For an entire day in September 2008, the cable news networks reported on "Lipstickgate" -- an episode that will forever be a blemish on journalism.
Today, I have to ask: Where's the media outrage over a true scandal, Arlen Specter's Cancergate? (Yes, I'm coining that term -- to describe Specter tricking the public into donating to a cancer cure website that actually funds his political campaign.)
Also today, I believe I'm first to break some news: Arlen Specter's campaign has quietly changed his "Specter for the Cure" website after initially denying it was a scandal. And I have the screenshots to prove it.
(UPDATE: Response from Specter's campaign below. Thanks for the recs so far, and here's a Digg link. If you haven't yet voted in the progressive Straw Poll about primarying Specter, voting is here through Monday.)
First, the back story. The hint of scandal was first dropped Sunday, May 3, in a Fort Worth Star Telegram article quoting OpenSecrets.org's Sheila Krumholz:
As an example of a misleading Web site, she cites www.Specterforthecure.com. It appears to be a fundraising site for a reform movement to help Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., fund programs that will seek cures for major diseases and illnesses.
Actually, it’s a fundraising arm for the re-election of Specter, who last week switched parties from Republican to Democratic.
Unfortunately, "Watchdog" reporter Dave Lieber completely buried the lead in paragraph 23, potentially dooming it to obscurity. Until...the same publication resurrected the item the next day and put it in a headline, "Arlen Specter and his confusing web site." This story elevates some important details:
A Specter spokeswoman told The Watchdog: "Specterforthecure.com is explicit throughout — including the name itself — that the site raises money for a candidate."
The same morning [Dave Lieber's original] column ran, Specter was on CBS' Face The Nation to talk about his recent defection to the Democrats. Specter took a moment to mention SpecterForTheCure.com. See if you can figure out what the site's purpose is from his remarks:
"And one of the items that I’m working on, Bob, is funding for medical research. I’ve been the spear carrier to increase medical research. And I’ve even established a Web site, Specterforthecure.com, to try to get people to put more pressure on Congress to join me in getting more funding." (Full transcript here.)
[Bold added to emphasize, ahem, lies.]
Here is a screenshot of SpecterForTheCure.com, taken yesterday (Friday, May 8) at about 5pm EST. If your mother or grandmother heard Arlen Specter on CBS and went to this site, what would they think they were contributing to?
Fortunately, a few reporters and bloggers picked up on this scandal. Specifically: Politico's Manu Raju Thursday, May 6, at 5:46pm. Blogger SenateGuru Thursday at 10:34pm. TPM's Brian Beutler Friday at 9:12am. USA Today's Congress Team Friday at 1:47pm.
And yet another Specter campaign official defended the site:
Specter's campaign manager, Christopher Nicholas, told Politico that no one could be "genuinely confused about where contributions to this website go."
If that's true, how does the Specter campaign explain to all the people who have already given money on this site -- and the few reporters who did their job and reported on this site -- this:
(Screenshot taken 1am EST Saturday, May 9. Clean version here.)
If you are a reporter reading this, here's a message for you: This isn't just a "cute Internet story" or "interesting catch" you read before moving to the next tab you have open on your screen.
This is a scandal involving someone at the center of national news. It's your job to cover Cancergate -- at least as much as the media covered "Lipstickgate," and likely more. Arlen Specter went on one of the Sunday shows that mold political conventional wisdom and lied to Americans. Any cancer survivor or concerned citizen who went to that site to "put more pressure on Congress" to fund cancer research got defrauded by Specter.
If you are a regular citizen, what are you going to do about this? One productive thing you could do is email this post to 3 political reporters right now. Their emails are often right in their articles. Posting it on Twitter and Facebook, sending to your friends in Pennsylvania, and Digg'ing it would also be good.
If you are a Democrat or progressive, and you haven't yet partaken in the grassroots Straw Poll launched by national and Pennsylvania progressives on the issue of whether Dems want Specter representing them on the ballot in 2010, consider weighing in here -- voting ends Monday:
Cross-posted at OpenLeft at 6:30am. Follow me on Twitter.
UPDATE 9:50am: And the award for "First Journalist To Report On Today's Website Update News" goes to...Ben Smith, of Politico. Forthcoming awards: "First reporter to ask Specter if he'll return the money made before this change" and "First reporter to use Cancergate in a story."
UPDATE 3:27pm: Politico's Manu Raju gets a statement from Specter's campaign manager:
Nicholas said Saturday that the changes were "just normal fine tuning as we roll out and enhance the web site."
Really? Will Specter refund the money to people who gave before this site change?