LITTLE ROCK MIKE ROSS understands why he's been targeted. "When you're in the eye of the storm," the congressman from this state's Fourth Congressional District noted the other day, "they come after you."
This time the storm is the raging debate over Americans' health care and how to pay for it. And the folks coming after him, if you read Jane Fullerton's front-page story in Wednesday's paper, seem to share a lot of intertwining connections.
For example: Moveon.org, a familiar name when it comes to assailing politicians it considers much too conservative, organized a demo at the congressman's Hot Springs office the other day. At the same time ProPublica, an online news site, published a story from Politico, another online publication, with the tabloid headline: "Mike Ross Raises Eyebrows With Healthy Haul."
The subject was Congressman and Mrs. Ross' sale of their pharmacy at Prescott a couple of years ago-well before the current debate over health care-and his critics made it sound like some kind of payoff from evil Big Pharma, namely "an Arkansas-basedpharmacy chain with a keen interest in how the debate [over health-care insurance] plays out." But when our Miss Jane interviewed some folks who actually know what they're talking about, like Scott Pace of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, the price for the Rosses' pharmacy raised scarcely an eyebrow.
To quote another knowledgeable source, Professor Robert Jackson at Mercer University in Atlanta, who studies and teaches pharmacy administration, the price the Rosses got for their business was "very average." He found nothing unusual about it. "I value pharmacies every day," he added, "and most are going to fall within that range"-between the half-million and million the Rosses were paid for their business, which the couple had owned for 14 years. And invested a lot in.
THE CONGRESSMAN'S critics have every right to protest, demonstrate, and make wild claims. And even coordinate their criticisms of a congressman from Arkansas. It's a free country, and we'd be the last to want anybody gagged.
At the same time, it's good to know where the critics themselves get their money:
ProPublica's founder is Herbert Sandler, whose foundation has also backed ACORN, an outfit involved in voter registration fraud in state after state. Its federal funding was finally cut off after ACORN workers were caught on video advising a couple posing as a pimp and his prostitute on the finer points of cheating the taxpayers.
Jane Fullerton's story noted that Herbert and Marion Sandler, who launched ProPublica, the online publication that ran the anti-Ross piece, had also contributed to Moveon.org. Which completes the circle.
But all this is scarcely the end of the interconnections. An outfit called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (they all have such high-sounding names) has joined the pack harassing Congressman Ross, asking the Justice Department to investigate the Rosses' sale of their pharmacy and coming all too close to making (unsubstantiated) charges of bribery: "We're not clear on what he actually may have done for the money, but it seems like his position [on health care], in part, has been bought and paid for." Which is the kind of smear tactic that is anything but responsible and ethical.
As the congressman himself noted, "Anybody with a typewriter and a piece of paper can write a letter to the Department of Justice about me or you. This is about trying to destroy me politically." And about pushing an ideological agenda.
It won't surprise anyone who's dug into the funding of these operations to find George Soros' fingerprints. Is there any left-wing cause his Open Society Institute hasn't backed? Naturally it's listed as a supporter of the misnamed Citizens for Responsibiliity and Ethics. So is the Wallace Global Fund, another sugar daddy for left-wing causes. They're all in it together, and Mike Ross is their latest target. That's clear enough. Or do these interest groups on the East and West Coasts think those of us in fly-over country can't connect the dots-that is, follow the money?
IN THE HEAT of any political debate, it's good to know who's financing the debaters. But who'll supply that information? Why, that's what a free and independent press, now known as the news media, is for. Whatever criticisms we may have of The Media, and we voice them regularly, at least most newspapers don't accept donations from special interests or government bail-outs (so far), and have resisted becoming state-supported institutions (again, so far).
Result: Newspapers like this one can afford to go beyond the glib claims in this overheated foofaraw over health care and follow the money trail. Which can be revealing, as the Democrat-Gazette's Jane Fullerton amply demonstrated in her story in Wednesday's paper. Which was backed up and filled out by our Alex Daniels in the next day's paper. The interconnections just keep growing.
Amidst all the claims and counterclaims, the press itself has to be on guard against being co-opted by every special-interest group that labels itself a public-interest group. But we've noticed a disconcerting tendency among some newspapers to consider reprinting some stories from dubious outfits like ProPublica. Uh oh. That way lies not reporting but propagandizing.
When we speak of a free and independent press, the two qualities need to go together. A newspaper can scarcely remain free if it doesn't stay independent.