Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund are engaged in a bitter war of words stemming from an inaccurate charge made by Fund against the congressman in a speech last fall.
In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Frank called Fund “a liar and a coward,” and launched a broadside at “the right-wing echo chamber” that picked up on Fund’s erroneous charge against the congressman. For his part, Fund called Frank’s outrage “a little sad.”
The roots of the kerfuffle — rare for the intensity with which a leading member of Congress is going after a member of the media — lie in comments Fund made while serving on a panel at a conservative conference in November. Fund, a longtime foe of efforts to expand voting rights, warned:
Democrats were very rattled by the November 3rd election results. What do liberals do when they lose elections? They change the rules. In January, Chuck Schumer and Barney Frank will propose universal voter registration.
What is universal voter registration? It means all of the state laws on elections will be overridden by a federal mandate.
A video and transcript of the comments were posted on the site of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the right-wing outfit that hosted the conference. They went unnoticed for a while, but early this year, were picked up, in succession, by the Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck.
But Fund had gotten it wrong. Though Schumer has held hearings on a possible voter registration bill, it’s far from clear that what’s being discussed can fairly be described as “universal voter registration.” And Frank has nothing to do with the effort.
So last month, Frank’s office released a letter (pdf) it had sent to Fund, calling the columnist’s statement that Frank was involved in the voter registration proposal “a lie”, and asking that Fund “acknowledge” that what he had said about Frank was untrue.
What’s now in dispute is whether Fund has sufficiently complied with that request. Both Fund and Harry Gural, a spokesman for Frank, say that in a phone conversation last month between the two men, Fund admitted that he had made a mistake. Fund also acknowledged the mistake in interviews with World Net Daily and today with TPMmuckraker — the only outlets, he says, that have asked him about it.
But that clearly hasn’t satisfied Frank. On Wednesday he took to the House floor to call Fund “a liar and a coward,” and to slam the broader network right-wing news outlets, that, he said, frequently run with inaccurate smears against Democrats and liberals.
Speaking to TPMmuckraker, Frank said he wasn’t looking merely for a private acknowledgment of error from Fund. “I can’t think of anything private I’d want from him,” said the congressman.
Frank argued that since Fund’s comments were picked up by the right-wing media, he’s obligated to make a broader retraction, preferably by sending out a public statement. “He made a widely reported speech. He knows it was echoed to others.”
He called Fund’s stance “pretty despicable,” and “totally dishonest,” adding: “I repeat: He is a liar and a coward.”
For his part, Fund appears bemused. He says that last month he gave the acknowledgment requested of him in Frank’s letter, when he spoke to Gural and then to World Net Daily. “I admit I made a mistake. I’ll admit it again: I made a mistake,” he said. “For him to come back and call me a liar and a coward is a little sad.”
Fund suggested that Frank was attacking him less out of a concern for the truth and more for political gain.
Fund also charged, in a followup email to TPMuckraker, that although Frank may not be involved in the current legislative effort, the congressman agrees with the “goals and general outline of universal voter registration,” as do “almost all nationally prominent Democrats.”
And in a second followup, he wrote:
I have amicably debated Congressman Frank on national television and respect that he sincerely and fervently holds his opinions. I wish words like “liar” and “coward,” which he calls me, weren’t hurled around so freely. The facts of this dispute clearly show I made an honest slip of the tongue in an informal answer to a question after a speech back in November, and it was not repeated.
But Frank said Fund’s attitude is symptomatic of “the whole right-wing echo chamber approach,” citing Fund’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, as a member of that group.
“It’s just an example of their total disregard for truth,” said Frank. “You tell a basic lie that if true would have been very damaging, aimed at discrediting liberals and reinforcing this negative, inaccurate description of us. And then, when called on it, you admit you were wrong, but you take no steps to undo your lie. What kind of commitment to intellectual honesty is that?”
Late Update: Responding to Fund’s claim that Frank supports the concept of universal voter registration, Frank doubles down on his criticism of Fund, now calling him “a congenital and habitual liar.”