Is Mother Jones part of a vast liberal conspiracy? The US Chamber of Commerce says it has uncovered “a predictable pattern” in our reporting on the nation’s biggest, beleagured business lobby: “An advocacy group such as the Yes Men or Velvet Revolution, SEIU, Center for American Progress, the NRDC. . .will post something of dubious accuracy,” said Chamber flak Thomas J. Collamore, speaking yesterday at a forum of conservative bloggers hosted by the Heritage Foundation. “And then Huffington Post or Mother Jones will pick it up and treat it as a fact. And then more mainstream sources such as MSNBC or the Washington Post will treat it as a real story and follow up with us.”
“The Chamber isn’t blinking,” he added. “We’re trying to stay on the high road.”
So far, the Chamber has taken the high road by making blanket statements about the “dubious accuracy” of our stories. It hasn’t said which of our pieces it takes issue with, but a new Chamber web page, boldly titled “The Facts,” offers a hint. It disputes the assertion, first made by me, that the Chamber was forced to lower its membership claims by 90%. “Our direct membership comprises 300,000 businesses,” the page says. “Our federation contains over three million businesses and organizations. We represent both sets [of numbers].”
The Chamber isn’t saying anything new here. It continues to ignore the fact that it almost never cited its true membership number or explained the meaning of the 3 million figure before I pointed out the discrepancy. (I’ve addressed its flip-flops here, here, and here). The Columbia Journalism Review has compiled an archive of the Chamber’s use of the two numbers that clearly illustrates how it has willfully misstated its true size. Even now, most of the Chamber’s web pages and press releases, including the one announcing the “The Facts” site, misleadingly cite only the larger number.
Far from following a “predictable pattern” of parroting advocacy groups, the idea to fact-check the Chamber’s membership claims was entirely my own. In turn, my reporting was picked up by other journalists, several of whom independently reviewed the issue and confirmed my conclusions. As a result, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have all embraced the correct membership number. This isn’t a case of dubious information passing through a liberal echo chamber: It’s a textbook example of reporters doing their jobs. (And the Chamber getting slammed by advocacy groups at the same time).
The Chamber’s accusation that its critics have blurred the line between fact and spin is ironic: A spokesman for a conservative advocacy group speaks at an event for conservative bloggers hosted by another conservative advocacy group, where he makes a statement of dubious accuracy. Will those conservative bloggers pick it up and treat it as fact?