Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

  Looking for a journalist

Yesterday I commented on the failure of the corporate news media to mention anything about Scott Bloch's notorious lack of integrity when reporting that his Office of Special Counsel has begun an investigation of Karl Rove. The news of this "investigation" provoked a small fire-storm on line, and several public interest groups (such as POGO and CREW) posted scathing commentaries. A few bloggers also reviewed Bloch's shabby career at OSC (I like to believe that the analysis here is the most thorough of them).

Well, the national news media responded to that pressure today by acknowledging that some groups have certain reservations about Bloch's record. And yet, disturbingly, even this clean-up operation was performed sloppily. The most important issues, once again, go ignored.


For example Tom Hamburger, whom I singled out yesterday for criticism, has a second story about Bloch in the LA Times that attempts to salvage the first one. Hamburger points to a few instances of Bloch's mistreatment of OSC personnel, but he ignores the core issues that are most relevant to the credibility of Bloch's current "investigation". Hamburger also distances himself from the credibility of the complaints about Bloch:

Even as Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch moved forward with plans for a sweeping probe of the Bush administration, several advocacy groups complained that his ties to the administration and to conservative groups, as well as his record on gay rights and whistle-blowers, made him the wrong man for the job...

A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, communications director James Mitchell, waved away the complaints, saying agency staffers have already begun to form an internal task force, led in part by career staff, to probe three broad areas of activity involving the White House and senior advisor Karl Rove....

The advocacy groups charge, among other things, that Bloch initiated a policy that made it more difficult for gay employees to allege discrimination.

A whistle-blower group said Bloch had a poor record of protecting those reporting wrongdoing. And, these critics pointed out, the Office of Personnel Management is investigating alleged improper employment practices including intimidation of workers at the Special Counsel agency.

"This is a job where you don't have a lot of friends," Mitchell said. "You don't make people happy when you zap them for violations or reject their whistle-blower complaints."

You might be excused for thinking that the complaints are merely about poor management practices by Bloch. We're also informed adjectivally that Bloch's probe will indeed be "sweeping", rather than as many commentators have surmised, simply a smokescreen.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAnd what core issues are entirely absent from this clean-up operation? If you read my post from yesterday, you'll recall that Bloch has been accused of many improprieties that go well beyond mere personnel disputes—the most important of which is the allegation that his office has (a) put enforcement of the Hatch Act into the hands of a political appointee, and (b) actually enforced the Hatch Act in grossly partisan ways in 2004 (in order to favor the Bush administration and to disfavor John Kerry).

Today I discovered another example of Bloch's politicization of the Hatch Act:

In a January decision on another Hatch Act controversy, Bloch decided not to seek sanctions against NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin for telling a Houston Rotary Club in March 2006 that "the space program has had no better friends in its entire existence than [then-Rep.] Tom DeLay. He's still with us, and we need to keep him there."
Bloch concluded that Griffin "should have exercised better judgment" but decided to issue only a warning letter to Griffin.

The Hatch Act, of course, is intended to prevent federal officials from using their offices for political purposes. Urging an audience to help an embattled Republican leader could scarcely not qualify as a political message. So Bloch's decision in this case was to refuse to uphold the Hatch Act.

As I documented yesterday, Bloch has been accused as well of politicizing his office by getting rid of (yes, sacking) career staffers in order to replace them with partisan loyalists. Indeed, the allegation is that Bloch dreamed up an elaborate scheme to push out the top-level staffers which was designed to provide him with the excuse that they were fired for cause. Bloch then tried to cover up what he'd done as it came under scrutiny; allegedly he falsified the history of how and why he dreamed up the scheme in the first place.

All these things are directly relevant to Bloch's credibility in investigating violations of the Hatch Act and of the replacement of US Attorneys with partisan hacks.

In his second article, however, Hamburger mentioned none of this.


As I remarked yesterday, he's not alone in ignoring the central concerns about Bloch's credibility and integrity. All the major reporting on the "investigation" of Karl Rove avoided mentioning Bloch's notoriety.

Today, Neil Lewis of the NY Times tried to provide a more critical assessment of Bloch.

But the head of the Office of Special Counsel, Scott J. Bloch, is himself under investigation by the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management over accusations of politicizing his agency.

That's a good start. But where does it lead? Practically nowhere:

A group of employees who work for Mr. Bloch has filed a complaint saying he tried to dismantle the agency, illegally barred employees from talking to the news media and reduced a backlog of whistle-blower complaints by simply discarding old cases. Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer representing the employees, said it was obvious that Mr. Bloch was trying to use the investigation to divert attention from his own problems.

That's it for any concerns about Mr. Bloch's record of politicizing his office.

R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post does somewhat better. He actually devotes a few sentences to Bloch's disdain for enforcing the Hatch Act. However discussion of this "controversial" (rather than, say, "corrupt" figure) is postponed until the end of the article and focuses on Bloch's record before arriving in DC and (yes) his management decisions at OSC.

Smith's article is the only genuinely critical appraisal of Bloch's "investigation" of Rove that major news outlets have produced to date, and at that, it is rather inadequate.


A final point, which I myself ignored yesterday and which all the corporate news reports have neglected: Any investigation of Bush administration wrong-doing has to involve lawyers. So what kinds of lawyers has Bloch hired at OSC?

As we learned recently, the Bush administration has a nasty habit of hiring large numbers of new lawyers from fourth-rate religious law schools such as Pat Robertson's Regent University. Bloch, a crusading ultraconservative Catholic, has been doing his part in hiring marginal legal talent (h/t to em dash for this link).

Bloch has stacked the OSC with graduates of Ave Maria, an ultraconservative Catholic law school in Michigan, and signed the former headmaster of his son's Catholic high school to a no-bid consulting contract (a crony hire that flies in the face of the very anti-nepotism laws Bloch is also required to enforce as special counsel, says [executive director of PEER, Jeff] Ruch).

These political appointees have moved in to the positions that were vacated when Bloch purged so many career staffers. Thus any "investigation" of the Bush administration, even if it were meant to be above-board, would be led by half-witted Bush-loyalist lawyers.


The aforementioned profile of Bloch by Sam Graham-Felsen, as well as this current article in Mother Jones by the always insightful Daniel Schulman, are the kinds of things that reporters should have been reading before breathlessly writing up the latest Bush administration "investigation" of itself.

crossposted from Unbossed

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