In 2009, Judicial Watch made a big splash when they revealed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been using military aircraft to travel to and from her home district in California to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars.
The spendthrift nature of the Democrat-controlled Congress was a key election issue in 2010 and Speaker Pelosi’s extravagance was Exhibit A. In response, Rep. John Boehner promised that if the GOP took control of the House and he was elected speaker, he would fly commercial to and from his district. After Republicans won, he reiterated his pledge.
Which brings us to March 23, 2012 and this update at self-appointed watchdog Politifact. Reporter Molly Moorhead referenced documents from the House and the Congressional Research Service and came up with absolutely no evidence that Boehner has been asking for or receiving military transport to and/or from his district.
Going by the old theory that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, Moorhead and her bosses at Politifact, decided that this merited an “In The Works” label. Unfortunately, the Pledge-O-Meter is not really conducive to movement along its scale when the issue is truthfulness. By this point in Boehner’s speakership, this should be Promise Broken or Promise Kept. The speaker has either been flying commercial (and his spokesman is telling the truth) or he’s been flying military (and his spokesman is lying). There is no middle ground.
That is, unless your reporter hasn’t done all they could’ve to actually report the story.
When I saw this, as is the case with most analyses by Politifraud, I was suitably outraged, annoyed and disgusted.
The professional journalists apparently can’t be bothered to file a FOIA with the Air Force—which is how we found out about Air Pelosi.
And that’s what got me. I’ve got a journalism degree. I’ve got a Pulitzer Prize on my shelf. I know how to fill out forms. So, on April 12, for the first time since I was a wee little reporter at The Lompoc Record, I filed a FOIA with the Air Force.
I request any Mission Expense Records and Passenger Manifests which include Speaker of the House John Boehner and flights made between any Washington, D.C.-area military base—specifically Andrews AFB—and the state of Ohio in the time period of Jan. 2011 through March 2012.
I would like the records to include:
1. The date(s) of the flights.
2. The type of aircraft the Speaker flew on.
3. The names of any other members of Congress or the Executive Branch who were also on those flights.
4. Any additional expenses incurred on the flights
5. Any written communications between the Speaker’s office and the Air Force on any special requests on the flights (food, entertainment, etc.)
And last week, I got my answer.
Is this definitive that Speaker Boehner has kept his promise? In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I’d say that this is a big yes.
But this is only a little bit about Speaker Boehner and his promise. This is more about Politifact, which continues to tout its 2009 Pulitzer three years later. If you look back at the genesis of Boehner’s promise in the Pelosi scandal… If you look back and see how that malfeasance was uncovered… If you want to verify it’s not happening again…
You file a FOIA.
You don’t leave it to some guy in his pajamas to do it for you. [Clarification: I'm actually wearing jeans and a T-shirt.]
Politifact’s initial analysis ended with this:
We will continue to seek more concrete records of Boehner”s travels and follow this pledge. If readers see him flying commercial—or on a military jet—please let us know. For now, the evidence is enough to move the needle to In the Works.
They’ll be getting an e-mail shortly after this is posted. Then we’ll see if this moves their needle a little more.
[Editor's note: This article was originally written at the end of April, but as I was doing an edit/re-read I realized that it appeared that the Air Force letter only dealt with departures from Andrews AFB, not arrivals. I sent an e-mail trying to get a clarification, but received no response. Seeing as how I'm no longer a professional journalist, I've decided to leave the rest of it to someone who's getting paid to do it.]
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