Monday, February 6, 2012

Euphemism Watch

As we congratulate Sen. Collins on her engagement, it'd be a mistake not to draw attention to a telling aspect of the announcement's coverage in the media.

Namely: prominent Maine outlets--uniformly, as far as I know--followed the junior senator's script, referring to fiance Tom Daffron as a "political consultant" and "longtime Senate senior staff member" and a few other things but never as a corporate lobbyist or K Street bigwig. (Yes, his lobbying and consulting shop is located on K Street.)

By contrast, ABC News called a spade a spade.

It's not the most glaring omission made by the Maine press in recent history. But since the Daffron-Collins relationship isn't likely to come in for much scrutiny in the coming months and years, it's an omission worth examining.

First, it's easy to figure out why MPBN chose to call Daffron a "public policy and political consultant" and why Bangor Daily News went with "Senate senior staff member and a consultant." Both outlets ran pieces that seem to lean heavily on a press release. And in the case of BDN, the reporter assigned wasn't someone on the political beat who's likely to be familiar with Daffron's history.

But Portland Press Herald is a different story. Because Washington-based reporter Jonathan Riskind is clearly aware that Daffron is most accurately described as chief operating office of a K Street lobbying and consulting firm with blue-chip clientele. And he knows--or ought to--that Daffron has done lobbying work for corporate clients including defense contractors going all the way back to 2000.

So what does Riskind do with this information? Here's how he introduces Daffron:

Collins, 59, got engaged Sunday to Thomas Daffron, a public policy and political consultant in Washington who was chief of staff to William Cohen when Cohen represented Maine in Congress. (Emphasis added.)
In short, willfully misleading. And in a way clearly designed to minimize the awkwardness of the fact that Collins--ranking member on the Governmental Affairs committee and a member of the Armed Services committee--is marrying a senior official at a firm that's lobbied for Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and other big defense contractors while also winning consulting contracts with the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

Then, as if to insulate himself from the charge that he's been abjectly deferential to Collins and her interest in obscuring the truth, Riskind tucks this pair of sentences in at the bottom of the article:

He is now chief operating officer for Jefferson Consulting Group. The firm does lobbying, but Daffron is not a registered lobbyist.
Got that? Having established at the top of the piece that Daffron--who's been working in lobbying for the last twelve years--is a "political consultant" Riskind owns up to the fact that his subject is "now" Jefferson's COO. And then, as if anticipating a question that hasn't been asked, our intrepid reporter makes sure readers know that Daffron is not himself a lobbyist.

Even though Daffron was lobbying--for Jefferson Consulting Group--just a few years ago.

Look, rewriting Daffron's biography to suit the political interests of his fiancee isn't going to bring down the republic. But make no mistake: This is shilling disguised as reporting. It's an errand run on behalf of powerful people under the guise of good faith "journalism."

When it comes to balancing the interests of his readers and his sources, it's abundantly clear which side Riskind comes down on.

Not pretty, but it is what it is.

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