The story was really solid, completely fact-checkable, and even though it was complex I think I boiled it down pretty well."
The Nation's publicity director, Ben Wyskida, told us it's rare for the magazine not to publish a story in which the Institute has invested significant time and money, but in this case the editors decided to pass. "Ultimately they just didn't feel like he delivered the story that we'd hoped."
"At the same time, we do think it's an important story," he added.
Undaunted, Byrne took it to Salon.com, which initially agreed to buy it, but then killed it as well. When asked why, news editor Mark Schone told us, "We don't discuss those kinds of editorial decisions. We have a long history of publishing investigative pieces."
Byrne thinks it was political. "In my opinion it's because both the Nation and Salon have an editorial allegiance to the Democratic Party." It was, he said, too sensitive a time to publish a story critical of a Democrat when the party was positioning to take control of the legislative branch.
The Nation vehemently denied the decision to kill had anything to do with that. "It's absolutely false that we had any political biases that caused us not to run the piece. It was the reporting and the timeliness," said Wyskida.
Salon would not comment on Byrne's political theory.
When pushed for specifics on what the story lacked, Wyskida said, "Generally, we felt like it was possible there were pieces of the story we could not verify or stand behind."
Byrne went on to pitch the story to Slate, the New Republic, Harper's, the Los Angeles Times, and - thinking that conservative publications might bite - American Spectator and Weekly Standard. "Most of the editors praised the reporting, but turned down the story," Byrne writes in an update for Project Censored's publication. "So I sold the tale to the North Bay Bohemian, which, along with its sister papers in San Jose and Santa Cruz, ran it on the cover - complete with follow-ups. After it appeared, the editors and I received a series of invective-filled emails from war-contractor Klein (who is also an attorney) but, since he could show no errors of fact in the story, he did not get the retraction he apparently wanted."
Klein, a key figure in the series of stories, is chairman and founding donor of the Washington, DC-based Sunlight Foundation, an organization that promotes more government transparency and grants investigative work undertaken with those goals. The Blum Family Foundation has also given seed money to Sunlight.
The foundation's Web Site has posted a rebuttal to Byrne's story, written by senior fellow and veteran investigative journalist, Bill Allison. It includes a spirited exchange between Byrne and Allison on some of the finer points of Byrne's reporting, and links to the original Congressional hearings that Byrne cites for some of his evidence of Feinstein's questionable ethics.
Shortly before Byrne's story was printed in the North Bay Bohemian, Feinstein quit MILCON. Byrne reported this resignation in a March 21, 2007 story, in which he speculates thinks it was because of his questioning her ethics.
Feinstein's office denies any connection. Press officer Scott Gerber said that at the start of a new Congressional session, "She took the opportunity to become chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.