The Trouble With Harry

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Last August, former two-time libertarian party presidential candidate Harry Browne publicly charged that I had “imagined” and “invented” certain items about his presidential campaign in articles that I had written for this magazine. When I challenged him to back up his charges, he demurred, saying that he would respond on his website within “another couple of weeks.” I checked his website every few weeks or so, but I didn’t find so much as a word about my moral and intellectual flaws.

Finally, on Jan. 12, 2002, Browne published his response. First, he sought to prove that I consciously publish false information:

Liberty has published many articles about the LP, virtually all of which involved very careless reporting. But most of this report will examine. only two Liberty articles, published in 2000. Even so, those two articles contained so many falsehoods that this report will be much too long. I hope you’ll bear with me, though, as I believe it’s important to understand that something that appears in a libertarian magazine isn’t necessarily true. And it’s important as well to understand the harm that is being done to the Libertarian Party …

Unfortunately, most of the coverage of the LP is written by the magazine’s publisher, R.W. Bradford (Bill Bradford), who is a very sloppy reporter. Consequently, many people have gained an erroneous impression of the Libertarian Party and the last two presidential campaigns from reading Liberty.

Okay, so just what “very careless reporting” had this particular “very sloppy reporter” done? Which of the “falsehoods” that are”so many” that discussing them all would make his 10,000-word attack on me “far too long”?

Well, Browne was content to cite the following specimen of such a “falsehood”:

On page 31 Bradford refers to David Bergland as “Browne’s hand-picked candidate for National Chair.” (In 1998 Bergland had been elected by the national convention to be the Chair for the next two years.)

I sent an email to Bradford telling him that I had nothing to do with picking David Bergland to be the National Chair, that I hadn’t even known he was running until he announced it.

In a November 13, 2000, email reply to me, R.W. Bradford said, “Of course, I did not mean the term ‘hand-picked’ to be taken literally.” Then what did he mean? Did he really expect people to interpret the phrase “Browne’s hand-picked candidate” to mean that I had nothing to do with picking him?

He also said, “I had one unimpeachable source on the Bergland claim.” So he had an unimpeachable source tell him that I had hand-picked David Bergland, but he didn’t mean literally that I “hand-picked” him?

When I told Harry that I didn’t mean that he had literally “hand-picked” Bergland, I meant that I did not mean that he had literally picked him by hand to run. But that literal meaning is not the only meaning of the phrase “hand-picked.” My dictionary (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate, if you want to look it up) lists the following meaning: “to select personally or for personal ends.”

At the time, I didn’t know when Browne learned of Bergland’s candidacy or whether he personally encouraged Bergland to run. But I did know that Bergland was a close associate of Browne’s, having been the national chair of Browne’s 1996 campaign and part of his brain trust. And I knew that Browne was an extremely strong supporter of Bergland’s campaign, and that he considered Bergland’s election to be a matter of “life or death” for Browne’s prospective candidacy in 2000. I also knew that the other major candidate for the position was generally critical of Browne’s 1996 campaign and was believed to want to investigate charges that Browne had suborned various LP staffers during the campaign.

How did I know how strongly Browne supported Bergland? How did I know that he considered Bergland’s election to be a matter of “life or death” for Browne’s proposed 2000 campaign? As I indicated to Browne in the email he quotes, I had one “unimpeachable” source.

As a general rule, I do not reveal sources of facts reported in my stories. There are two reasons for this: Many stories are so full of facts that listing sources would take up a huge amount of space and be of little interest to anyone; and, as a journalist, I must protect my sources. With regard to the LP and its presidential campaigns, I have gotten information from hundreds of people, including dozens who have worked for the LP or one of the campaigns. Reporting the source of who told me what could put their present or future jobs in jeopardy. If I freely reported the sources of every fact I report, people would not provide me the information that I need to report accurately and completely.

Having said that, I have decided to make an exception in this case, on grounds that the source has implicitly given me. permission to do so.

The person who told me that Bergland was Browne’s candidate was Harry Browne himself. In telephone conversations in June 1998, in which Browne was trying vigorously to convince me to attend the convention so that I could cast a vote for Bergland, Browne told me that he considered it absolutely critical to the future success of the LP that his close friend Bergland be elected, and that he would drop out of the race if Bergland lost. He urged me again and again to attend the convention so that I could vote for Bergland.

The situation was pretty simple. Browne wanted to get the 2000 nomination. He believed that if his close political associate David Bergland were not elected national chair, he would not be able to get that nomination.

I concluded from this that he had, in Webster’s words “selected” Bergland” personally or for personal ends.” And I reported this in Liberty.

What’s curious is that Harry charges me with making “numerous factual errors,” yet provides only a single example of what could be considered, at worst, to be a slightly inaccurate characterization. This is the example that Browne suggests can “best establish” his charges against me!

Apparently on the theory that this pathetically limp example demonstrated my mendacity and incompetence, he went on to attack me, as nearly as I can tell, for not stating my case against him in sufficiently strong language:

On the bottom of page 40, Bradford says: whatever Browne’s ethical shortcomings, he’s really the only plausible candidate.

Since Bill Bradford doesn’t mean to be taken literally, I guess we don’t need to wonder how someone with 11 ethical

Harry goes on to attack me as nearly as I can tell, for not stating my case against him in sufficiently strong language.

 

shortcomings” could be “the only plausible candidate.” But it should indicate something about Bradford’s own ethical standards that he could consider someone with 11 ethical shortcomings” to be “the only plausible candidate.”

Leaving aside the curious logic – from the fact that I once used an expression figuratively, he concludes that I never intend to be taken literally – Harry turns to impugn- ing my “ethical standards” and claiming that I never specified exactly what “ethical shortcomings” I thought he had displayed.

This simply stuns me. I shall not reiterate here all Browne’s ethical shortcomings that I, along with other editors of Liberty, have detailed in these pages. When the article he’s criticizing appeared, Liberty had just published a 16- page investigation of charges of various ethical shortcomings that Browne had been publicly accused of, and concluded that Browne and his close associates had engaged in systematic misrepresentation of a whole raft of facts in order to maximize fundraising, and had avoided committing fraud, in one case, only by a legal technicality. Now he’s criticizing me for not spelling out the sordid details again?

Despite his claimed inability to understand what charges I’m talking about, Browne seems at least vaguely aware of the charges I’d made. In his very next paragraph, he takes up one of the specific charges that we made: that his 1996 campaign had spent far less to purchase advertising that it had claimed in its fundraising activities and its lengthy report on its campaign expenditures:

But what are the ethical shortcomings? Bradford doesn’t say. Have I lied to anyone? Have I corrupted people? Have I shaded the truth?

Perhaps … I’ve been raising money and spending it on myself and my 11 consultants.” On page 30, discussing the 1996 campaign, Bradford refers to … the reports the campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). It turns out the campaign spent less than $9,000 to purchase advertising, out of $1,430,000 spent.

The actual figure for advertising was $211,226. But I sup- pose the figure of $9,000 is close enough for government work or for Liberty. The $9,000 figure didn’t come from the FEC reports; they came from a rumor that’s been floating around the LP for several years….

Did we spend a lot of money on advertising in 1996? No, we didn’t have a lot of money (as we didn’t have in 2000 either). I wish we had spent millions of dollars on advertising, but such sums weren’t available. In any event, we spent about 21 times as much as Liberty reported.

In my analysis of how the 1996 Browne campaign spent the money donated to it, I listed in detail how I concluded that “the campaign spent less than $9,000 to purchase advertising, out of $1,430,000 spent.”* The staff of Liberty systematically examined the reports the campaign had made to the Federal Election Commission. Peter Gillen, Martin Solomon,

Apparently, Browne believes that his mere assertion is enough to disprove the mountain of documentary evidence that anyone can obtain from the FEC website.

 

 

and I spent hundreds of hours, downloading nearly a thousand pages of documents from the Website, printing them, copying the data into a database, then checking and cross-checking the numbers. Our database lists every expenditure the campaign had made, along with the purpose of each.

, Only seven expenditures were made for the purchase of advertising, and those seven expenditures totaled just $9,585.50. The details of our investigation, along with publicly available documents that substantiate every figure we published, were included in the Liberty report. (Strangely, Browne doesn’t extend his attacks to Gillen, now a reporter with a Massachusetts newspaper, or Solomon, now an attorney in private practice in Florida.)

Browne claims that our figures didn’t in fact come from the FEC and that they came from a “rumor.” He offers no evidence for this. He claims that he actually spent $211,226 on advertising, but offers no substantiation.* He merely asserts that the figures we got from the FEC are wrong and that his are correct. Apparently, Browne believes that his mere assertion is enough to disprove the mountain of documentary evidence that anyone can obtain from the FEC web- site, and that Liberty did in fact obtain.t

Then he challenges my claim that he had gone “so far as to promise that he would not run again unless Project Archimedes achieved its goal,” going on at length about how I must have hallucinated this claim, and, again, challenging my sources.:

Promised whom? For what purpose? When did I promise this? Who heard the promise? Why did I make it? What “reliable source” told Bradford this?

These are intended, I believe, as rhetorical questions, intended to show what a mendacious journalist I am. Harry apparently thinks that I cannot answer such questions without embarrassing myself. He’s wrong. All of them can be easily answered by anyone who reads the LPNews, an article that was the “reliable source” that Harry is so confident I didn’t have.

From LP News, April1997§:

In a letter to his 1996 major donors in mid-February, Browne wrote: “I won’t run again if it has to be the same kind of campaign we ran in 1996.

“To make an impact on the future of America, we have to run a campaign that’s comparable in size to those of the Republicans and Democrats,” he said. And to have that, “it all comes down to one thing: How big the Libertarian Party is.”

“Today the LP has about 22,000 members,” he noted. “While that’s the largest membership in its history, it is still way too small to make an impact on American politics. We need a party at least 10 times that size – 200,000 or more members.”

When Browne said this, Project Archimedes, though it hadn’t yet been christened, was already in motion. It was a proposal to use direct mail to recruit enough new members to bring LP membership to 200,000 – exactly the growth that Browne said the party must get by the “beginning of 2000,” or else he “won’t run again.”

Browne’s attack on me goes on for nearly 10,000 words. I suppose that 1 could go on and refute virtually every claim Browne makes. But I don’t see any reason to do so. Suffice it to say that I stand by every word I’ve written on the subjects he discusses.

Harry Browne is old news. Yes, he’s still raising money

Harry heaps scorn on me for not revealing the “reliable source” from whom I obtained this information. I am happy to reveal my source: the information came from an article in the Libertarian Party News.

 

from donors to his past presidential campaigns to fund his new foundation’s efforts to put libertarian ads on television. (It’s been raising funds for more than a year, but is yet to purchase a single ad.) Nevertheless, the LP has all but repudiated him for his role in yet another scandal: the discovery last year of evidence that Browne had, as had long been charged, conspired with the LP’s chief executive to deceive the party and exploit it for· their own personal ends, and the party has refused to rent Browne’s new organization its mailing list or allow it to advertise in the LP News until such time as Browne at least publicly admits his role in the whole sordid affair.

Many of Browne’s followers will, I am sure, accept his demonization of me. I’ve already received a couple of semi-literate emails, and I am sure that better-written emails will come my way. It is not surprising that some of those who have generously supported Harry Browne have an inclination to believe in him, despite the abysmal absence of merit in his attack. Just as there’s a natural human tendency to support what you believe in, there’s a tendency to believe in what you support. Harry Browne may not have been very good at getting votes, but he was very good at raising funds. As for me, everything about this has been sad. It’s not just that I supported Browne so strongly and now see him in such a different light. It’s that he did things that were wrong, and he cannot acknowledge that they were. Of course, none of us is without sin. But it would be a lot easier to come to grips with what Harry has done if Harry would voice even the slightest regret.

He had the ability to articulate libertarian ideas equal to any public speaker of our era. And now he’s reduced to writing dim but impassioned defenses of his record in a pathetic attempt to maintain his dwindling donor base.

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