other states have closed—have long been acknowledged as having a “deletorious” effect on voting, and the use of “exit polling”—polls of voters taken outside polling booths—have proven both “valuable” and “dangerous.” Voter News Service (VNS), the independent consortium that provided polling and other data to the networks and press agencies for their use during their election coverage, uses exit polling to help those news outlets “project” winners in races. Tauzin spends much of his opening statement attacking VNS and the use of exit polling as the “source” of the election night dissension, and says that on the whole, VNS data “produces statistical biases in favor of Democrats in this case today and against Republicans, that the statistical flaws tend to overstate the Democratic vote in the exit poll and understate the Republican vote.” Tauzin says that investigations have “discovered no evidence of intentional bias, no evidence of intentional slanting of this information,” and instead says the entire problem rests with VNS and its use of exit polling data. In their opening statements, many Republicans echo Tauzin’s remarks. Ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI) calls the election night coverage “a monumental screw-up which I think has embarrassed an awful lot of people.” Dingell repeats Tauzin’s claim that no evidence of intentional bias has been found—calling such allegations “inflammatory”—and says that the focus of future hearings should be on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Having said all that, he goes on to say that the networks’ decision to call Florida for Bush in the early hours of November 8, 2000 was premature, and lent itself to later allegations that attempts by Democratic challenger Al Gore were baseless and troublesome. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) accuses the networks of trying to influence Florida voters in the Panhandle, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by prematurely calling the state for Gore eight minutes before polls closed in that region. In questioning, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) notes the almost-immediate appearance of the “Sore Loserman” campaign (derived from the names of the Democratic candidates, Gore and Joe Lieberman), which attempted, successfully, to paint attempts by the Gore campaign to force vote recounts as attempts to “steal” the election.
Focus on Fox - Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the first to mention Fox News. He reads from a Los Angeles Times editorial, quoting: “Suppose that a first cousin of Al Gore had been running one of the network news teams issuing election night projections. Suppose that having previously recused himself from a columnist job saying his objectivity would suffer from family loyalty, this cousin had chatted with Gore six times on Election Day. Suppose the same cousin had been the first to declare Gore as the winner in Florida on election night, helping coax the rival networks to follow suit, leading George W. Bush to call up Gore in order to concede, thereby helping to create that Gore was the duly elected president of the United States long before all the votes had been counted. Can anybody reasonably doubt that the pundits would be working themselves into a nonstop lather charging the liberal media as accessories to grand larceny? Can we imagine, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news channel right-leaning heads dropping the subject?” Waxman says this was absolutely the case, but with Fox News and John Ellis, not Gore and an imaginary Gore cousin at another network. “[O]f everything that happened on election night this was the most important in impact. It created a presumption that George Bush won the election. It set in motion a chain of events that were devastating to Al Gore’s chances and it immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds than he was the man who won the election.” Several other Democrats echo Waxman’s statements.
Issues with Florida Election Practices - Peter Deutsch (D-FL) cites issues of rampant voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, with over 100,000 ballots, mostly from African-American voters, apparently not counted. Deutsch says flatly that “there is no question, it is no longer debatable that if the vote in Florida were counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States.” Bobby Rush (D-IL) cites a large number of incidents where minority group voters were “harassed by police departments” in Florida and in other states besides. In many instances these voters were stopped from voting entirely; in others, their votes were not counted. Other Democrats, such as Eliot Engel (D-NY), echo Deutsch’s and Rush’s concerns; Engel says: “Al Gore was not the only one who lost that night. The American people lost that night, and the news media also lost that night.”
Testimony regarding Independent Review of Election Night Coverage - The first witness is Joan Konner, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Konner led a panel commissioned by CNN “to look at what went wrong in [CNN’s] television coverage of the presidential election 2000.” Her panel submitted a report on the election night coverage to CNN, and CNN provided that report to the committee. “[S]omething went terribly wrong,” she says. “CNN executives, correspondents, and producers themselves describe election night coverage as a debacle, a disaster, and a fiasco; and in our report we agree.” She blames the problems with CNN’s coverage on “excessive speed and hypercompetition, combined with overconfidence in experts and a reliance on increasingly dubious polls. We have stated that the desire to be first or at least not to be consistently behind the others led the networks to make calls unwisely based on sketchy and sometimes mistaken information.” The choice to create, fund, and use VNS by all the networks was primarily a cost-cutting decision, she says, but that choice was a mistake: “Relying on a single source eliminates the checks and balances built into a competitive vote-gathering and vote system. It eliminates the possibility of a second source for validating key and possible conflicting information.” Another member of the panel, James Risser of Stanford University, notes that the report’s findings apply equally to other networks along with CNN.
Media Panel - After much questioning of the CNN panel, a second panel is sworn in. This panel includes: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes; CBS president Andrew Heyward; CNN chairman Tom Johnson; NBC president Andrew Lack; ABC president David Westin; VNS director Ted Savaglio; VNS editorial director Murray Edelman; and the Associated Press’s president, Louis Boccardi. In an opening statement, Savaglio admits that VNS made “errors” in vote tabulation and predictives based on “flaws” in the statistical analyses. Two major errors were made on election night, Savaglio says, the first leading to the incorrect awarding of Florida to Gore early in the evening, and the second provision of data that indicated Bush had a statistically insurmountable lead in Florida that did not include an accurate tabulation of votes cast in Volusia County as well as errors in other county tabulations and estimates. Boccardi says that the Associated Press used VNS-provided data in the erroneous Gore projection, but “takes full responsibility” for the error. The Associated Press did not join in with the second, Fox News-led projection of Bush’s victory. “[T]he race was too close to call” at that point, he says. “It would be right to surmise that the pressure on AP at that moment [to join the networks in calling the election for Bush] was enormous.” Heyward testifies that CBS, like CNN, hired an independent panel to assess its election coverage, and has a number of improvements to be made for future coverage. “Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you have heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time; and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time in the very state that held the key to this election,” he says. He also notes that charges by Republican committee members that there is an inherent bias in the statistical models against Republicans “has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who are the most highly critical of us.” Lack asks why there was not more media coverage and examination of other voting-related problems, from “ineffective voting machines” and “confusing ballots” to allowing felons to vote.
Ailes's Statement - Ailes blames VNS for Fox’s “mistakes” in its reporting, saying: “As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history the wheels apparently came off a rattle trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.” He claims, “Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.” Ailes does not mention his choice to use Ellis as Fox’s election night anchor in his verbal statement, but in a written statement he submits to the committee, he says that Ellis was not the person who made the final decision to declare Florida for Bush. The news division’s vice president, John Moody, made the final call. As for hiring Ellis, he praises Ellis’s professionalism and experience, and writes: “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections. I am more than happy to give you examples of offspring of famous politicians who are employed at Fox News.” He also says that he was aware that Ellis was speaking to both George W. and Jeb Bush throughout the night, and writes: “Obviously, through his family connections, Mr. Ellis has very good sources. I do not see this as a fault or shortcoming of Mr. Ellis. Quite the contrary, I see this as a good journalist talking to his very high level sources on election night.” Though Ellis has freely admitted to sharing VNS data with both Bushes, Ailes writes, “Our investigation of election night 2000 found not one shred of evidence that Mr. Ellis revealed information to either or both of the Bush brothers which he should not have, or that he acted improperly or broke any rules or policies of either Fox News or VNS.” He concludes: “[I]n my heart I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000. I do believe that the great profession of journalism took many steps backward.”
Questioning the Media Representatives - Almost immediately, Ailes raises the question of skewed exit polling that appears to favor Democrats, though experts have refuted these claims in just-given testimony, and Savaglio has just said that exit polls exhibit no such bias. Ailes tells the panel: “I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and you ask them a question they tend to think it’s none of your business and Democrats want to share their feelings. So you may get some bias there that is inadvertent, just because it’s a cultural thing and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training you’re not going to get them to do that.” Tauzin says that a study of VNS results tends to bear out Ailes’s claim. Westin says if there is bias in exit polling, it cuts both ways, an observation with which Tauzin also agrees. Savaglio admits that after midnight, VNS provided substantially inaccurate information to the networks that led them to conclude Bush had a slight but insurmountable lead in Florida. Lack denies the rumor that Jack Welch, the CEO of NBC’s parent company General Electric, made the decision for NBC News to follow Fox’s lead in declaring Bush the presumptive winner in Florida. Waxman accepts Lack’s denial, but notes that he has been told Welch’s command to declare Bush the winner is preserved on videotape, “filmed by NBC’s advertising and promotions department.” Lack says if the tape exists, he will provide it to the committee. Bart Stupak (D-MI) asks the representatives directly if they believe any bias towards one party or another exists in their networks’ coverage, and all answer strongly in the negative. Heyward says that rumors of networks such as his trying to “slant” their coverage to give the idea of an “inevitable” Gore victory are entirely negative, and says: “[C]ertainly we displayed the popular vote graphic 15 times between 7 and 11. President Bush was ahead every single time; on the electoral count, 75 out of 100 times.… The video [shown by the commission at the beginning of the hearing] that gave the impression that the networks were saying Gore’s got it in the bag I believe was misleading, yes.” Westin agrees with Heyward, and says the networks generally gave the impression of “a much more balanced, much closer race throughout the night.” Under questioning by Gene Green (D-TX), Ailes contradicts previously presented evidence and says no one at the election desk, Ellis or anyone else, was in contact with “Austin” (meaning the Bush campaign and George W. Bush personally) at all that night. (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
House Democrats Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) write to Andrew Lundquist, the executive director of the Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001), asking for access to the task force’s records. Waxman and Dingell ask with whom the task force met and what had been said at those meetings. They base their request on the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), an open-government law that states when nongovernment officials, such as energy company officials or lobbyists, help craft public policy, the government must ensure that a balance of viewpoints is represented and such meetings must be open to the press and the public. Two weeks later, Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, replies, denying Waxman and Dingell any information. Addington says that FACA does not apply to the task force, and attaches a memo from Lundquist asserting that while nongovernmental officials have been part of the task force’s deliberations, since they were not official members of the task force, their participation does not count. “These meetings… were simply forums to collect individuals views rather than to bring a collective judgment to bear,” Addington writes. Addington then advises the representatives that they need to show “due regard for the constitutional separation of powers,” claims that the White House can assert executive privilege over the task force’s records, and finishes with the assertion that Congress is not even entitled to the information Addington has provided—he has done so, he writes, “as a matter of comity between the executive and legislative branches.” (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 ; Savage 2007, pp. 87-88)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says in a report to Congress that for the second year in a row, “limited funding prevented EPA from beginning construction at all sites or providing additional funds needed to address sites in a manner believed necessary by regional officials, and caused projects to be segmented into phases and/or scaled back to accommodate available funding.” The report explains that for 2003 (see July 17, 2003), the funding shortfall amounted to $174.9 million. As a result, clean-up work at 11 Superfund sites was put off and work at 29 other locations was slowed down. (Environmental Protections Agency 1/7/2004 ; Government Executive 1/8/2004; Heilprin 1/9/2004) The 11 sites where work was postponed include Jennison-Wright Corp. in Granite City, Ill.; Continental Steel Corp. in Kokomo, Ind.; Marion Pressure Treating in Marion, La.; Atlas Tack Corp. in Fairhaven, Mass.; and Mohawk Tannery in Nashua, N.H. In 2003, the EPA completed 40 clean-ups, compared to 42 in FY 2002, and 47 in 2001. Under the Clinton administration, an average of 76 clean-ups had been completed each year. (Heilprin 1/9/2004) The report was requested in July by US Senator Barbara Boxer, House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, Rep. Hilda Solis, and Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords. (Government Executive 1/8/2004; Heilprin 1/9/2004)
The ranking members of the House Government Reform Committee and the Committee on Science, Energy, and Commerce ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate the impact that Bush’s proposed budget cuts (see Early February 2006) and the EPA library closures (see, e.g., August 15, 2006 and October 20, 2006 and After) will have on scientific research, regulatory quality, and enforcement capability. The letter cites the concerns of EPA scientists that the changes will “harm the agency’s ability to carry out its mission and will be especially damaging to EPA’s ability to enforce environmental laws.” It adds that EPA employees fear the library reorganization scheme may result in the “permanent” loss of access to many documents. (PEER 8/21/2006; Gordon, Waxman, and Dingall 9/19/2006 )
Four incoming House Democratic committee chairs write a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson demanding that the agency immediately cease the “destruction or disposition of all [EPA] library holdings… and that all records of library holdings and dispersed materials” be kept safe. On October 1, the EPA closed several regional libraries and has since boxed up or destroyed collections from these libraries as part of a library reorganization plan. The closures were prompted by Bush’s 2007 budget request which slashed funding for the EPA’s network of technical libraries (see Early February 2006). However, neither the budget request nor the reorganization plan has been approved by Congress. (Gordon et al. 11/30/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) 12/8/2006) The next day, on December 1, the EPA, apparently ignoring the senators’ request, removes thousands of documents from the website of the Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library (Stoss 12/4/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) 12/8/2006) , which was quietly shut down about six weeks ago (see October 20, 2006).
Dr. Pearson “Trey” Sunderland III, a National Institute of Health (NIH) senior researcher on Alzheimer’s disease, pleads guilty to a federal charge that he committed a criminal conflict of interest. The charges stem from Sunderland’s contract with the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer as a paid consultant for work that overlapped his duties as a public servant. Sunderland is the first official in 14 years to be prosecuted for conflict of interest at NIH, an agency rocked in recent years by revelations of widespread financial ties to the drug industry. According to the original court filing, in early 1998, “Sunderland initiated negotiations with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, to be paid as a consultant for his work on the same project” that he headed for NIH, a research project into Alzheimer’s disease. In June 2006, Sunderland was revealed to have engaged in a secret contract with Pfizer to supply thousands of samples of spinal fluid collected from Alzheimer’s patients at taxpayer expense and slated to be used in NIH research. Sunderland turned those samples over to Pfizer, which in turn used them to refine and market its drug Aricept, a leading prescription drug for treating the disease (see June 14, 2006). According to the original charging document filed with the court, in 1998 Sunderland approached Pfizer with a proposal that he be paid $25,000 a year for “consulting” with the firm, plus $2,500 every time he attended a one-day meeting with company representatives. Pfizer agreed. Later that same year, Sunderland set up another deal with Pfizer to be paid another $25,000 a year, according to prosecutors. The House Energy and Commerce Committee received little cooperation from NIH—Sunderland himself invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify before the committee in June 2006—but subpoeaned 21 drug manufacturers known to have paid NIH researchers. Sunderland’s history of payments from Pfizer, which he did not reveal to the NIH as required by law, were some of those discovered. After that information was revealed in 2004, NIH director Elias Zerhouni requested that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the matter. Government researchers found that 44 researchers, including Sunderland, had off-the-books relationships with drug and biotech companies; many of those researchers were reprimanded and/or took early retirement. At the time of Sunderland’s contracts with Pfizer, NIH restrictions against public-private collaborations were far more lax than they are today. (Beamish 12/4/2006; Associated Press 12/5/2006; Willman 12/5/2006; Fahrenthold 12/5/2006)
'Public Trust Has Been Violated' - Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) asks, “Will a criminal conviction for conflict of interest be enough to get someone fired from NIH?” Bart Stupak (D-MI) adds, “If the National Institutes of Health and Commissioned Corps fail to discipline Dr. Sunderland, even after criminal charges have been brought, we can only conclude that no one is being held accountable, the system is broken, and the public trust has been violated.” (Associated Press 12/5/2006; Willman 12/5/2006) Committee member Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) says: “I found this story incredibly distressing because it is so important that people have confidence in the NIH. It is a pretty big move for people to donate human tissue to further scientific discovery. People have to have confidence that that decision… is treated with the utmost respect.” (Fahrenthold 12/5/2006)
Guilty Plea Avoids Jail Time - Sunderland pleads guilty to the charge under a plea agreement in which he admits to taking some $285,000 in “unauthorized” consulting fees from Pfizer as well as $15,000 in travel expense payments between 1998 and 2003. During the same period, he provided Pfizer with spinal-tap samples collected from hundreds of patients as part of a research collaboration approved by the NIH. He agrees to pay the government $300,000, perform 400 hours of community service, and serve two years’ probation. Sunderland faced up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, but avoided those penalties through his plea agreement. After the hearing, US Attorney Rod Rosenstein tells reporters that Sunderland’s actions constitute a breach of the public trust. (Willman 12/5/2006; Fahrenthold 12/5/2006) According to NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky, Sunderland remains an employee, working as a “special assistant and senior adviser” in a division that gives out grants; Rabolvsky refuses to comment on whether Sunderland faces termination procedures. The branch of NIH that Sunderland once headed, the Geriatric Psychiatry Branch, no longer exists, according to Ralbovsky. (Fahrenthold 12/5/2006) One media report says Sunderland is planning to retire. (Beamish 12/4/2006) Sunderland will later become a doctor and director of the Alzheimer Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. (Lundbeck Institute 12/11/2008)
Pfizer Denies Wrongdoing - For its part, Pfizer maintains that it broke no laws and breached no ethics, saying in a statement: “We believe our actions complied with applicable laws and ethical standards. We are not aware of any allegation that we violated any law or regulation.” (Willman 12/5/2006; Fahrenthold 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times 12/11/2006)
The online news site Wired News reveals that a “whistleblower” is alleging that the US government has had direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier’s systems, exposing US citizens’ telephone calls, data transmissions, and even physical movements to potentially illegal government surveillance. Babak Pasdar, the CEO of Bat Blue and a former computer security consultant, says he worked for the unnamed carrier in late 2003. “What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment,” Pasdar says. “I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that.” According to Wired News, while Pasdar refuses to name the carrier, his claims are virtually identical to allegations made in a 2006 federal lawsuit against four telecommunications firms and the US government (see January 31, 2006); the suit named Verizon Wireless as taking actions similar to those claimed by Pasdar. Pasdar has provided an affidavit to the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has begun circulating the affidavit along with talking points to Congressional staffers. Congress is working on legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms that worked with the government to illegally wiretap American citizens’ communications (see July 10, 2008). Pasdar says he learned of the surveillance in September 2003, when he led a team hired to revamp security on the carrier’s internal network. When he asked about a so-called “Quantico Circuit” linking its network to an unnamed third party, the carrier’s officials became uncommunicative (see September 2003). Quantico is the center of the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations. “The circuit was tied to the organization’s core network,” Pasdar writes in his affidavit. “It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, Web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions.” The “Quantico Circuit” was unshielded, which would have given the recipient unfettered access to customer records, data, and information. Pasdar tells a Wired News reporter, “I don’t know if I have a smoking gun, but I’m certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I’m convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner.” Verizon Wireless refuses to comment on Pasdar’s allegations, citing national security concerns. Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes in response: “Mr. Pasdar’s allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the administration. Moreover, the whistleblower’s allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T.… Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity.” (Poulsen 3/6/2008) Klein will assist Pasdar in writing a letter opposing immunity for the telecom firms based on Pasdar’s evidence, a letter which GAP provides to newspapers across the country. However, Klein will write, only a few smaller newspapers will publish the letter. (Klein 2009, pp. 103)
Democratic representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and John Dingell (D-MI) write a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin J. Martin, urging that his agency begin an immediate investigation of the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro has already written requests for explanations to five different networks, and has received only two responses (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008). DeLauro and Dingell want to know whether the operation violated the Communications Act of 1934 and/or FCC rules, particularly the sponsorship identification requirements. “While we deem the DoD’s [Defense Department’s] policy unethical and perhaps illegal,” they write, “we also question whether the analysts and the networks are potentially equally culpable pursuant to the sponsorship identification requirements in the Communications Act of 1934… and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission.… It could appear that some of these analysts were indirectly paid for fostering the Pentagon’s views on these critical issues. Our chief concern is that as a result of the analysts’ participation in this [Defense Department] program, which included the [Defense Department]‘s paying for their commercial airfare on [Defense Department]-sponsored trips to Iraq, the analysts and the networks that hired them could have run afoul of certain laws or regulations.” DeLauro and Dingell conclude: “When seemingly objective television commentators are in fact highly motivated to promote the agenda of a government agency, a gross violation of the public trust occurs. The American people should never be subject to a covert propaganda campaign but rather should be clearly notified of who is sponsoring what they are watching.” (US House of Representatives 5/6/2008)
House Representative John Dingell (D-MI), an 83-year-old advocate of health care reform, hosts a “town hall” meeting in Romulus, Michigan, to discuss the Obama administration’s plans to reform health care. The forum has so many people attempting to participate that its organizer, the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), says it will sponsor a second forum at a later date. Like many other forums where health care is a primary topic of discussion, anti-health care protesters attempt to disrupt and dominate the discussion by shouting down and chanting over Dingell and other audience members (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009).
Louder and Angrier Participants Garner More Media Coverage - One audience participant, health care reform supporter Chris Savage, writes about the forum on the liberal blog Daily Kos. Savage also takes a photograph of an anti-health care reform protester carrying a large sign depicting President Obama as Adolf Hitler. He says that anti-reform protesters outnumber supporters approximately five to one. In the Huffington Post, Savage later writes: “Typically, the more hysterical the person’s message was or the more angrily they shouted, the more likely they were to get attention from the press. The young black man with the Obama-as-Hitler poster was the busiest one of them all.”
Shouting Down Participants from Outset - Even before the event begins, protesters are shouting and catcalling, with one woman yelling to an elderly reform supporter: “You may be dead in five years! They may euthanize you!” AARP official Erick Schneidewind is shouted down with calls of “Traitor!” and “Liar!” before he can even introduce himself. One disabled woman, Marcia Boehm, attempts to tell her story—how she lost her health care in December 2008 and her pre-existing conditions make it difficult for her to get new coverage—but is shouted down by protesters who scream, “I shouldn’t have to pay for your healthcare!” and “Get government healthcare!” After Dingell takes the podium, another protester, Mike Sola, approaches him, pushing his son before him in a wheelchair. The man accuses Dingell of participating in a government plan to kill his son, who has cerebral palsy, by denying him health care. When Dingell denies the charge, the man begins shouting “Liar!” over and over, and trying to push forward into Dingell’s personal space with his wheelchair-bound son. He is prevented from getting within touching distance by Dingell staffers; he is soon escorted out by police officers. The Daily Kos blogger writes that no matter what Dingell attempts to say, he is countered and sometimes drowned out by screams and chants of “Liar!” “Traitor!” “Bullsh_t!” “Did you even read the bill?” (Dingell helped write the House version of the bill.) “The goverment is going to kill us when we are older!” “The goverment is providing abortion money!” and other shouts, boos, catcalls, and chants. One protester in the second session, Matt McCormack, is particularly noticeable; after the first few minutes of the meeting, where he repeatedly shouts phrases like “Look at me! Look at me! You are being used!” he begins a loud conversation on his cell phone, looking up periodically to scream “Liar!” at inappropriate moments, like when questions are being asked. McCormack later stands up, launches a spate of invective towards Dingell, and storms towards the podium, but is intercepted by police and escorted outside. On his blog, McCormack later claims to have been arrested.
Attempts at Confrontation Outside Hall - Savage reports that outside the hall, anti-reform protesters attempt to provoke a physical confrontation with him, apparently in an attempt to create a disturbance for the media. One protester tells the blogger’s son, “Your dad is a coward!” for refusing to argue with him. (Daily Kos 8/6/2009; Anstett and Gray 8/6/2009; Savage 8/10/2009)
Many from Outside District - Almost half of the attendees who sign in to the event put down addresses outside of Dingell’s district. The Huffington Post will note, “In short, the sign-in sheets lend credence to the accusation that the protests are the product of Washington-based ‘Astroturf’ organizations, rather than evidence of a groundswell of popular resistance to health care reform.” (Grim 8/11/2009)
Refusing Offer to Meet One-on-One, Claims Intimidation - Dingell later offers Sola the chance to meet with him one-on-one to discuss his concerns over his son’s health care coverage, but Sola refuses. Dingell writes: “The offer still stands.… I have served in Congress and I have seen enough in my lifetime to know that the cause before us is too vital, too necessary, and too timely to allow it to fail. I remember many times in my career and in my life when powerful forces tried to stop progress. We cannot let this happen and we cannot allow this opportunity to go by without providing that each and every American has health care. As long as I have a vote, I will not let shouting, intimidation, or misinformation deter me from fighting for this cause.” (US House of Representatives 8/7/2009) Sola will later tell a Fox News interviewer that one or more “liberal thugs” visit his house later in the evening to attempt to intimidate him. These “thugs” are supporters of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sola claims, and says that if he experiences a second such visit, he will use “lethal force” to protect his family. (Kuznia 8/10/2009)
Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) writes a letter to Michigan resident Mike Sola, who was removed from a riotous health care forum hosted by Dingell days before (see August 6, 2009). Sola had accused Dingell and the Obama administration of wanting to kill his son, afflicted with cerebral palsy, with their health care reform initiative, currently labeled HR 3200: America’s Affordable Health Choices Act. Dingell writes to Sola: “I know you left last week’s health care reform town hall in Romulus without answers to your question about what the bill does to help people with disabilities. I attempted to explain an amendment which was adopted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but sadly before I was able to give the details of that amendment, the crowd became disruptive.” Dingell details one element of the House bill, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, “which would create a new, voluntary national insurance program for adults who become functionally disabled.… The CLASS Act is widely supported by many disability groups including United Cerebral Palsy, American Association of People with Disabilities, Assisted Living Federation of America, National Council on Aging, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, and the Catholic Health Association of the United States.… The legislation is based on the principles of independence, choice, and empowerment, and creates a framework to help individuals gain access to the care they need to live independently.… Beyond the CLASS Act amendment, there are other parts of HR 3200 that will guarantee care for your son. First, this bill ends the insurance practice of denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition or charging higher premiums based on health status and gender. If your son ever had to buy insurance on his own, he would be guaranteed coverage. In addition, the bill ends lifetime limits on benefits. With the status quo, no such guarantee exists. Also, HR 3200 will ensure that no one will ever again go bankrupt because of medical bills. The bill ends lifetime limits on benefits, which should bring a particular comfort to all families who have a loved one with a disability because they often need a lot of costly medical care.” Dingell outlines a number of elements of the bill, and concludes: “Finally, your son will have a range of options when it comes to insurance plans. He will be able to keep his current plan, if so desired. No one will force him into any plan against his will.” (US House of Representatives 8/11/2009)
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