Whose 'Embarrassment' Is Secret Taping of Sen. McConnell? NYT Says It's His, WP Says Left-Wing PAC

At least one major paper is taking seriously the illicit taping of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's strategy session by a left-wing Democratic PAC, which then found its way into the left-wing magazine Mother Jones.

The magazine's first foray into hidden video struck left-wing gold -- capturing candidate Mitt Romney's claim at a fundraiser about the "47 percent" who would vote for Obama because they were dependent on government. But this new clip, in which McConnell's staff discusses a potential Democratic opponent, actress Ashley Judd, seems to have backfired on the magazine and the liberal PAC Progress Kentucky, who provided the clip, both of which are in legal hot water.

But New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel saw only embarrassment on Sen. McConnell's side in his Friday account, buried under an innocuous headline on page 14, "McConnell Recording Is Linked To a PAC."

Gabriel, who in February warned the GOP not to take lightly a Judd candidacy (she has since withdrawn from consideration) put the onus of controversy on the mild things McConnell's team said about Judd, not the illicit and probably illegal bugging of the strategy session by a controversial left-wing group.

Even before Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, knew the source of an embarrassing leaked recording, he attacked “the political left” for “wiretapping” him and invoked Watergate.

Opponents accused him of trying to divert attention from the substance of the recording -- in which he and his staff discussed attacking the actress Ashley Judd, who was considering running against him. But on Thursday, Mr. McConnell’s suspicion seemed to be confirmed. A Democratic official in Kentucky said two activists had told him of secretly recording the meeting while in a hallway of Mr. McConnell’s re-election headquarters in Louisville.

“Apparently the gentlemen overheard the conversation and decided to record it with a phone or recording device they had in their pocket,” Jacob Conway, a Democratic Party county executive, told the NPR News station in Louisville.

Mr. Conway identified the activists as members of Progress Kentucky, a political action committee unaffiliated with a candidate. He told Fox News he was coming forward to protect the Democratic Party, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation began looking into the recording.


Most of the tape includes staff members discussing negative research dug up on Ms. Judd, including a history of depression and her religious views. A recording is played of her explaining, “I enjoy native faith practices and have a very nature-based God concept.”

What Gabriel describes darkly as being "dug up" actually came straight from Judd's autobiography, which she presumably intended people to read.

Although candidates routinely gather “opposition research” about rivals, a left-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked the F.B.I. and the Senate Ethics Committee on Thursday to investigate if laws were violated by McConnell staff members who did the research on Senate time or using Senate resources.

The name Progress Kentucky might sound vaguely familiar to non-Times readers because of a member's racist Twitter posts about McConnell's wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan. But the Times has never mentioned that controversy in print (the paper's liberal opinion editor Andrew Rosenthal condemned Progress Kentucky on his blog February 26), and Gabriel didn't bother to tell his readers about it either.

Gabriel continued to portray the illegal taping as a problem for McConnell, not the Democrats.

As major issues stirred to life in Congress -- gun control, immigration and the budget -- the circuslike diversion at home presented a further distraction for Mr. McConnell, who Democrats say is more focused on defending his seat, especially from the right, than leading his party. They noted that Mr. McConnell has sided with conservative senators in several losing battles, including proposed filibusters, in which some Republicans joined Democrats to outmaneuver him.

By contrast, the Washington Post took it seriously. On the front page of Friday's Post, Rachel Weiner and David Fahrenthold reported that "Kentucky group is the PAC that couldn’t shoot
." While Gabriel insisted that Republican McConnell had produced an "embarrassing leaked recording," the Post located the shame on the Democratic side, arguing in the fourth sentence that the group had "twice already....made national news by attempting to embarrass McConnell -- but instead, embarrassing themselves." The Post then brought up that second attempt, the "tweets about McConnell’s Taiwan-born wife."