U.S. News & World Report / CREW blow it big time (UPDATED 9/13)

Further evidence that journalists are just pawns of the political agendas of our leaders


Elizabeth Flock recently published an article on her Washington Whispers blog on U.S. News & World Report titled, Ron Paul One Of The Most Corrupt Members Of Congress, Report Finds. After investigating these allegations, I have found that not only is this headline wildly inaccurate, but Elizabeth Flock and the citizens watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have missed a huge opportunity to report on actual ethical lapses in Washington – which I have managed to uncover in less than two hours – in addition to serious ethical lapses by Flock and allegations of partisan political agenda seeking by CREW.

This article caught my eye because former Presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) has a reputation for being one of the most honestconsistently principled,  frugal, and transparent members of congress. As Ms. Flock reports, Ron Paul has been accused of requesting reimbursements for travel expenses for the same flights both from the U.S. government and from Libertarian leaning non-profit groups that support his campaign and political agenda. Even Ms. Flock notices the implied irony:

The revelation would be ironic in part because Paul made fiscal responsibility a central tenet of his 2012 presidential campaign. The congressman celebrated a major victory in July when his bill to audit the Federal Reserve for greater transparency passed the House.

Ms. Flock states that all of these non-profit groups are, “under his control or his campaign committee,” thus implying a very nefarious level of corruption indeed.

This implication seems very fishy beyond just that, however. Why would a politician worth $4.9 millionnickel and dime his own non-profits (in amounts such as $230.50, $323.60, $403.70, & $646.50 for a total of $15,000) over a period of 10 years while simultaneously returning $100,000-$140,000 of his office’s budget to the U.S. Treasury on a repeated annual basis?

This isn’t the first time Congressman Paul has been accused of improper dealings regarding his Congressional travel. At first glance, I thought this article was a reference to the previously debunkedclaim made back in January that Ron Paul was making lavish first class airline flights on taxpayer dollars (Jan. 17, 2012).

I carefully researched Flock’s two sources for her article: CREW’s Most Corrupt report and an article published in Roll Call titled, Records Show Ron Paul Trips Paid Twice (Feb. 6, 2012) by Jonathan Strong. As it turns out, this story was unrelated to the January article, however the timing seemed very strange. Further investigation was warranted.

The first problem I discovered was that CREW’s report actually does not specify Congressman Paul as being one of the most corrupt members in congress. Yes,  he is included in a report titled CREW’s Most Corrupt 2012. In the report, CREW gave Congressman Paul a “Dishonorable Mention” for the ongoingimplication that he “double-billed” the U.S. Government and non-profits for up to $15,000 in travel expenses. Immediately, I realized that Elizabeth Flock was either being extremely careless in her reporting or willfully misleading her readers by the headline she chose for her blog.

Then I discovered something else that caused me concern: CREW’s sources of implied “double-billing” boiled down to one single source: Jonathan Strong at Roll Call. This was the same back-up source Ms. Flock used in her article. As it turns out, Ms. Flock was not using this as a back-up source, but rather all implications of Ron Paul’s corrupt dealings boiled down to a single source: Jonathan Strong.

Mr. Strong published a total of three articles about this matter:

Records Show Ron Paul Trips Paid Twice (Feb. 6, 2012)

Associate Confronted Rep. Ron Paul About Flights (Feb. 21, 2012)

Nonprofit Prods Ron Paul for Repay of Flights (May 15, 2012)

A careful read through of these articles shows that:

1. The evidence is based on stolen American Express credit card bills and comparisons of amounts to reimbursements made by the government and other non-profits or implied by hand-written notations on the stolen documents. And this required “several layers” of documentation to make the implications:

Roll Call identified eight flights for which the Texas Republican, a GOP presidential candidate and leading champion of smaller government, was reimbursed twice for the same trip. Roll Call also found dozens more instances of duplicate payments for travel from 1999 to 2009, totaling thousands of dollars’ worth of excess payments, but the evidence in those cases is not as complete.

Records Show Ron Paul Trips Paid Twice – Roll Call

The credit card statements reviewed by Roll Call include handwritten notations that indicate several organizations — Paul’s campaign, Liberty Political Action Committee (“Liberty PAC”), the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education and another nonprofit called the Liberty Committee — would pay for many of the flights.

Records Show Ron Paul Trips Paid Twice – Roll Call

In all, Roll Call found 26 flights from 1998 to 2005 for which several layers of documentation show double payments.

Nonprofit Prods Ron Paul for Repay of Flights – Roll Call

2. There is no evidence that any intentional or systematic fraud has ever taken place. Rather, the evidence points to nothing more than an infrequently repeated clerical error.

Spokesman Jesse Benton said it was “possible that wholly inadvertent errors were made in a handful of instances” in which flights were reimbursed twice, but he maintained that “absolutely zero taxpayer funds were ever misused.”

3. There is no evidence that Congressman Paul had any knowledge or involvement in the billing or reimbursements of his flights. In fact, sources related to the previously debunked “First Class Flights” scandal indicate his staff handles all of his travel arrangements and billings:

“We always get him full refundable tickets since the congressional schedule sometimes changes quickly,” said Jeff Deist, Paul’s chief of staff. Paul might have to pay out of his own pocket for canceled flights in some cases if he didn’t buy refundable tickets, Deist said.

Ron Paul Defends First Class Flights – The Huffington Post

4. Both Ron Paul & his staff have been cooperative in investigating this matter even though in some cases some parties have been less than pleased with the results so far.

“I don’t care what flights the Liberty Committee pays for,” James said, “because Ron never took enough in expenses to come anywhere near his value to us. And this was piddly. But it’s just what it was.”

Associate Confronted Rep. Ron Paul About Flights – Roll Call

Paul recently told James that his office is investigating the payments and will return money to Liberty Committee if duplicate payments are found. Roll Call provided Paul with the documents it used in this report, as well as a summary of James’ recollections. Paul’s office said they are “reviewing” the records.

Associate Confronted Rep. Ron Paul About Flights – Roll Call

Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said James, who worked for Paul for 18 years and says he still supports the lawmaker’s political message, is “pursuing a personal grudge” against the Texas Republican. Benton said Paul will be “happy” to review the allegations.

Nonprofit Prods Ron Paul for Repay of Flights – Roll Call

Thus far, based on the only three primary sources related to this issue, it would seem that Jonathan Strong has not gathered enough evidence to support that Congressman Ron Paul is corrupt as CREW seems to imply with its inclusion of him on their report and Elizabeth Flock flat out states with her blog headline.

In fact, this evidence does not even add up to the definition of corruption, which is more related to kick-backs and bribes (often from Lobbyists), but rather implies clerical incompetence related to multiple staffers handling reimbursements from separate sources for expenses while not comparing notes.


Then the story takes a turn for the bizarre…


Since Jonathan Strong is the only individual directly reporting on this topic – and both CREW and Elizabeth Flock are relying solely on him for their information – I decided to investigate Mr. Strong. My findings seem to indicate there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Jonathan Strong was formerly a staff assistant and legislative correpondant for Congressman Dan Lungren (R-CA). And according to this article Media Matters, Strong has come under fire for “providing friendly coverage of the congressman” while reporting for the Daily Caller.

In fact, Media Matters confronted Roll Call about this very issue when he was hired:

When asked by Media Matters if Strong would cover Lungren or legislative activity he’s involved with, a Roll Callspokesperson said the details of his House assignment have yet to be finalized but they’re “excited to bring” him aboard.

“As with many of our talented journalists, they have a distinguished work history that accompanies them to our newspaper,” said Rebecca Gale, Roll Call’s Director of Promotions, in an email. “We have not finalized details of Jonathan’s reporting, but we expect he will continue to report on Capitol Hill with the highest integrity and ethics that Roll Call is known for.”

Roll Call Hires Former House GOP Staffer Jonathan Strong To Cover House (Jul. 29, 2011) – Media Matters

Strong mentions Congressman Lungren in passing in his third article reporting on the Ron Paul story:

Since the Paul story broke, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) has introduced a resolution to strengthen travel reporting requirements in the House.

Quigley’s proposal would require Members to itemize individual travel expenses, among other things, in order to fill in gaps in publicly reported data that arose in 2009.

Salley Wood, a spokeswoman for House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), said Lungren is reviewing Quigley’s proposal.

Nonprofit Prods Ron Paul for Repay of Flights – Roll Call

What is most interesting about this story is that Congressman Lungren is a very staunch political rival of Congressman Paul. The earliest evidence of this comes in 2007 while Strong was still employed by Lungren. On the Ron Paul Forums a few members made note of Lungren’s political positions and voting record contrary to  Paul’s positions. Noted were Lungren’s support for bank bailouts and his support for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), both positions Ron Paul has been opposed to (FISA) (bailouts).

Furthermore, in the 2012 Republican Primary, at the same time Jonathan Strong was publishing these articles on Roll Call, Congressman Lungren was endorsing Paul’s rival, Newt Gingrich, for President. Lungren’s public support for Gingrich’s presidential run dates back as early March 2011:

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) also reacted positively to news that Gingrich is set to open a presidential exploratory committee.

Gingrich 2012 News Gets Mixed Hill Response (Mar. 2, 2011) – Roll Call

Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign was marked by very harsh attacks against Ron Paul and the two are considered very strong political rivals. Gingrich even dedicated a significant portion of his Iowa Caucus concession speech to blasting his opponent, Paul, who placed third, for his foreign policy views – after placing a distant fourth behind Paul.

So let us retrace the events here:

  1. 2006-2008: Jonathan Strong is employed by Congressman Dan Lungren and receives attention for also reporting favorably on Lungren at the Daily Caller.
  2. 2007: Dan Lungren is identified by Congressman Ron Paul supporters as a major political rival to Paul’s political positions.
  3. March 2011: Dan Lungren expresses support over Newt Gingrich’s run for President, later officially endorsing him.
  4. April 2011: Ron Paul returns over $140,000 in unused funds from his congressional office to the U.S. Treasury, a something he has repeatedly done during his time as a Congressman.
  5. December, 2012: Gingrich identifies Paul as “worse than Obama” declaring he (Gingrich) would never vote for him (Paul) if he received the GOP nomination.
  6. January 3, 2012: Gingrich loses the Iowa Caucuses, placing a distant fourth behind Paul’s third and specifically targets Paul for criticism in his concession speech.
  7. January 17, 2012: An AP article comes out accusing Ron Paul of lavish spending on First Class flights on taxpayer’s dime, but is subsequently debunked by Lawrence O’Donnell and various other sources.
  8. February 6, 2012: Jonathan Strong publishes an article on Roll Call implicating Ron Paul in another travel related scandal, this time for receiving double reimbursements from non-profits and the government to the tune of $15,000 over a 10 year period based on stolen evidence that does not actually imply intentional fraud or Paul’s knowledge/involvement. Strong published two follow-up articles with no new evidence presented.
  9. September 2012: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) gives Paul “dishonorable mention” in their “Most Corrupt Members of Congress” report based solely on the three Strong articles published earlier that year.
  10. September 12, 2012: Elizabeth Flock of U.S. News & World Report publishes on the Washington Whispers blog, “Ron Paul One Of The Most Corrupt Members of Congress, Report Finds”

What both CREW and Flock fail to report is that their sole source, Jonathan Strong, is tied very closely with Congressman Paul’s political rivals and has a history of abusing his position as a reporter to make politically favorable reports.

Ignoring the fact that Ms. Flock did not do due diligence in tracing her sources to a single individual or uncovering his own possible unethical political motivations, I was disappointed that Ms. Flock would publish this misleading blog post based solely on the regurgitation of other sources without seeking primary sources herself.

However, a look into Ms. Flock’s own history as a journalist shows that she herself has a recent history of ethically questionable journalism practices:

Washington Post Writer Elizabeth Flock Resigns After Editor’s Note Claims ‘Significant Ethical Lapse’ (Apr. 17, 2012) – Huffington Post

EDITORS’ NOTE: An earlier version of this report made inappropriate, extensive use of an original report by Discovery News and also failed to credit that news organization as the primary source for the blog post. This was a significant ethical lapse and not in keeping with our journalistic standards. We apologize to Discovery News.

Report: NASA’s Viking robots may have found life on Mars in 1976 (Apr. 13, 2012) Elizabeth Flock –The Washington Post

So what has actually happened here? It would seem that Jonathan Strong, a Washington reporter with his own set of questionable reporting ethics and long standing ties to Congressman Ron Paul’s political rivals, has single handedly managed to use unsubstantiated evidence against Congressman Paul to trick CREW into implying Ron Paul was corrupt. This in turn, was taken one step further by Elizabeth Flock of U.S. News & World Report by stating that the CREW report found Congressman Paul to be “One Of The Most Corrupt Members Of Congress.”

In summary, Jonathan Strong publishes an article that implies, at worst, isolated clerical errors over a period of 10 years that resulted in the double-reimbursement of airline tickets to the total of nearly $15,000. No one thought to question why a Congressman who is worth $4.9 million and has returned over $500,000 of his congressional budget to the U.S. Treasury would nickel and dime his own supporters for $15,000 over 10 years. Yet, CREW finds this sufficient evidence to include Congressman Paul in the Corruption Report as a “dishonorable mention.” And somehow, Elizabeth Flock finds that to be sufficient reason to label Congressman Paul as “One of the most corrupt members in Congress.” Hogwash.

  • Shame on you, Jonathan Strong and Roll Call for your slopping, ethically questionable reporting and for your lack of disclosure.
  • Shame on you, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for not vetting your sources better.
  • And shame on you, Elizabeth Flock & U.S. News & World Report, for not only jumping on the bandwagon and missing the Strong-Lungren connection, but for also willfully and falsely misleading your readers into believing that Congressman Ron Paul has been found to be corrupt.

UPDATE 1 (9/13/2012) – CREW


After further research, it would appear that the reliability of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and its “Most Corrupt” list itself have come under fire in recent years for lack of disclosure and possible ethical violations.

CREW’s mission statement states:

 Day in and day out, we work to ensure government officials — regardless of party affiliation — act with honesty and integrity and merit the public trust.

CREW accomplishes this by marrying in-depth research and investigation with hard-charging legal action and an aggressive communications strategy. We augment these efforts by building coalitions to push for policies favoring transparency and accountability.

However, in 2008, Roll Call accused CREW of custom tailoring its criticisms and activism to pursue the private political agendas of its donors which include SEIU, the Arca Foundation, the Brett Family Foundation, the Gill Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute . In that article, Paul Singer alleges that CREW has frequently filed ethics and Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaints and named politicians on their “Most Corrupt” list who were political opponents of CREW’s donors. Most of the named ethics complaints and FEC complaints were dismissed.

Source: Watchdog, Donors Share Common Foes (Jan. 29, 2009) – Paul Singer – Roll Call

On August 14, 2012, Rick Berman, President of Berman and Company, published a piece on The Daily Caller titled The CREW farce. As the previously mentioned Paul Singer Roll Call article points out, Berman has long been a frequent target of CREW’s attacks. In his article, Berman accuses CREW of upholding a double-standard and not even following their own ethical standards:

In recent years, fewer than 15 percent of CREW’s complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission have hit Democrats and left-leaning groups, while 76 percent have hit Republicans and center-right groups.

(CREW Executive Director Melanie) Sloan often attacks 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations for declining to disclose their donors, yet she refuses to disclose CREW’s — also a 501(c)(3).

“I wouldn’t have any donors if I revealed all my donors,” Sloan said in an interview with Time magazine. Pot, meet kettle.

A website, CREWExposed.com, has also been published through Activist Cash, detailing the allegations that CREW is a “non-partisan, Democrat, leftist attack dog” that does the bidding of its donors.

While it is not surprising that the targets (and their supporters) of CREW’s attacks are actively seeking to discredit CREW, as I myself discovered through the investigation of their inclusion of Congressman Ron Paul as a “dishonorable mention” on their “Most Corrupt” list, they certainly are not working very hard to vet their sources and are willing to exaggerate a story to smear someone based on a single, unreliable source.

This is yet just another piece of the puzzle that Elizabeth Flock seems to have missed in her using CREW as the source for her article’s headline while defending their integrity and legitimacy in her article’s comment section.


UPDATE 2 (9/13/2012) – Elizabeth Flock


My research into Elizabeth Flock has revealed that there is even more unethical reporting involved in her resignation from the Washington Post than I previously mentioned. On December 14, 2011, Flock published a Washington Post blog under the headline Romney is using a KKK slogan in his speeches.

This, of course, turned out to be completely inaccurate and prompted a full apology/explanation article from the Post’s Patrick Pexton as well as an editor’s note on the original blog post itself:

Editors’ note: This posting contains multiple, serious factual errors that undermine its premise. Mitt Romney is not using “Keep America American,” which was once a KKK slogan, as a catchphrase in stump speeches, as the posting and headline stated. In a YouTube video that the posting said showed Romney using the phrase, Romney actually used a different phrase, “Keep America America.” Further, the video that the blog posting labelled “Mitt Romney 2012 Campaign Ad” is not actually a Romney campaign ad. The video itself states “Mitt Romney does not actually support this ad.” The posting cited accounts of Romney saying “keep America American” at an appearance last week. Independent video from the event shows him saying “Keep America America.” The Post should have contacted the Romney campaign for comment before publication. Finally, we apologize that the posting began by saying “[s]omeone didn’t do his research” when, in fact, we had not done ours.

This only further cements that Elizabeth Flock has a tremendous lack of judgement in her crafting of misleading and false blog post headlines as was also demonstrated in the Washington Whispers blog mentioned above. It is no wonder that her tenure at the Washington Post was cut short earlier this year. One can only wonder how long U.S. News & World Report will put up with her.


MY OWN DISCLAIMER: On a personal note… While I do not support Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential run, I previously volunteered in 2007-2008 for the Ron Paul Christmas Vacation in Iowa & South Carolina. In January 2012, I lent assistance organizing rides and lodging for Ron Paul Grassroots supporters attending the Iowa Caucuses and also provided informal training about how to respectfully conduct yourself as an “out-of-stater” attending the Iowa Caucuses. Citing my support for Gary Johnson, I did not volunteer for or speak on behalf of Ron Paul at the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, but instead babysat for volunteers from Illinois attending the event. I have also made donations totaling less than $200 to the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign. I have always found Ron Paul to be a fascinating and interesting politician to watch since I discovered him through Dennis Kucinich in 2007. However, I am politically neutral towards Ron Paul as I disagree with him on several issues and am unenthusiastic about the vast amounts of political baggage (true or not) that he brings to the table.
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  1. sailing says:

    Apparently this is not the first time this reporter has had ethical difficulties: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/washington-post-elizabeth-flock-resigns_n_1431005.html

    Putting that he was found to be most corrupt in the headline when even her own misbegotten source did NOT have him on that list but in an ‘also of mention’ category sure makes this seem spun to look worse than it was.

    • ZachariahWiedeman says:

      Thank you. My apologies for the article being so long. I have mentioned Flock’s resignation and additional details about CREW’s own questionable practices near the end.

  2. KC Ted says:

    You dug deeper. That’s what good journalism is all about. I think a lot of these pseudo-journalists who pass on yellow journalism are just trying to get attention. It doesn’t matter what comes off their finger tips, as long as they accrue internet views. It’s about GIGO to them (garbage in, garbage out).

  3. hawks5999 says:

    You are everything that is wrong with citizen journalists… you actually do research… and you make the mainstream media look like fools. Why do you hate America so much? /sarc

    • donjusko says:

      I enjoyed everything about this article except for when I got to your comment. I hate sarcasm, I get enough lying from Obama.

  4. An incredibly good job in the research and presentation here. You can be sure I’ll check back here for future material.