Early this afternoon, House Republican communications guru Michael Steel e-mailed numerous reporters with a copy of a memorandum purporting to be from Democrats about what points Democratic members ought to avoid when discussing health care reform with reporters. Steel's e-mail was on the record.
I gave the memo a once over. I looked legit -- the points it makes are, indeed, potential trouble spots for Democrats. I wrote and posted an item on it. In doing so I committed an error of craft: I didn't check to see what the Democratic leadership or the White House or the Democratic National Committee had to say. Had I done so, I would have been told that they did not write the memo. So -- no Dan Rather Excuse here -- I didn't do due diligence, and I posted the item too quickly. For the sake of my post, it doesn't matter whether the underlying facts are true, it matters whether the memo is a real one. Before characterizing the memo as being from Democrats, or insinuating that the memo listed official talking points, I clearly should have made a call. I didn't. That's on me.
I don't know if the memo is a hoax. I suspect that it is was created by someone who is a Democrat -- but that it comes from an allied Democratic group, or from a committee staff member. Dozens of such memos circulate daily through the K-Street-Capitol Corridor. A Republican might have been 'cc'd on one such e-mail, which was then sent up the flagpole, and then send out to reporters by a hyperkinetic communications staff.
I do not believe that Mr. Steel or a member of his staff created the memo. You may ask why I believe this, and my reasons won't satisfy many of you, but here goes: I've know Steel for years. He is a stand-up guy and isn't dishonest; in trickier situations, he's told me the truth. Here he may have been overzealous, and I fell for it on a slow Friday afternoon.
I asked Mr. Steel where he got the memo; he would not reveal his source. I asked him whether he believed that the memo was an official leadership, White House or DNC document, and here is his response: "Will the Democrats do the "doc fix"? If they will, they are low-balling the cost of health care by hundreds of billions of dollars."
That's the Dan Rather Excuse -- can't say for sure that the memo is real, but it surely brings up real points. That's satisfactory, I guess, for the Republicans, but it shouldn't be. It isn't satisfactory to me, or to my readers.
So I'll try to follow the trail a little more and see if I can figure out who did write the memo.