Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mark Keam Responds to Unfair Accusations

My good friend, Ben Tribbett, over at NLS, recently ran a piece that he himself termed "opposition research dump." He also claims that it is "fully cited" and "investigated thoroughly."

I agree with Ben completely - it's an opposition dump all right. But it's certainly not good journalism - no, not even good amateur journalism. This is something that has been bugging me about bloggers, including some of the best in Virginia, for a very long time. For all that we criticize the mainstream media for its biases, there are some fundamental rules of real journalism that we toss aside as casually as dirty socks. But with the old media crumbling, we have to get better at truly being fair, accurate, and balanced. That's even true of advocacy journalism. It's one thing to advocate passionately for your candidate and even to do real research and write negatively about an opponent. It's another thing to simply be the tool of a campaign, running with anything they feed you.

Ben's piece was not at all well researched because he never got a statement from his subject. Even if that subject lies or refuses to respond, a real reporter has an absolute obligation to get the subject's side of the story. Sure, you can counter his claims with others' statements disproving it if those other facts don't exist. If the subject refuses to comment, you can say so in your article. In fact, reporters regularly go out of their way to make sure readers know that they have contacted the subject, asked the right questions, and gotten a refusal to answer.

Here, Mark Keam seems very accessible and very willing to answer. I am going to reprint in its entirety Keam's response:
Hey Ben, I don’t recall that we’ve ever met personally, but I’m glad to have made your acquaintance on this blog. I look forward to meeting you sometime.

It seems that you’ve been writing about me and my campaign for the House of Delegates lately. If you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to call me directly at 703-999-2782 or email me at and I would be happy to tell you whatever you want to know about my various jobs or about my involvement with any Democratic campaign in Virginia or elsewhere.

As for this latest round of accusations about my work at Verizon, let me respond so there won’t be any further confusion or comments from various folks who might not be aware of all the facts.

First of all, I don’t know who provided you these charges, but I find it curious that no one seems to be taking credit for these accusations leveled against me. Maybe whoever gave you this set of talking points realizes their “facts” are based on nothing but guilt by association.

Let me give you the real facts as only I can know them.

I’m a former FCC attorney who has specialized in telecommunications law. After working in the government for over a decade, I joined the Government Relations office at Verizon for about two years. My job was to work with Senate Democrats. Among other Democratic initiatives, I worked on expanding broadband access to underserved and rural areas, as well as to keep consumers from paying taxes for accessing the Internet.

I never lobbied on this wiretapping issue. In fact, I never had security clearance to discuss such national intelligence issues. My name is listed as a lobbyist on a wide range of bills that were active in Congress while I was at Verizon because my company listed the entire lobbying team for a Congressional office on lobbying disclosure reports.

I enjoyed working at Verizon and learned a lot. It was valuable opportunity to see how Congress works from the outside, instead of the perspectives I had when I was Senator Dick Durbin’s chief counsel for six years. In fact, when I was on Capitol Hill, I spent everyday fighting extreme Bush administration policies. So I find it somewhat incredible that anyone would suggest that I had anything to do with the Bush administration other than trying to stop their agenda.

Anyway, I hope this helps debunk any confusion that might have been caused by the anonymous charges against me. As a candidate, whenever anyone asks about my work experiences, I always tell them what I did and did not do. I specifically recall a meeting of the Brigades in early February of this year when one of the other candidates in our House of Delegates race and I jointly addressed a group of about 30 people. During Q&As, someone asked me about my lobbying work on behalf of Verizon and I told her as well as everyone else in the room about what I did and didn’t do. Among other details, I recall specifically mentioning that I did not lobby on this wiretapping issue, so at least one of my primary election opponents knows the facts as well.

If you still have any questions, again, please feel free to contact me directly and I’m happy to answer any questions.

Thanks for your interest! Mark Keam
In the interests of full disclosure, I support Mark Keam. But even if his campaign tried to do an "oppo research dump" on me, I would go to whomever was the subject of it and get their response to the accusation. Otherwise, I wouldn't run it.

For more on the subject, check out Lowell's post at Blue Virginia.


Anonymous said...

Lobbying disclosure reports require companies to list the "Name of each individual who acted as a lobbyist in this issue area" ... Mark Keam's name was listed as one of the lobbyists that worked on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. That FISA bill gave retroactive immunity to Verizon. Mark Keam's denial does not jibe with his company's public disclosure records.

Mark also doesn't say whether or not Verizon should have received immunity. If Mark doesn't think Verizon should have gotten immunity, then why did he keep lobbying for them?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

First, if I am reading his statement correctly, Mark has said that Verizon filled out the disclosure form and chose to list the entire lobbying team that lobbied a Congressional office.

He has categorically denied that he ever lobbied specifically on the FISA amendment.

Second, you don't have to believe his denial, but it should have been included in any report. The difference between reporting a news story and being an opinion columnist is that a news reporter -and this would include a blogger who chooses to work on breaking news - has to get all sides of a story. To do that completely, you have to get the story subject's side of the story. You have to get the denial, the explanation, or whatever that subject provides. Even if all you get is a refusal to discuss it, the subject's reaction to accusations belongs in the story.

Finally, if you don't believe the subject, by all means dig further to get the truth. But if you are going to criticize the mainstream press and report the news, do it better than they do, not worse.

Not Larry Sabato said...

Actually darling, I did get a statement from Mark before I published. Federal lobbying forms are signed by the individuals as "accurate" and then filed. So Mark signed off on everything I reported.

Now he is saying those forms are not accurate. I'm going to look into that this week. I believe they are signed under penalty of perjury if they are not accurate, so I wonder if Mark has just actually accused himself of committing a crime by admitting his forms were wrong and he knew they were wrong.

of course, that is if you believe him now over what he said at the time on those forms anyway. Otherwise, moot point.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Oh dear, do I detect sarcasm in the "darling?" Enquiring minds want to know. :)

Seriously, please do look into it, but be a good reporter and ask for Mark's reactions to accusations. If you are going to be a reporter who breaks news, then do it right. You've got the sources and the resources and the talent. Do it well and you will be taken seriously, which is important as the new media gains ascendancy. You are a leader in that new media.

As for Mark Keam, if I hear an accusation about him, I also want to hear an explanation from him in the same story. Most of your readers want that much. I will post more of my thoughts when I see more information to respond to.

I am not a reporter. Indeed, I have resisted that role. I do not break original stories; I comment on news. But you do a lot of legwork and get the stuff the media is too cowardly to pick up. But do it right. I know you can.

Also, for what it's worth, you are by no means the only one who has neglected to go to the subject for a fuller story, you are simply the best at breaking original news, which is why you are the one I went after first. Do what you do well, but do it even better.

kindler said...

AIAW, I completely support your call for more fairness and professionalism in blogging. Let me add that publicly accusing an upstanding individual of being a liar, criminal, and perjurer without having evidence to back up such charges is also not a recommended practice.

The lobbying disclosure site that Ben points to has a long list of bills and a long list of individual lobbyists under them. So Ben and the Baldwin campaign are claiming that every person listed lobbied for every single bill listed. I was not sitting with my ear against the wall of all of those meetings, so I don't know what happened at them, but I would suspect that a division of labor re: who lobbied on which bill would be a wiser approach to managing a business's resources.

Of course, this whole thing is just a massive distraction from the real issues that people care about in the 35th -- and another reminder about why we need to turn the page on the tired old politics of personal destruction and move towards the more positive vision of public service represented by the Obama campaign and its former advocate, Mark Keam.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you, Kindler. I agree. You raised points that I hadn't even considered about a division of labor in a lobbying shop.