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Bryan Preston

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April 12, 2013 - 3:03 pm

Why did David Corn bother releasing the McConnell Tape, the recording in which staffers to the senator are heard strategizing about running against actress Ashley Judd? By the time the tape was released, Judd was no longer a candidate. Everyone who has ever worked on a campaign of any scale immediately knew after hearing the tape that the discussion it captured was typical of any brainstorming session on either side of the aisle, as candidate and staff determine their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. The McConnell Tape was a nothingburger. Its release has, however, become a major problem for Progress Kentucky, the group believed to have recorded it, and maybe for Corn himself. The Federal Bureau of Investigations is on the case.

Yet despite its lack of sizzle, Corn ran with the tape as if he had a major blockbuster. Corn has been in the political news business a long time. He surely knew that nearly everything on the tape was a non-story, a conversation of the type common on campaigns. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint shortly after the tape’s release, amplified by the liberal Huffington Post, claiming that it provided evidence that Sen. McConnell has used official congressional staff to conduct opposition research on Judd (who, not to belabor the point, is no longer even a candidate and never officially was one).

The blockbuster that Corn believed he had was encapsulated in a few words: “thank them three times.” Those words are the basis of the CREW charge that McConnell has used legislative assistants or legislative aides (“LAs” on the tape) for political opposition research. Corn transcribes that passage as follows:

Presenter: So I’ll just preface my comments that this reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs, thank them three times, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through. The first person we’ll focus on…

But what if no one on the tape ever said those words in bold?

The Louisville Courier-Journal took the noisy 12-minute audio and cleaned it up to determine what the speaker actually says on the tape. The newspaper determined that the legislative aide did not say “thanked them three times,” but instead said “on their free time.” So the transcript should read:

Presenter: So I’ll just preface my comments that this reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs, on their free time, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through. The first person we’ll focus on…

The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Helper came to a similar conclusion. Those words make all the difference in the world. If the “thank them three times” interpretation is correct, then the phrase may be evidence backing up CREW’s complaint. But “on their free time” makes it clear that the work was not done on the taxpayer’s clock and therefore there is no basis for the complaint at all.

Corn says that he had the audio for two weeks before he released it into the wild, while he vetted it with lawyers. But did he ever have a sound engineer attempt to clean up the audio, if only to make sure that he was getting the transcript and interpretation correctly?

After seeing the Courier-Journal story, I wondered which interpretation is correct. My professional career outside blogging includes commercial, military and federal agency video and audio editing and special effects, and I am a former technical producer of one of the largest radio talk shows in the US. I cut the relevant portion of the McConnell audio and ran it through a series of processes to push the room noise down and bring the voices up.

Here is the result. First you’ll hear the raw audio, followed by two attempts to clean it up.

Even after removing hiss and adjusting the amplitude, the audio is still muddy. But it’s clear to me that the Courier-Journal is correct, and the speaker on the recording says “on their free time” or “in their free time,” not “thanked them three times.” The “s” sound at the end of “time” is from the following word, “so.” Corn’s interpretation sounds like it could be correct at first listen, until the audio is cleaned up. So he could have made the error in good faith.

Or not.

In January, Mother Jones reported on a high level meeting involving liberal heavyweights who sought to work together to take Republicans down. The meeting took place in December 2012. Sen. Mitch McConnell was among the targets discussed. Besides the usual liberal groups and unions, including the National Education Association which hosted it, Greenpeace, the Communications Workers of America union and others, a group that is involved in the McConnell tape was present.

Other attendees at the December meeting included top officials from the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, Public Campaign, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, Voto Latino, the Demos think tank, Piper Fund, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, People for the American Way, National People’s Action, National Wildlife Federation, the Center for American Progress, the United Auto Workers, and Color of Change. (A non-editorial employee of Mother Jones also attended.)

Emphasis added. What is an ethics watchdog group doing at a political strategy meeting?

Fast forward to April. David Corn releases a tape that captures the gripping discussion of episodes in Ashley Judd’s past that she put on the record herself. And she has already dropped out of the race.

Corn releases the tape, then CREW slaps McConnell with its ethics complaint based on Corn’s incorrect transcription of the tape. It’s a classic one-two, indicating coordination and planning.

Too bad we don’t have any tapes of what was said during that December planning meeting that included CREW and someone from Mother Jones. Surely someone was recording it.

Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

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Top Rated Comments   
"Why did David Corn Run with a False McConnell Tape Transcript?"

For the same reason that Dan Rather tried to use forged documents to destroy George W. Bush. These are not nice people. They will do whatever it takes to pave the way for progressive leftists to transform the U.S. Bill of Rights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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Using LAs for campaign stuff is illegal? Is that true?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Of course it's a non-story, it's aimed at Republicans, Corn and the media have enought there. The facts aren't important, the lunacy and twisted hate are enough
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Too bad we don’t have any tapes of what was said during that December planning meeting that included CREW and someone from Mother Jones. Surely someone was recording it."

Let's ask the good folks at the LA Times, where the Khalid Rashidi tape safely resides.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately, you all forget that the Justice Department is run by Eric Holder. The FBI will investigate, find conclusive evidence that a Watergate-style bugging operation was done (opposition research? For shame!), and the Holder Justice Dept will let everyone go with a warning. When Nixon tried it, it was the crime of the century. This time, David Corn's own mother won't ever hear about it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We must play this game better. If the Dems brring up McConnell dissing Judd, we bring up both Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell and the abuse heaped on them; not to mention Palin and Bachmann.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And then what? Whine some more when the MSM doesn't report on it?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What do you expect from a graduate of the Nation? Corn's shallow and hard left "reporting" in nothing new.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I listened to the clip several times. I could not tell for sure what was being said, even after it had been cleaned up. So I doubt Korn could either. He heard what he wanted to hear. But as one other commenter suggested, “thank them three times” is an odd thing to say.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Who the @#$!! even says "thank them three times" anyway? A listener with any sense who thought that's what was said should have asked for a sanity check to make sure it wasn't something more innocuous and (God forbid) exculpatory.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Why did David Corn Run with a False McConnell Tape Transcript?"

For the same reason that Dan Rather tried to use forged documents to destroy George W. Bush. These are not nice people. They will do whatever it takes to pave the way for progressive leftists to transform the U.S. Bill of Rights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As to WHY Corn went with the false transcript, I'm afraid it is quite clear. Corn is not now, nor has he been at any time in the last 20 years, a "journalist" in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, he is a "Journ-O-List"er, a propagandist whose only interest is in promoting the political left and damaging the political right.

He doesn't seek to present truth at all, except in the rare circumstance it might help his cause. But where the truth is harmful to the left or even just ambivalent, the truth be damned.

That is David Corn's only discernible moral or ethical code. Reading him without first clearly understanding this is just asking to be misinformed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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