Tom Fitton, president of the nonprofit watchdog group Judicial Watch, has demanded the media-watching group Politifact apologize for labeling a recent Judicial Watch report “mostly false.”
“Unfortunately, I think this decision was made before Politifact even talked to Judicial Watch or consulted all the available documents,” Fitton said in a letter released Monday.
The dispute involves a recent Judicial Watch report, based on documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that claimed that Justice Department officials from its Community Relations Service were involved in organizing protests revolving around the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.
Judicial Watch claimed in a statement: “Though CRS purports to spot and quell racial tensions nationwide before they arise, the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show the group actively worked to foment unrest, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on travel and hotel rooms to train protestors throughout Florida.”
The report has gained considerable attraction in the conservative press, talk radio and the blogosphere, prompting Politifact to examine it.
Politifact notes that the FOIA documents include numerous CRS travel vouchers. One states the purpose for the trip is “to work marches, demonstrations and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.” Another was “to provide technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31.” A third voucher was “to provide interregional support for protest deployment in Florida.”
The media watchdog also notes that Judicial watch highlights the role of CRS southeastern regional director Thomas Battles. As Judicial Watch itself notes: “Battles secured police protection for a group of students who marched 40 miles from Daytona to Sanford over three days. The student group staged a sit-in in front of the Sanford police department’s doors, causing it to shut down for the day.”
Nevertheless, Judicial Watch argues these these activities do not count as fomenting unrest, accepting the Justice Department’s spin on CRS worker’s actions: “Justice Department employees were sent to Sanford, in part to deal with community uprising, including protests. But they were sent with the idea of keeping the situation peaceful and calm, not to instigate or condone protests or violence.”
There is a lot of hair-splitting going on here but Politifact’s decision to rate the Judicial Watch report as “mostly false” is clearly misleading since it suggests DOJ employees were not involved in organizing the protests.
While it is probably going too far to say the CRS employees were fomenting unrest — they didn’t really need to; people were already worked up — the public record pretty clearly shows they were indeed involved in staging numerous protest events. That is going well beyond mediating.