I try to steer clear of political and religious commentary because I don’t feel I know enough about either to be able to stand up and fight down to the fine details. I’ll be the devil’s advocate on most any subject just for fun (and I’ll even advocate the Devil in some situations) but that’s usually as far as it goes.
That being said, I’ve got a question for y’all:
Let’s say a newspaper ran a story or series of stories alleging that a very senior U.S. Senator backed some legislation which directly benefited his son.
Let’s further say that the senator is very angry about these stories which he considers malicious attacks against him.
So far, so good. I don’t see any problem except woe to the reporters who have gotten the story wrong, if that is the case.
But now let’s say that the senator in question goes beyond saying the reporters are big fat liars and dirty scoundrels. Let’s say the senator threatens to open a congressional investigation into possible fraudulently inflated circulation numbers by this chain of newspapers.
Does that sound like abuse of power? Does that sound like an ethics violation?
Just curious if anyone else has a problem with this.
Stevens irate over suit query
THREAT: Senator says he'll probe newspaper's circulation claims.
By LIZ RUSKIN
Anchorage Daily News
Published: September 10, 2005
Last Modified: September 10, 2005 at 11:08 AM
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens lashed out at Alaska news reporters Friday, alleging that the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU-Channel 2 are engaged in a "vicious attack" on him and his son, state Senate President Ben Stevens.
"I intend to pursue it to find out why it is the owners of these media, that I have had a relationship with for over 40 years, have changed and decided to maliciously attack me as consistently as they have," Ted Stevens said.
Speaking with four Alaska reporters in his Capitol Hill office, he pointed his index finger, accusing them individually and collectively, blaming them and the companies they work for.
Stevens, 81, was angry that reporters had asked about a lawsuit involving his son and his connection to a company called Adak Fisheries. Ted Stevens said the questions allege that he did favors for his son, which he angrily denied.
"This is a continuation of a vicious attack against me and my son. It's politically inspired," Stevens said.
The lawsuit, which was partially resolved this week, is a complicated fight over control of Adak Fisheries and its agreement with the Aleut Corp. to lease a fish processing plant on the closed Navy base at Adak.
The stakes in the case are high because in 2003 and 2004, Ted Stevens added a rider to a federal spending bill to give the Aleut Corp. exclusive rights to a new $10 million Aleutian pollock fishery with the idea of turning the old Adak base into a thriving commercial fishing town.
A few months before the bill passed, the Aleut Corp. awarded the management of its pollock allocation to Adak Fisheries.
Back in 2003, when Stevens' fishery legislation was pending, the Daily News reported that Ben Stevens was a paid consultant to Adak Fisheries, which was poised to benefit from the bill. The paper also published the elder Stevens' denial that his son had lobbied him on the issue. In addition, the Daily News noted that Ben Stevens was on the board of an Aleut Corp. subsidiary that was working to redevelop Adak.
But a series of lawsuits and countersuits this summer revealed that Ben Stevens may have been more involved than that. According to the lawsuits, Ben Stevens obtained an option to buy 25 percent of Adak Fisheries in 2002. He signed a document attempting to exercise that option in 2004.
A judge issued a partial ruling in the case this week. He will decide in the next phase of the trial whether Ben Stevens' ownership claim in Adak Fisheries is valid, among other disputes.
What apparently ignited Ted Stevens' anger on Friday were questions about whether he awarded the pollock allocation to the Aleut Corp. to benefit his son.
He said he did it to benefit the people of the region and never discussed it with Ben.
"It had nothing to do with my son," he said.
He said he only learned of his son's possible ownership interest in Adak Fisheries "in the paper."
Actually, the Daily News has published almost nothing about Ben Stevens and his ties to Adak Fisheries since 2003, with only brief citations in two stories last year.
On Friday, the Daily News reported for the first time that Ben Stevens is a defendant in the Adak Fisheries lawsuit. The story gave the younger Stevens a passing mention and his father none at all. The paper is preparing a longer report and this week asked the senior Stevens for an interview.
KTUU has aired three stories over the past two weeks on Ben Stevens and Adak Fisheries.
Stevens alleged the Daily News and KTUU have been out to get him for years -- starting, he said, with a Daily News story in 2003 about how Stevens turned $50,000 into assets worth about $1 million by investing with Anchorage real estate developers John Rubini and Leonard Hyde.
"I know who you're after," he said, wagging his finger at the Daily News reporter in his office. "You're after me, and you've done a good job so far of keeping me tied down."
He said the "attack" on him involving his son in effect alleged a criminal conspiracy and was "very close to libel."
He said he didn't know why McClatchy Newspapers, the California-based company that owns the Daily News, would pursue the "malicious attack" on him.
"But people that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," he said.
He noted that McClatchy has been sued in Minnesota for allegedly inflating circulation figures for its largest paper, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.
"I intend to find out if they're pursuing that activity in our state," Stevens said. "And I intend to show them we can fight back."
The Minnesota lawsuit was brought by four advertisers. According to a Wall Street Journal account of the case, a Star Tribune distributor whose husband works for one of the advertisers said a Star Tribune field representative told her to order extra papers to boost circulation numbers.
McClatchy maintains the claim is without merit.
Stevens hinted at some kind of congressional action.
"I believe there should be a law, a federal law, that requires truthful disclosure of circulation, and we intend to pursue that," Stevens said, in the course of venting his ire with reporters.
Is there a connection between his interest in accurate circulation numbers and his anger at media coverage of him?
"I don't see a connection, any more than you see the connection in connecting me with my son. OK? You draw your own conclusions," Stevens said.
Daily News Publisher Mike Sexton said the newspaper's reported circulation figures "will stand up to any examination" and said decisions about what to cover are made in Anchorage.
"It's unfortunate that Sen. Stevens has taken the position of attacking the media in an attempt to deflect attention from his son's current situation," Sexton said in a written statement. "I can assure the senator that decisions about what to publish are based on newsworthiness, with those decisions being made by executives and staff located in Alaska."
Sexton said it was a "very interesting approach" to attack the newspaper for "a story about (Ben Stevens) yet to be published."
KTUU news director John Tracy said his station is owned by a family business in Washington state but is run by longtime general manager Al Bramstedt, whose father sold the station to the Washington outfit.
Stevens alleged that Alaska reporters have decreased his effectiveness as a senator, he said.
"And whether you know it or not, I'm responsible for almost $3 billion a year that goes into the Alaska economy," he said. "My ability to do that now is questioned. The reason for my doing that is questioned. I think that you've harmed Alaska by this malicious attack on me."
Reporter Liz Ruskin can be reached at email@example.com.