The New York Times vs. Claire McCaskill (photos from the Wall Street Journal and Official Congressional Bio Guide)
Just to follow up on Adam's post and my post yesterday. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) gave an interview yesterday where she harshly denounced a New York Times report that claimed she privately worked against St. Louis's bid for the Democratic National Convention. Jake Wagman at the Post Dispatch has a compilation of numerous St. Louis officials who back up McCaskill's contention that she never privately advocated against St. Louis, including Mayor Slay and his chief of staff. However there are a couple of points on this controversy which continue to concern me:
Republicans have been making noise about McCaskill's comments since Tuesday. They've been emailing various journalist with statistics on the economic benefits a party convention would have brought to St. Louis, while juxtaposing this information with the report that McCaskill privately urged party leaders not to choose St. Louis in order to insinuate, that she put her own political career above the economic health of the city. This activity certainly gives me pause because that's what I argued in my earlier post and I do not share the agenda of the RNC.
Wagman's article states that, "It is possible that McCaskill supported hosting the convention, while at the same time wondering how it would effect her -- the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive." However its worth noting that Wagman cites a February 1st article by Jeff Zeleny at the New York Times which reports:
Ms. McCaskill, one of the president’s closest friends in the Senate, publicly supported having St. Louis host the convention, but she raised several concerns to the White House, according to party officials familiar with the selection process. She questioned whether her re-election would be complicated if the convention were held in St. Louis
This language differs greatly from an earlier blog post Zeleny wrote which I cited in my first post:
Ms. McCaskill, one of the president’s closest friends in the Senate, took her concerns directly to the White House, according to party leaders familiar with the selection process. She argued that her re-election could be complicated if the convention was held in St. Louis, because the Democratic gathering will almost certainly attract protesters and compete for fund-raising.
In this earlier post McCaskill certainly doesn't seem to be "wondering" as Wagman states but rather "arguing" in a attempt to persuade Obama administration officials that a convention in St. Louis could hurt her politically and should be held elsewhere. She cites specific reasons, including a lack a fund-raising dollars from Democratic donors and protesters presumably from the Tea Party which were pervasive during Ed Martin's failed congressional campaign. These are logical arguments that any candidate in McCaskill's position would have made. True, the same could be said for "moderate" Democrats in North Carolina, but Obama polls significantly better there than in Missouri. These details from Zeleny's blogpost make it more believable McCaskill would privately argue against a St. Louis bid even in the face of her denials.
McCaskill and others also point out that the New York Times relied on anonymous officals, in an attempt to discredit the story. While this is a fair point, anonymous sources have become a fixture of journalism in Washington. As Adam points out Judith Miller among other New York Times journalists used anonymous sources to falsely make claims about Iraqi WMDs. However Zeleny has not faced any charges of journalistic malfeasance and is generally respected with plenty of access to "senior party" officials.
Earlier on Wednesday Zeleny stated he "stood by his story." Furthermore according to Chris King at the St. Louis American, Zeleny's editor also backs up the story. Adam makes the fair point, that Zeleny might have misinterpreted his source however Zeleny has repeatedly stood by his article when questioned about it. So either Zeleny, his source, or McCaskill are being dishonest.
Its hard to justify why a White House official would falsely claim McCaskill argued against the convention particularly since this official gave specific arguments she made against hosting it in St. Louis. There would be little motivation for anyone in White House to harm McCaskill politically, since she's almost universally regarded as a "close friend" of the Obama Administration. The anonymous official might have thought that a disclosure would not make waves outside of the beltway therefore not think before speaking to Zeleny.
As for McCaskill she issued a vigorous denial which will play itself out. Perhaps few in the press will follow up on this story and it will die. However if the New York Times's account is accurate it shed's light on McCaskill and the respect she holds for Missourians. What ever the case I hope more facts come out to better understand the situation.