It may not be the biggest scandal of the Obama Administration, but the collusion between the Department of the Interior and the Occupy Wall Street movement has caught the attention of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa. This, in turn, has led to some coverage by the media of the illegal takeover of public parks in Washington, D.C., and the damage that has been allowed to occur by top Obama officials.
Issa noted damage to the area known as McPherson Square, where tents have been erected and protesters have been loitering on a constant basis, saying, “As part of the stimulus, the Department of Interior awarded more than $400,000 to…rehabilitate McPherson Square in Northwest Washington…that included new grass, concrete curbs, refurbished benches, new light poles, water fountains, new paint, new chain fencing, 12 new trash cans and new light meters. While the merits of this stimulus funding are debatable, we can all agree that once the federal government invested the funds, no government agency should have allowed it to be damaged or destroyed when it legally could have been prevented.”
The implication is that the Obama Administration enabled the protesters to take over public parks in the nation’s capital and has turned a blind eye to the damage done to these areas. In addition to this physical damage, local businesses and their employees in the area are suffering.
Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, described the condition of the park on WAMU’s Politics Hour as “a toxic waste dump” that will take years to clean up. This interview, posted on YouTube, included additional biting comments, such as:
- “We’re a flash point away from real trouble.”
- “Unless someone begins to push back, this will continue to escalate. … ‘Well, you got kicked out of Philly, come on down here. You got kicked out of New York, come on down here.’ No, don’t come down here!”
- “This is putting restaurants at risk, tourism at risk.”
- “Business is being abused by the occupiers.”
- “People are reluctant to go downtown.”
Dinegar made the point that it’s not just businesses that are suffering, but that ordinary workers and employees, such as taxi-cab drivers, waiters, valet parkers, and others are losing money because of the protests.
Back on October 18, we had questioned in a column why the illegal activities of the Occupy movement in Washington, D.C. were ignored by the authorities at the local and federal levels. The tents and food facilities put in place at Freedom Plaza and in McPherson Square were in clear violation of the law.
Issa wants Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, in charge of the National Park Service, to answer 16 questions about his involvement in letting the lawlessness occur. It seems fairly obvious that the political authorities told the police not to interfere.
Nevertheless, the results of the Issa probe could expose the extent to which Obama officials facilitated the illegal actions and how they are working hand-in-glove with the Marxist demonstrators. Obama, of course, has endorsed the protests, and pollster Frank Luntz has said that the sympathetic coverage of the anti-capitalist message from the demonstrations around the country has tended to give the American economic system of free enterprise a bad name.
Our media have depicted the protesters as having a legitimate grievance about American society, without noting that they want something for nothing and have taken over and trashed public properties that do not belong to them.
The Washington Post, which broke the Watergate scandal involving Republican President Richard Nixon, has not treated the activities of the Occupy movement as illegal or improper in any way, even though the protests in Washington, D.C. are only a few blocks from the paper’s Post headquarters. It has shown no interest in probing links between the Occupy movement and President Obama or other top administration officials.
The Post story about Issa’s probe ran under the headline, “Issa challenges Occupy D.C.’s claim to McPherson Square,” as if the Occupy movement’s “claim” was somehow legitimate. It said that Issa cited a federal law “that appears to prohibit camping in the square.”
Appears? Is the Post incapable of looking up the exact wording of the law? As I pointed out in a previous column, the law states, “Temporary structures may not be used outside designated camping areas for living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities.”
The Post suggested Issa’s questions were somehow improper, saying that his letter “represents the first direct congressional intervention in the protest on K Street.” Why is it “intervention” when a member of Congress asks the federal government why the law is not being enforced?
The Post then suggested the letter could backfire. “But in a city where skepticism of congressional Republicans runs deep, the letter could help galvanize a movement that is struggling to come up with a plan for sustaining itself through the winter,” it said. This wording was another attempt to play politics and somehow make Republicans look bad, rather than hold the protesters and their political protectors accountable for trashing a public park.
Horace Holmes of WJLA-TV did a story that at least quoted a local resident, Kelly Fiedorek, as saying, “They spent all summer re-sodding and making this park beautiful. They spent taxpayer dollars and now it’s ruined.” Visitors to the area can see this for themselves. But Post reporters, based only a few blocks away, pretend it doesn’t exist.
On top of this outrage, the “progressive” Washington, D.C. Mayor, Vincent C. Gray, wants the federal government to reimburse the District for police overtime costs associated with the Occupy movement.
A Washington Times story admitted the obvious: “Camping is not permitted in the park but U.S. Park Police have largely looked the other way.” The buck stops with Salazar and Obama.
An NBC/Washington story about the Issa letter said, “Camping is prohibited on National Park Service property, but the Park Service has said a ‘24-hour vigil’ is allowed. Issa is asking Salazar to explain the difference.”
So the Obama Administration is trying to claim that the tents are part of a 24-hour vigil that has gone on for weeks? How can such a claim be reported in a straight news story?
If the Obama Administration will lie about things like the trashing of a public park, what about the more serious scandals, such as gun running to Mexican drug cartels?
Issa is to be congratulated for taking on both of these scandals. Merely asking the tough questions that should be asked by the media forces the media to devote some time and attention to covering the high-level law-breaking.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at [email protected].