New York Times Continues To Dodge The Truth On Eric Lichtblau’s Issa Story – UPDATED
(Update in section toward the end about the alleged golf course view.)
As most Rostrafarians probably know, the New York Times has corrected two more errors in its article implying improper financial dealings by Rep. Darrell Issa. But the paper is still far from admitting the truth that the story is rotten at its core, and refuses to retract it.
Much more about that — and a correction to the NYT’s bizarre pretension of what’s “cool” — in this post.
The NYT now acknowledges that reporter Eric Lichtblau’s claim of a 60 percent profit on the sale of a medical office building is false. In addition, the NYT has admitted that its claim that the Issa Family Foundation made an unseemly profit from the sale of a mutual fund was incorrect. The foundation lost money.
However, the NYT’s Washington editor, Dean Baquet, still defends the article as “carefully reported, written, and edited,” marred mainly by incorrect information given to Lichtblau. I’m going to go over this letter in some detail. You’re invited to read the letter at the link. And read Issa’s claim of 13 errors in the story at this link.
The NYT has already quickly corrected an error in that “carefully reported, written, and edited” story, you may recall, claiming that Issa’s companies were “multibillion,” when they were in fact in the “multimillion” range.
Well, that was a typo, although an embarrassing one that belies Baquet’s claims about the high quality of NYT journalism. If you believe Baquet, all of Lichtblau’s errors were of the innocent sort — a careful reporter innocently making mistakes because he received bad information.
Correction #2 No profit from Issa Family Foundation sale of mutual fund:
Baquet blames this error on an erroneous filing by the Foundation. Baquet’s letter tries to cast doubt on Issa’s claim.
As noted above, the “incorrect form” you cite was filed by your own foundation with the I.R.S. (http://bit.ly/q6ERUk). We accurately reported the data found on page 16 of the I.R.S. filing. We are aware of no addendum or subsequent filing that would have corrected what you present as errors in the filing, and as I’m sure you’re aware, non-profit foundations are required to attest to the accuracy of their filings.
While we appreciate your sending us a portion of the Merrill Lynch “trade confirmation” from April 2007, that document raises additional questions. It does not include three of the six pages that Merrill Lynch faxed to your wife that day. The material also does not show the sale price or gross sale for the 18,789 shares purchased on April 4,2007, nor does it show the purchase or sale of another 17,636 shares of the AIM International Small Company Fund that the foundation reported purchasing the next month and selling the same day as the earlier shares.
Since the New York Times has issued a correction to this claim, it appears to have no more “additional questions” about the veracity of Issa’s statement. The rest appears to be just an attempt to obfuscate.
Correction #3: No profit from sale of medical office building.
The San Diego county assessor, Ernest Dronenburg, has acknowledged to us that the assessor’s office’s own records were in error in listing the $10.3 million sales price for Viper LLC,’s purchase of 2067 West Vista Way. The $10.3 million figure was listed as the sales price in Nexis-Lexis and other real estate databases as a result of the error, and Mr. Lichtblau confirmed the $10.3 million sales figure and the $16.6 million reassessment with the deputy assessor in a phone interview prior to publication of our article. However, Mr. Dronenberg says that the internal error was a result of a misreading of the transaction and of the S6 million loan Viper assumed from the seller. Mr. Dronenburg told us that the assessor’s office plans to correct the internal data by the end of this week and, as noted above, we intend to correct it in our own pages as well.
If that’s really true, then Lichtblau made an honest error, although it’s eyebrow-raising that this is the second faultless error claimed. The San Diego Union-Tribune was able to get the correct price from Dronenberg’s office.
Well, maybe Lichtblau was just misled twice, or perhaps the Union-Tribune did better reporting.
Now for the dubious claims the NYT is still clinging to, despite what I think is clear evidence against it.
Uncorrected false claim #1: DEI is a Toyota supplier
Lichtblau said in the story:
But perhaps his clearest statement on the issue came last year amid Toyota’s recalls of millions of automobiles with dangerous acceleration problems. Then, Mr. Issa brushed aside suggestions that his electronics company’s role as a major supplier of alarms to Toyota made him go easy on the automaker as he led an investigation into the recalls.
There are two errors here. One, DEI is no longer Issa’s company, and hasn’t been for years. Issa is a director, but no longer owns the company. The inaccurate reference once again belies the claim that the story was “carefully reported, written and edited,” (probably made for legal reasons). The false claim appears to have been the original headline of a Floyd Norris column on Issa and DEI.
Why did Norris (or whoever wrote the original headline for his column) think DEI is “Darrell Issa’s company”? More of that carefuly reported, written and edited” NYT journalism, Mr. Baquet?
Two, according to Toyota, DEI is not a supplier. DEI supplies Toyota dealers, but not Toyota itself.
DEI has produced a number of products in partnership and/or licensing agreements with Toyota and for use specifically in its automobiles, including alarm systems, a “remote start interface for Toyota/Lexis,” an “encrypted key data transponder bypass kit,” an iPod adapter, and a Sirius satellite adapter for use “with select Toyota, Lexus or Scion vehicles.”
Toyota itself has also acknowledged that its dealers may make DEl products available to customers on an aftermarket basis.
This issue might be viewed as a semantic debate over the definition of a “supplier,” were it not for your own statements. In an interview you did with Don Imus the day after the Toyota hearing in February 2010, he asked whether you had failed to ask harder questions of Mr. Toyoda, the company’s chief executive, because of your “extensive, complicated ties” with the auto maker.
As you did in other interviews, you readily acknowledged your past ties to Toyota, identified yourself as a “supplier” three times, and suggested that your sometimes contentious relationship with Toyota over the pricing of DEI’s products made you want to go harder, not easier, on the company during the recall investigation.
What Baquet leaves out is that if you actually listen to the YouTube video, Issa states starting at 3:53 into the segment: “I don’t supply them anymore, I don’t get any revenue, I have no financial connection at all to the auto companies.”
By both Toyota’s statement and the video that Baquet cited, Issa is no longer involved with Toyota as a partner, and DEI is not a Toyota supplier. Yet Lichtblau wrote of that past involvement in the present tense. Baquet ignores it.
Uncorrected false claim #2: The golf course view
Lichtblau’s environment-setting lede (as we journos spell it) of his story is laughable to anyone familiar with the area:
VISTA, Calif. — 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.
As the San Diego Union-Tribune has pointed out, there is no golf course in sight from Issa’s office, and the environment is standard suburban. Baquet says, and I agree with him, that just because the golf course can’t be viewed from Issa’s office doesn’t mean the golf course can’t be viewed from elsewhere in the building.
But Lichtblau said he didn’t actually view the golf course from anywhere in the building. He claims to have seen the building from the Shadowridge country club office. That’s hardly the same thing. In addition, the Union-Tribune (which got the correct information on the medical office building sale that Lichtblau couldn’t), said it was unable to gain entry to the golf course, because it’s private.
The geographical setting doesn’t square with Lichtblau’s claim. I visited there this Sunday afternoon, and noticed that the “gleaming” office (actually an unremarkable variety of office building of which I’ve seen countless throughout North San Diego County), faces an embankment in the direction of the golf course, blocking the view. Perhaps one can see part of the golf course from the roof, on a ladder, but that hardly fits with what the average person would think of as “overlooking,” which implies an unobstructed view and immediate proximity.
By that standard, Issa’s office in the building at 1800 Thibodo Dr. has an excellent view overlooking Highway 78.
You don’t have to take my word for the obstruction. Just take a look at it from Google Earth. Here’s my video of the setting:
In defense of Lichtblau’s claim, Baquet states:
It does appear that parts of the building, one of the tallest in the area, does in fact look out on the Shadowridge Country Club golf course less than a quarter-mile to the southwest. The realty agency itself has advertised the “direct views to golf driving range.”
I had to smile upon reading this bit of misdirection. Real estate agents have been known to exaggerate the favorable views of property they’re advertising. (NOTE: I am not saying this is the case here, only that such exaggerations are well known, so statements like this one need to be independently verified).
Would a “carefully reported, written, and edited” story rely on that statement alone, when it could have proven the matter beyond all doubt with a photo of the view?
Indeed, that most convincing piece of evidence, a photo of the view, is absent from the NYT story or Baquet’s letter. Even a cell phone photo snapped by Lichtblau when he was supposedly on the Shadowridge golf course would be evidence.
UPDATE: The U-T’s Ricky Young points out in the comments that according to Issa’s letter “the real estate listing is based on a driving range that used to be visible from the building but has since been closed down. The listing is an outdated reference, apparently.”
Issa’s bold statement that Lichtblau may not have been on the scene at all is looking more tenable to me. There is nothing in his story that couldn’t have been gleaned from elsewhere. His descriptions are inaccurate and implausible to anyone who’s been in the area.
Maybe Lichtblau spent a night in a hotel nearby to technically claim the dateline, known as the Rick Bragg dateline toe-touch. At this late date, it’s time for Lichtblau and his New York Times editors to answer one way or the other — with objective evidence we can all examine independently.
Moreover, Baquet’s claim contradicts what he earlier told Politico — that just because Lichtblau said the building is “overlooking” the golf course didn’t actually mean it “overlooked” the golf course. When people start issuing multiple explanations for a dubious story, you know they’re factually in trouble.
In the Politico story, Baquet sounded as if he hadn’t even read the Lichtblau story he was defending:
“I don’t think it implied – at least to my mind – that Issa’s office overlooked the golf course,” he said. “I think it is trying to give a sense that this is a building in a cool area. That’s the way I always read it. Otherwise it really would have said his office overlooked the golf course. That would have been even cooler to say.”
But as anyone can glean from Google Earth and the Union-Tribune story, Issa’s office is not in any remotely “cool” area. It’s preposterous for a top editor of the New York Times to float such a ridiculous suggestion. Would Baquet rather spend his time in that part of Vista adjacent to SR 78, or some chic neighborhood in DC, NYC, or LA? Forgive me, Rep. Issa, and that neighborhood of Vista. While that area is hardly a slum, no one would confuse it with cool.
Did Baquet think we’re really that stupid in blowing smoke about “cool.”? Yes, he did. He must have belatedly been informed that even the rubes in San Diego weren’t buying his baloney.
When Baquet was growing up, newspapers like the New York Times defined reality. Today, the Grey Lady is befuddled trying to deal with those people formerly known as the audience, who use tools like the Internet to dispute its erroneous definition of reality. Instead of joining the reality-based community, its acolytes and high priests still bitterly cling to their religion.
That’s not to say San Diego County is devoid of cool, by any means. Our beaches are cool. The mountains are cool. The Gaslamp area is cool. And many other places in our environs are cool.
And where I was last Saturday night, watching the Symphony at Salk at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, was way cool. The setting itself, at a world-class research institute overlooking the Pacific Ocean (no Lichtblauian fibbing here), is cool enough in itself. And the confluence of art in support of science is the coolest yet.
Even certain jaded, leftist and economical-with-the-truth journalists at the New York Times might agree.
(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times.)