Leslie Cauley, the USA Today reporter who last week "broke" the news
that three major U.S. telecommunications companies were assisting the
National Security Agency in building a database to more easily track
any communications by potential terrorists, is listed as a donor to
former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, according to a search
of The Center for Responsive Politics Web site. A search found a
listing for "writer and journalist" Leslie Cauley, indicating she gave
$2,000 to Gephardt on June 30, 2003, when Gephardt was running for the
Democratic presidential nomination. Before Cauley joined USA Today,
she teamed up with former AT&T and Global Crossing executive Leo
Hindery to write a book on business deals, Biggest Game of All. But
Hindery is not just a businessman -- he's listed as a major donor to
Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party, and was even mentioned
by The Hill newspaper as a possible DNC chairman in late 2004.
The home page for the Center for Responsive Politics:
[This item, by the MRC's Rich Noyes, was posted Friday morning on the
MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Cauley's link to a Democratic campaign seems likely to further cloud
the credibility of her story. Two of the three phone companies Cauley
fingered, BellSouth and Verizon, have since denied the accuracy of the
May 11 USA Today story, and BellSouth yesterday went so far as to
demand the newspaper "retract the false and unsubstantiated
statements" made by Cauley in her piece. There have also been
questions about the timing of the story, which was given huge play on
USA Today's front-pages shortly before the former head of the National
Security Agency, General Michael Hayden, was due to face confirmation
hearings to be the next CIA director, and given the fact that many of
the key points of the story were actually reported last December by
the New York Times.
Cauley's Democratic campaign contributions seem not to be her only tie
to liberal politics. Before Cauley joined USA Today, she teamed up
with former AT&T and Global Crossing executive Leo Hindery to write a
book on business deals, Biggest Game of All. But Hindery is not just a
businessman -- he's listed as a major donor to Democratic candidates
and the Democratic Party, and was even mentioned by The Hill newspaper
as a possible DNC chairman in late 2004. See: www.thehill.com
The two were apparently close, at least at one point. According to a
2005 write-up in Broadcasting and Cable, "Cauley and Hindery developed
a close relationship during their book project, giving her access to
his insights and many documents from that period." The magazine,
however, notes that "their collaboration apparently ended very badly,"
with Cauley trashing Hindery in a later book, End of the Line: The
Rise and Fall of AT&T.
According to B&C: "She [Cauley] calls him a 'carnival barker,' 'a
junk-food addict with a waistline to match' and, in a particularly
cheap shot, a 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy makeover just screaming
to happen.'" For the B&C article: http://www.broadcastingcable.com
Friday's USA Today carried BellSouth's demand of a retraction on page
4A, below a more prominent story headlined "Senators challenge Hayden
on surveillance," with partial transcripts of General Hayden being
asked Thursday about the claimed NSA database program.
According to Friday's USA Today:
"BellSouth asked USA Today on Thursday to 'retract the false and
unsubstantiated statements' about the company that it contends were in
a May 11 story about a database of domestic calling records maintained
by the National Security Agency.
"In a letter to the newspaper's publisher, Craig Moon, the company
noted that the story said BellSouth is 'working under contract with
the NSA' to provide 'phone call records of tens of millions of
Americans' that have been incorporated into the database. "'No such
proof was offered by your newspaper because no such contracts exist,'
stated the letter, portions of which were read by spokesman Jeff
Battcher. 'You have offered no proof that BellSouth provided massive
calling data to the NSA as part of a warrantless program because it
simply did not happen.' "Steve Anderson, a USA Today spokesman, said
'We did receive the letter this afternoon. We are reviewing it, and we
will be responding.'..."
For the May 19 USA Today story: http://www.usatoday.com
The paper also included this background that seemed designed to justify
their earlier publication:
"USA Today first contacted BellSouth more than five weeks ago. On the
night before the story was published, the newspaper described the
story in detail to BellSouth, and the company did not challenge the
newspaper's account. The company's official response at that time:
'BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to
the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority.'"
Since the story broke, Cauley herself has made the rounds. The
Washingtonian magazine's Harry Jaffe wrote a gushing profile
applauding her "victory for beat reporting." He quoted Cauley as
saying her USA Today "scoop" demonstrated the usefulness of unnamed
"Like any reporter," she says, "one thread leads to another leads to
another" in the "messy process of reporting."
"Part of the messy process was clearing the use of anonymous sources,
on which the story was based.
"Says Cauley: 'This further validates the use of confidential, unnamed
sources. They have a real value in our business.'"
For the May 16 Washingtonian magazine posting: http://www.washingtonian.com
With the phone companies demanding a retraction and her own Democratic
connections now revealed, the "value" of her unnamed sources seems
increasingly dubious. Could Leslie Cauley may be on her way to
becoming a print version of CBS's disgraced Mary Mapes?
END of Friday NewsBusters posting by Rich Noyes.
On Saturday, I posted the following update:
An editorial in Saturday's Washington Times highlighted the Noyes item
first posted on NewsBusters. The May 20 editorial, "Spinning, Spying
and USA Today," recounted: "With Verizon and BellSouth both
challenging USA Today's report on their alleged participation in NSA's
surveillance programs, it's not yet clear whether or to what extent
the claims in the Gannett daily's much-discussed article are
true. What's clearer is that USA Today reporter Leslie Cauley has ties
to the Democratic Party, which the Media Research Center's
'NewsBusters' Web site unearthed yesterday. Searching through
campaign-filing records, Rich Noyes discovered that Miss Cauley gave
$2,000 to then-Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt in
2003. That's the type of activity that journalists normally avoid if
they wish to be perceived as objective..."
The Washington Times also relayed another part of the Noyes item,
noting "Cauley's collaboration with Democratic fund-raising
heavyweight Leo Hindery, with whom she coauthored a 2003 book."
For the editorial in full: www.washingtontimes.com
Near the end of Friday's show, Rush Limbaugh briefly mentioned
Cauley's donation and the http://RushLimbaugh.com home page over the
weekend featured a link to the Noyes item on Cauley. Right under the
picture of liberal Senator Patrick Leahy holding up Cauley's front
page story, Limbaugh had a link to NewsBusters: "USA Today Writer Has
Ties to Democrat Campaign." Limbaugh's home page:
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Well, it would seem no one has their
hands completely clean, does it? I only spent so much of last week
printing articles about this incident because of its implications and
relevance to telecom. Those of us who have _some little bit_ (or
more) knowledge of the workings of ESS were not surprised to hear that
producing telephone records these days is so relatively easy. But I
did not expect this incident to have the political overtones which
have developed. But then, why should that be such a surprise? PAT]