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Dan Rather interviewed former Texas legislator and Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes in order to establish that Barnes used undue influence to get George Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. Rather didn't mention the fact that Barnes has been a major contributor to the Democrats and to the Kerry campaign; over the past five years, he has generated almost a half-million dollars for the DNC and John Kerry, as I reported earlier. Rather treated Barnes as a reluctant witness instead of the partisan he is.
However, CBS News did not always treat Barnes with such kid gloves. New Jersey blogger Just Dan notes that as late as June, CBS looked at Barnes more critically as a potential beneficiary of a John Kerry victory:
The Kerry campaign has begun tracking major fundraisers using a Trustee Leader Board, CBS News has learned. While keeping tabs on fundraisers is nothing new, the twist is that the Kerry campaign is tracking donations to the Democratic National Committee, not to the campaign itself. ...
[S]everal donors, who spoke to CBS News on the condition of anonymity, said that the money was being carefully tracked by the Kerry campaign, most likely for recognition should Kerry win the presidency. In a sign of the campaign's involvement, last week's Leader Board memo was sent around by the Kerry campaign itself.
CBS knew that Kerry campaigners had already taken a large interest in keeping track of the big-money contributors, and Beth Lester specifically mentions Barnes:
As of last week, according to information received by CBS News, 20 donors have given and/or raised more than $250,000, enough to earn them the designation of Trustee. Of those, eight have actually raised more than $500K. Those half-millions include Texas lobbyist Ben Barnes, Wall Street financier Stan Shuman, Iranian American PAC Board of Trustees member Hassan Nemazee and Texas lawyer Mark Iola. Eventually, says a source inside the process, the over-$500K raisers will have a special name designation but no moniker has been chosen yet. ...
Although the Kerry campaign's tracking is perfectly legal, Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics notes that tracking donors is a sign that "campaigns, political parties and donors do all understand that this is a system of giving and getting rewards for giving." And, Noble continues, "Kerry, like Bush, plans to acknowledge these people if he wins the election. And that could be in the form of government appointments, ambassordorships, favorable hearings on administration policies."
The possible impropriety between major donors and major appointments is not lost on anyone. After CBS News obtained a copy of the memo, several donors were alerted by the DNC and members of the Kerry campaign. Some of those donors then asked to have their names removed from the list and to remain anonymous to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the future, said one donor whose name remains on the list.
Whatever else CBS says or doesn't say about Ben Barnes, they cannot claim ignorance about his status as a major contributor to Kerry and the DNC. Dan Rather needs to explain why an issue which CBS felt was important news regarding Barnes' expectations from his heavy contributions did not warrant exploration in the context of his accusations against Kerry's opponent. CBS viewers deserved to have that context presented to them in order to properly weigh Barnes' accusations.Sphere It View blog reactions
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