THE BLOG

Enough of Gara LaMarche and his Descent into Ad Hominem Invective

11/05/2006 01:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Gara LaMarche keeps writing about the ACLU, although he hasn't held a position in the organization for nearly a decade and has no first hand knowledge of the controversies between the leadership and its critics.

On July 15 LaMarche wrote without addressing the merits of the controversies but promised to write a longer piece about the ACLU later. We waited.

On October 6, 2006, Gara wrote a post of 1903 words without addressing the merits of the issues raised by the critics. To be fair, Gara reminded the readers that he had vowed to return to the subject of what is going on in the ACLU and said that he would address the facts laid out on the savetheaclu website in another post "lest I leave myself open to the charge of addressing everything but the merits of their complaints, and I do intend to return to this soon..."

On October 8, Gara wrote a few words in response to some of those posted -- 295 words to be exact but not one about the issues.

Forty-one minutes later on the very same day, Gara wrote 209 more words and still, nothing about the merits.

Five hours later, Gara wrote another 34 words, again nothing about the merits.

On October 9th, Gara wrote 2 comments; they totaled a whopping 644 words and you guessed it...nothing about the merits.

On October 10, Gara gave us another 473 words to read, but not about the merits.

Finally, on October 17, after having waited nearly 3 months for Gara to address the merits, Rick Johnson reminded Gara that he had promised to talk about the facts and had not done so and asked whether we had not now reached the point where it was fair to say he (Gara) has "addressed everything but the merits of their complaints" and that this is probably because those complaints are not fairly assailable?

Gara responded to Rick by telling him that he had a day job. That day job had not prevented him from writing all those previous posts (some 3870 words) but it would however stop him from responding on the merits. Gara said, "Well, actually, it wouldn't be a fair assumption to make, Mr. Johnson, but I applaud your eagle-eyed attention to the Huffington Post. I said I would say more, and I will. I have a day job, believe it or not (in fact, more than one), and it involves the defense of civil liberties as well as the defense of the American Civil Liberties Union!"

Now, 10 days and 2279 words later, Gara writes to us again about the ACLU controversy. We wonder and hope whether Gara will finally, after all these months, seriously address the issues. And we are again disappointed. Gara spends little time on the issues and when he does he mischaracterizes them and the underlying facts. In addition, Gara spends most of his time and space on personally attacking the critics and making them the issue.

The critics of the ACLU leadership are many, including more than two dozen distinguished national and state affiliate board members and former board members, equally distinguished former staff, plus donors and members. All have given 30 or 40 years of devoted service to the ACLU. They are serious people, raising serious issues, based on serious evidence. Instead of confronting the issues, Gara has demonized those who disagree with him, and suggested dark, mysterious and unspecified motives for their criticisms. He has done worse: he has pretended that these more than two dozen longtime ACLU loyalists-- and the more than 600 who have signed on in support-- do not exist, or are the mere instruments of one man-- Ira Glasser, the nearly legendary former ACLU Executive Director.

And instead of arguing the merits of the critics' grievances, LaMarche has dissembled and mischaracterized the issues and the facts and descended instead into ad hominem personal attacks and invented speculations about Glasser's motives, thus avoiding the merits again as well as the more than two dozen principled people of longstanding commitment to the ACLU who are criticizing the ACLU leadership.

Moreover, he admits to this, as if admitting it excused him. "I am livid," he says. Accordingly, "I must put this in personal terms." But this isn't personal; this is a serious disagreement between two groups of serious and devoted ACLU loyalists. Both groups believe they are standing by the ACLU and protecting it at a time when it is more necessary than ever. But Gara LaMarche is "livid." Gara LaMarche "must put this in personal terms." And he is prepared to mischaracterize facts and issues in order to do so.

Mary McCarthy once famously said about Lillian Hellman that not one word she wrote was true, including "and" and "the." Gara LaMarche, hasn't quite sunk to that standard, but in his latest effort, he comes close. It is difficult to find a sentence in his recent blog that isn't false or misleading or in reckless disregard of the underlying evidence. Here is an example:

LaMarche says that the former Executive Director of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, has "spent hours calling ACLU donors to urge them to suspend support." How does LaMarche know this? He doesn't say. Does he cite a single example? He does not. Has he produced a single donor who says Glasser urged him or her to stop contributing? He has not. He merely asserts this without evidence. In fact, Glasser has spoken to many members and donors about what they and he regard as serious breaches of core ACLU principles by Anthony Romero, and by the lying and dissembling that surrounded those breaches. Almost all have called him, not the other way around.

Some have without consulting Glasser decided to stop contributing. But Glasser has never urged a single donor to stop contributing; to the contrary, when members and donors have asked his advice about whether they should stop contributing, he has without exception told them to continue giving, because we don't want to weaken the ACLU, but to send letters of protest to Nadine Strossen, the ACLU Board president. There is email evidence of this.

Here is another example:

LaMarche says that although Glasser originally championed Romero's candidacy, he turned against him because he changed some of Glasser's management and personnel decisions. It sounds petty. But how does LaMarche know this? In Glasser's several statements, which LaMarche claims he has read, he cites many grievances. Not one can be fairly characterized as a "management" or "personnel" decision. This is a pure invention by LaMarche, to make the nature of the critics' complaints sound personal and trivial, when they are neither.

Here is a third example:

LaMarche says that Romero's critics objected to the ACLU's segmenting of donor lists, and regarded it as "some kind of scandal." He then says that Glasser hasn't objected to donor list segmentation, speculating snidely that "Perhaps it's because those practices were initiated during Glasser's tenure." LaMarche gets so many things wrong in this one short paragraph that he nearly sets a new standard for inaccuracy. First, the critics never objected to segmenting of donor lists, much less regarded it as a scandal. Donor lists, especially mass mailing lists, are segmented all the time, by the size of the gift, the recency and frequency of giving and by the geographic region. This is standard, and LaMarche is blowing smoke when he says the critics objected to it.

What the critics objected to was not standard list segmentation but the segmentation of the ACLU membership list by religion, and the aggressive marketing by the ACLU of a list of its Jewish members. That kind of segmentation we thought was scandalous. And as soon as it became public, the ACLU took down its advertisements and rates for such Jewish lists. If they didn't think it was scandalous, why did they take it down when it was disclosed? And why did it take a story in the Times to get the ACLU to observe its own principles? Moreover, when LaMarche claims that "those practices" were initiated during Glasser's tenure, he again is mischaracterizing the truth. While occasionally, a Jewish organization that wanted to rent the ACLU list might request a segmentation by religion, it was not until Romero's tenure that the ACLU marketed a list of its Jewish members on its advertised rate card to the public in general. You won't learn any of this from LaMarche, who probably didn't know it himself.

One final example:

One of the major charges against Romero was that he signed a government document agreeing to check ACLU employees against the notorious government terrorist blacklists in order to obtain money. Romero defended what he had done when it was disclosed, and offered a bizarre interpretation of the agreement he had signed, essentially saying that he thought he could sign it without complying with what he had signed. He also said he had done so on advice of counsel, which turned out to be a lie. After publicity forced him to rescind what he had done, the ACLU filed a lawsuit which, LaMarche claims, resulted in an agreement that names don't have to be checked against the lists. In fact, there was no such result.

The original certification that required Romero to promise not to employ anyone on the lists was changed as the result of the lawsuit to a requirement to comply with all applicable underlying laws. But the underlying laws themselves prohibited employing anyone on the lists, so when Romero signed the new certification, he was agreeing to precisely the same thing as when he signed the original.

The lawsuit was entirely cosmetic; it didn't even challenge the legal requirement, much less strike it down. It only changed the formulation of it. As the ACLU's own counsel told them in writing, the original certification was "just a restatement of current law." By getting rid of that re-statement, and agreeing instead to comply with the current law, nothing of substance was changed. Whatever legal requirement to check ACLU employees against the blacklists existed before the lawsuit, continued to exist after the lawsuit. You will not learn any of this from Gara LaMarche.

LaMarche says "no fair review of the overall record" of the critics' claims justifies a call for removing the current leadership. But no fair review has taken place, and LaMarche doesn't want one. He wants us to take his uninformed word for it. We don't think so.