Still skeptical after the Wu interview

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

After the hour-long interview that Carla and I did with Congressman David Wu last week, I decided to give it a few days to marinate - and to listen to all of you weigh in.

I went in to the interview hoping that Wu would address our questions clearly and fully, and that he'd be able to put to bed so many of the troubling questions swirling around him. But that just isn't the case.

I've really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I've really wanted to believe that his bizarre behavior was nothing more than some mental health issues that he's now receiving treatment for. I've really wanted to believe that he's now telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (excepting for a reasonable zone of personal privacy.)

But Wu's statements just aren't adding up.

Especially in the light of the new report over the weekend - by the Oregonian's Janie Har and Charlie Pope. Their most recent reporting indicates that Wu was given four, not two, painkillers by the campaign donor on that Tuesday evening. The campaign staffer confiscated two of them, and Wu spent the next day badgering the staffer for those pills.

In our interview, Wu insisted that the whole story is out, saying "I'm not withholding stuff" from the public - and yet, here's another troubling wrinkle in the story. Especially given that this additional information suggests that taking the two pills wasn't a brief instance of poor judgment ("It was nuts!", said Wu), but rather that his poor judgment lasted at least overnight and into the next day. Worse, he didn't realize it was "nuts" when that staffer refused to turn over the pills and was forced to bring in the campaign manager to mediate.

And for a moment, let's consider (again) Wu's claim that he didn't know then - and doesn't know now - what the pills were. As Wu himself said in our interview, "the problem is, it's hard to find that plausible." He's right. It's not plausible, especially given this new wrinkle in the story.

I'm sorry, David Wu fans, but this isn't an instance of a guy in terrific pain making a momentary dumb choice and swallowing a couple of pills. This is over-the-top bad judgment that looks and feels a whole lot more like a drug addict refusing to recognize his problem. Keep in mind: It was just two days later, on that Thursday, that his staff tried to intervene with Wu while he was Central Drugs downtown, according to Willamette Week.

To be clear: I'm not a medical professional, and I have no idea if Wu is a drug addict. But this sure does look like it, and his evasive answers and failure to tell the whole story - even when invited to do so by a friendly publication - sounds like a refusal to take full responsibility for his actions.

This is quite obviously a personal tragedy. And if that were all that it was - and he'd told the whole truth from the start - well, my capacity for forgiveness is large. I'm not one who believes that elected officials are supposed to be morally superior role models for all of society. But Wu's behavior clearly impacted his staff's ability to do their jobs, and his ability to lead them.

Wu has said repeatedly that the most unfortunate aspect of this whole story is that the media have been talking about him - rather than the challenges that the people of Oregon are facing. But he's got only himself to blame for that. And unless Wu comes clean in a hurry, it'll soon be time to start looking for someone else to headline the Democratic ticket in the 1st Congressional District.

See Carla's post-interview thoughts here.

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    Kari - please don't take this the wrong way - I really appreciate you always giving the disclaimer when you're writing about one of your clients.

    I think it's worth noting that Wu is the ONLY member of the Oregon federal delegation that does NOT contract with Mandate Media as its website provider.

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      Alex --

      You are correct. Wu is not (and has never been) a client of my firm.

      Recognizing that, I've been working hard to make sure that I'm giving him the same benefit of the doubt that I would to those that are clients. And I think that I have. I've worked hard to write only about confirmed facts (not the rumors that I hear about off-line every single day), to keep my editorial commentary restrained to those facts, and give the Congressman every chance to answer my questions.

      At some level, I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't. Over at Jack Bog's blog, they're saying that Carla and I are apologists for Wu - setting him for re-election.

      If I kept my mouth shut entirely, I'd be accused of "covering it up".

      In short, I can't say nothing, and I can't say something that goes in a pro- or con- direction without taking crap from somebody.

      So, I'll do my best to tell you exactly what I think. And do so responsibly.

      That's all I can do.

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        And to be clear, I think you do a great job (reporting on politics, and walking that line).

        I hope you understand I am in no way trying to criticize your post, your objectivity (and acknowledgement when there is bias), and your contribution to the small-b blue Oregon scene.

        That said, you may stand to gain if Wu is out, as it's likely that whatever D would run for his seat would use Mandate. I don't think this biases your reporting, but the perception of that potential could be there, hence my opinion that it's a relevant fact.

        Y'all do great work. Keep it up.

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          I see your point agree that disclosure is important. But I doubt that Kari would create a precarious situation on a seat as important as Wu's based on a potential web site contract.

          I approached Kari several years ago about helping to build a union web site around collective bargaining. He was friendly to the union's cause, but said that he was loosely related to someone who worked for one of the employers on the other side of the bargaining table. Even though that person wasn't even remotely part of the contract negotiations, Kari decided to play it safe and passed on the opportunity (with regrets) because of that connection.

          So even in a lower stakes situation than Wu's seat, he applied high standards. You can make of that what you want, but it seemed like a conscientious decision to me.

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          would Kari make enough from a different candidate to make up for whoring his reputation? it's not like Oregon is a big pond; if he doesn't play straight on BO with Dems, he's gonna be toast before long.

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          This is a reaction to Wu's interview, not about Mandate. I'm seriously missing the logic of your assertion that Kari benefits if Wu is out. From what I can gather (having never personally met Kari), he's always supported Wu. So your comment just doesn't make sense.

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            It's the one blue federal seat who's member/candidate is not a Mandate Media client. If Wu's out, the next person would be a prime prospect for new business.

            (to everyone) AGAIN - I'm not saying there's bias. All I said is I think it's relevant. So please, if you'd like to argue about it's relevance, I'm down. If you want to argue whether Kari, Carla or anyone at BO is doing biased reporting, I'm not interested. I think they're doing a GREAT job.

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          FWIW, I'm spending almost all of my business development time working on landing out-of-state clients. Did four out-of-state proposals this weekend.

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      As I noted over at Carla's post, this observation while worth making does not appear to influence content much. It was a long interview that didn't play "gotcha" and gave Rep. Wu a lot of space to make his own points, much gentler than the coverage at Willamette Week or The Oregonian.

      BTW Kari's normal disclaimers if you read them aren't directly about warning readers that he might be biased in favor of clients, though they enable us to ask that question. Rather he appears to be trying to protect clients from possible misinterpretation that he is speaking for them as some sort of quasi-spokesperson because they pay him for different work.

      Anyway I don't detect anti-Wu bias or hostility in the interview or reflections on it.

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      Strongly disagree. Whether you think Wu should be reelected or should resign, I think most reasonable minds can agree that the Oregonian's coverage of the Wu matter has been less than fair. While I disagree with the conclusions of Kari and Carla, I respect the tenor of their interviews and commentary. I cannot say the same of the Oregonian.

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        Dylan, I'd be curious to hear more about your complaints of the O's news coverage.

        In my view, they've been pretty careful to report only those facts that are confirmable.

        I'm not sitting on Janie Har's shoulder, but if she's getting the same huge volume of incoming rumor, innuendo, wild-ass speculation, and (yes) worthwhile single-sourced tips... well, then she's holding back a good 90% of what she's heard.

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          Sure, Kari.

          I get the Oregonian delivered to my house every day so I have read (I think) every article the Oregonian has written on Wu since this whole sordid affair began. I have a couple of complaints.

          The Wu story has gotten way too much coverage. I am not saying this is an inconsequential story or that it doesn’t deserve big headlines (it does). I am saying it does not deserve the level of coverage given to it by the Oregonian. This story should have been on the front page, no doubt, but it better not make its way back onto the front page unless major details emerge. This has not been the case. The paper has repeated the same facts literally a dozen times. If the Oregonian uncovers one new, less than flattering detail of Wu's life (e.g., Wu had a car accident), it uses that as a platform to repeat every detail of his past that could help to portray in a negative light. When a couple days passed in which no new details emerged on the Wu story, the Oregonian simply wrote an editorial rehashing all the old facts (staff leaving, prescription drugs, tiger suit).

          This incessant coverage has been particularly irking as there have been major stories that have been crowded off the front page to make room for this story (e.g., Wisconsin, Japan, Libya). I know these issues have gotten some front page coverage, but in my mind, not enough. There was one day that really upset me. I think it was the Sunday Oregonian following the 100,000-person protest in Wisconsin. The rally didn't make the front page of the paper, but Wu did, again.

          This all being done in the context of the Oregonian having a long, contentious relationship with Wu. There is a fair amount of bad blood between the parties. Unfortunately for Wu, his adversary has a much larger megaphone than he.

          I also think that too much is being made of the staff leaving. I think it was 6 staff members of 40. That hardly an exodus makes. Those staying behind remain loyal to Wu. There was certainly something going on, but I don’t know what and you don’t know what. We shouldn’t assume the worst.

          Ran out of room. Finish in next post…

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            I speak on this subject with some credibility as I worked for Wu more than 10 years ago (02/00 to 06/01). I staffed the congressman in many unguarded situations (at his home, with his family, first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, when he was tired, etc.). After a brief stint on Capitol Hill where I regularly saw megalomaniacal members of Congress and heard of horror stories of staffer treatment, I very much appreciated the kindness and respect the congressman showed for a 21-year old nobody. I was so impressed by his humanity and integrity (one congressman I know is not for sale to anyone), that when I became a middle school teacher, I scraped together money every year to make sure I could give him a moderate donation.

            Wu certainly has issues that need addressed that he has done a poor job of addressing--as you and Carla have detailed well here. Your writing seems stern, but respectful. I glean from your writings that you really do want what is best for the first district, and that the conclusion you reached was not reached lightly. In contrast, when I read the Oregonian’s stories and editorials, it feels more to me like a witch hunt than news coverage. It feels like a person celebrating the misfortune of an enemy, not measured journalism. Someone in a thread compared the Oregonian's coverage of M66/67 to their coverage of Wu. I think that is fair comparison. In both cases, it appears emotion trumps logic or impartiality.

            I wish I could answer your question better, but when I began following this issue several weeks ago, I did not anticipate having to critique the Oregonian's coverage.

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          Does it occur to anyone (especially those of us who've had Oxycontin prescribe for a dental surgery, for instance) that one does not get addicted to those things unless one takes them a NUMBER of times? My dentist told me that you'd have to take 100 tablets before becoming addicted. With Wu chasing down his aide who had two tablets that she'd confiscated from Wu and his willingness to go wherever she was to get them, smells of an addiction.

          If you unearth the source of his supplier, I think you'll find many more cases of Wu taking those drugs illegally.

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    This is over-the-top bad judgment that looks and feels a whole lot more like a drug addict refusing to recognize his problem.

    I said this in so many words the day this started breaking (almost two months ago). The drugs are also Schedule II drugs which makes his having them without prescription a felony.

    This is why you have not heard the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in this story.

    He admits what is going on, he cops to potential felony charges.

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    Wu is a non-entity, what has he accomplished? The only thing he has going for him is he is a Democrat. This string of disclosures on staff leaving and using prescription drugs belonging to someone else is simply further evidence he needs to go. If a strong D doesn't come forward and challenge this embarrassment of an elected official in the primary then some moderate R might come forward and take the seat away from the D's.

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