- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

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. Part of the explanation could be that Miss Cauley apparently was between jobs at the Wall Street Journal and USA Today at the time of the donation, which would make Miss Cauley’s boost to Mr. Gephardt nominally justifiable. But even that doesn’t disprove the perception that such political actions are unbecoming of an unbiased reporter.

Another noteworthy connection is Miss Cauley’s collaboration with Democratic fund-raising heavyweight Leo Hindery, with whom she coauthored a 2003 book, “The Biggest Game of All: The Inside Strategies, Tactics and Temperaments That Make Great Dealmakers Great.” Mr. Hindery, the former chair of the New York Yankees’ YES Network, is among a handful of the biggest players in the country in Democratic fund raising. Federal Election Commission documents show that he has given nearly $1.5 million in political contributions to a variety of candidates and committees — mostly Democrats but also a handful of Republicans — since 1997. The single largest donation went to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2002 in the amount of $500,000.

This doesn’t prove anything about Miss Cauley, of course, except to provide further evidence that she travels in Democratic circles and in one case saw nothing wrong about collaborating professionally with a Democratic heavyweight.

Miss Cauley is considered by peers to be one of the top telecommunications reporters in the country. A rather fawning profile this week by Washingtonian magazine’s Harry Jaffe asserted that “Cauley might have better leads and sources than any reporter on the telecom beat. She’s been covering telecommunications for 20 years. She has collected five beat-up Rolodexes.” In the process, the piece quotes Miss Cauley on the virtues of unnamed sources: “Like any reporter,” she told Mr. Jaffe, “one thread leads to another leads to another” in the “messy process of reporting… This further validates the use of confidential, unnamed sources. They have a real value in our business.”

And sometimes they open a range of questions, including: To what extent could the NSA story be a lot of Democratic spin?

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