After describing how 24 armed and armored cops “quickly seized control of the cavernous [Gibson] guitar factory” during a wood-import-related raid on August 24, Los Angeles Times reporter Neela Banerjee wonders why raiding a century-old maker of beloved musical instruments could have led to “unanticipated results” for the Obama Justice Department: 

Weeks later, the raid has generated publicity worthy of a rock concert. Groups like the "tea party" and the GOP, and VIPs like House Speaker John A. Boehner and Rush Limbaugh, have grabbed ahold of it as an extreme example of how government regulations are strangling American enterprise.

Republicans see the seizure of 10,000 fingerboards, 700 guitar necks and 80 guitars as an easy-to-grasp anecdote that helps illustrate their campaign to shrink federal government, roll back environmental regulations and reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

This story is on the front page of the Times’ objectively pro-deforestation print edition and is grouped in the “news” subfolder in the paper’s website. Yet it’s shot through with unsupported opinion, pushed arguments, elisions and dubious claims. (Also, is the copydesk now scare-quoting tea party as a rule? I never thought anybody could top the Washington Times’ beaten-but-unbowed retention of homosexual “marriage” – but even they eventually gave that one up.)  

I’m guessing maybe the Times finds man-bites-dog value in the idea that Republicans are standing up for rock ‘n’ roll guitar makers when we all know Republicans never listen to anything but Lawrence Welk in their country clubs. That’s the only explanation I can think of for Banerjee’s treating the Gibson hubbub as a novelty. 

A few minutes of thought should have made it clear why this story blew up: It’s about how federal officers conducted two raids against a successful and law-abiding company without filing any charges. They have done this while the country is in a severe recession that has not spared Gibson’s base of Nashville, Tennessee. The company, which seeks to maintain a relatively progressive and pro-environment posture (as CEO  Henry Juszkiewicz does in his comments to Banarjee), makes a product that is coveted by consumers, highly regarded by its users and recognizable to most people with an interest in popular music. And the purpose of the raid was to investigate whether the laws of another country – India, from which Gibson imports its fingerboards and which has provided Juszkiewicz with a letter attesting to the legality of the purchases – were violated. I’m more of a Fender man myself, but I can pretty easily see why the vast right-wing conspiracy has found an eager audience for commentary on this outrage. 

Banerjee of course is following the lead of Media Matters for America, for which the fall of every sparrow is the result of a Fox News conspiracy. MMFA’s Jocelyn Fong wages a prolix struggle against reality in this to-be-sure-laden attempt to reveal Gibson’s festering GOP underbelly. (Key sentence: “But Juszkiewicz does not appear to be a major Republican donor.”) 

Banerjee doesn’t fare much better. She counterposes strong evidence (Juszkiewicz’s letter from the relevant government mentioned above) with weak evidence (paraphrased contentions from unnamed “industry and environmental experts”) in he-said-she-said paragraphs. She glides over the fact that the Department of Justice not only failed to file charges but recently downgraded its demands to a request for some face time with Gibson executives. She blames President Bush. 

And she treats Juszkiewicz’s PR counteroffensive (which Nick Gillespie noted a while back) as something odd, maybe even ominous. This is what’s so irritating about this article: not the bias but the unneeded complexity of it. Gibson is big in the guitar world but it doesn’t exactly qualify as Big Business. It does about $111 million in annual revenues and employs 2,800 people. Like most of us, it is struggling to get by in the Obama economy. And it’s been raided by the cops twice for no apparent reason. And the cops refuse to give back the stuff they confiscated. As they say in L.A., Juszkiewicz is the rooting interest. Why is this so hard to understand? 

Related: R.I.P. Les Paul, hero of freedom.