Maybe it's a coincidence that this particular reporter is blowing the Koch brothers influence all out of proportion on a hot button environmental issue, right as the Democratic Party is ramping up a multi-million dollar ad campaign against them. Maybe it's also a coincidence that Tom Steyer sits on the board of the Center For American Progress where her husband works. But the response of Eilperin and her co-author to Powerline's devastating critique is less than inspiring:
First, regarding the political leaning of the group that brought this story to our attention, our article makes clear its left-wing origins, the controversial nature of its earlier claims, and its political agenda. Second, regarding whether Koch would benefit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, we make clear that many of Koch’s leases pre-date the pipeline plan, that Koch has not bid for space in the pipeline, and that Koch would not be a customer. Third, if Koch’s lease holdings are 1.1 million acres, that would make it one of the region’s largest, rivaled only by Shell (1 million net acres through an Athabasca joint venture and perhaps 1.3 million net acres altogether), Cenovus Energy (1.5 million net acres), and perhaps Canadian Natural Resources (717,000 net undeveloped acres plus an undetermined number of developed acres). ... The Powerline article itself, and its tone, is strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year. That’s why we wrote the piece.
After outlining a number of reasons why their own report was unjustifiably inflammatory, they then have the temerity to justify what they wrote by noting the understandably annoyed "tone" of someone who ably pointed out just how bad their report is. The Post owes its readers a much stronger mea culpa.
UPDATE: John Hinderaker at Powerline has now put up a strong response to the Washington Post's inadequate backtracking. Hinderaker hits some of the same themes about the Democratic campaign finance predicament as I do above, but his post is well worth reading in full:
Let me offer an alternative explanation of why the Washington Post published their Keystone/Koch smear: 1) The Washington Post in general, and Mufson and Eilperin in particular, are agents of the Left, the environmental movement and the Democratic Party. 2) The Keystone Pipeline is a problem for the Democratic Party because 60% of voters want the pipeline built, while the party’s left-wing base insists that it not be approved. 3) The Keystone Pipeline is popular because it would broadly benefit the American people by creating large numbers of jobs, making gasoline more plentiful and bringing down the cost of energy. 4) Therefore, the Democratic Party tries to distract from the real issues surrounding the pipeline by claiming, falsely, that its proponents are merely tools of the billionaire Koch brothers–who, in fact, have nothing to do with Keystone one way or the other. 5) The Post published its article to assist the Democratic Party with its anti-Keystone talking points.
UPDATE II: Writing at the Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog, Jonathan Adler also finds the Post reporters's response to Powerline lacking:
Perhaps it is true that the Kochs really are the largest lease holder, and really own close to 2 million acres, but Eilperin and Mufson aren’t willing to stand behind this claim. Their original charge was based upon the Kochs owning 1.1 million acres, and yet others own more (as they now acknowledge). As in the original story, the follow-up cites unnamed “industry sources we consider highly authoritative” claiming that the Koch holdings are larger, but there’s a big difference between saying the Koch brothers are the largest lease holder and saying that they might be if the unconfirmed claims of unnamed sources about some indeterminate amount of additional lease holdings are accurate. If the larger number can be substantiated, then let’s see it. If not, and if Mufson and Eilperin are no longer willing to attest that the Kochs are the largest lease holder in the oil sands, then it seems a true correction is in order. A follow-up defending the reporters’ choice of subject matter, while interesting, does not suffice.