It’s Official: The Weekly Standard Pushes Fake News

Now it makes more sense why the Weekly Standard declared back in April it was “deeply unserious” to call out the mainstream media’s “complete lack of integrity”: because the Standard’s own journalistic standards aren’t any better.

On June 4, TWS published a story by Haley Byrd and Andrew Egger about Republican reactions to Donald Trump’s declaration that the president has the power to pardon himself. Among them:

[W]hen asked whether he agreed with Trump about the president’s pardoning ability, Texas senator Ted Cruz fell silent for 18 seconds until, prompted by a reporter, he said that he hadn’t studied that particular aspect of constitutional law.

It inspired numerous reports about how Cruz was “speechless,” “had a very noticeable hesitation,” “paused for 18 excruciating seconds,” and so on. The implication is clear: Cruz supposedly stood there dumbstruck for 18 seconds because that’s how long it took him to think of an answer.

But that evening, Cruz responded in a series of tweets explaining the pardon issue, and revealing what actually happened during that silence.

Some dishonest journalists have attacked me for “taking 18 seconds” to answer — without acknowledging that I was walking through the Capitol, late to a meeting, and simply ignoring a question that a reporter had called out at me (as senators do every single day in the Capitol).

When reporters chased me down the hall, and another asked the question again, I chose to answer.

TWS left out the fact that Cruz was in transit — that he never stopped to take any questions in the first place — but their audio fits Cruz’s account: footsteps can be heard in the background, and another reporter’s voice can be heard before Cruz’s answer. Their phrasing that he “fell” silent is also misleading, considering you can’t “fall” silent if you were never talking in the first place.

Ignoring an impromptu question is obviously different from being stumped during an interview or press briefing. In fact, if Cruz tried to ignore it but relented when a reporter tried again, then the length of time between the two attempts is irrelevant — he might have answered if a reporter had repeated it five or ten seconds later.

So the only reason to harp on the “18 seconds” point is to insinuate Cruz was struggling rather than ignoring them. Now, “Cruz tried to dodge our question” would have been a fair complaint on its own, but either everyone involved in the piece was remarkably inept, or TWS thought a little misdirection was a small price to pay for a spicier story.

Apparently it was the latter, because rather than take responsibility for the omission (as Fox News promptly did the next day on a different story) and add a clarification, the TWS crew hysterically circled the wagons and played victim.

“There is nothing ‘dishonest’ about a reporter noting, accurately, how much time elapsed between posing a question and getting an answer,” editor-in-chief Stephen Hayes huffed, fixating on the time and completely ignoring the missing context explaining it.

Byrd (who asked the question) merely responded that the “audio speaks for itself” (indeed it does), that other reporters agreed Cruz’s response was “abnormal” (how specific!), and that the story was “accurate.” She addressed none of the specifics of Cruz’s objection, and refused to explain why she omitted the details in question.

Coauthor Egger simply said a couple times it was “weird” for Cruz to ignore the question (seriously?) and snarked that Cruz’s tweetstorm “basically summarizes” their piece (somehow). Again, no mention of the text’s incomplete and misleading language.

Deputy online editor Jim Swift “addressed” the controversy in a separate article:

Cruz, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was unable to offer a definitive response to our reporters. In fact, he paused for 18 seconds before offering a nothingburger. Later that night, Cruz took to Twitter to slam Haley as “dishonest” for her reporting […]

Senators are routinely aware that when leaving their office and headed to votes, they’ll be asked about issues of the day by reporters. Especially the biggest story of the day, which was that President Trump told Americans he could absolve himself from anything with a pardon.

True to form, Swift repeats the “paused” sleight of hand, declines to explain why it was okay to omit details, and ignores whether TWS has any responsibility for all the false impressions of the incident the piece generated. Again, the “Cruz should have been prepared” framing would have been a reasonable, honest critique — but TWS didn’t use it.

TWS’ Jonathan Last and Rachael Larimore also defended their deceptive reporting, and with even less specificity than their colleagues’ non-responses. But as if the above wasn’t enough, some compounded the offense by peddling another anti-Cruz line of attack — one which was an outright lie.

Hayes retweeted New York Times (!) “reporter” Maggie Haberman’s claim that the “real issue that he claimed he hadn’t studied pardon power, which he wrote about decades ago.” Larimore (formerly of Slate, which presumably would’ve been a bigger issue during the hiring process at a more serious conservative publication) reiterated it, in response to yours truly.

What these hacks are referring to is the fact that Cruz had written quite a bit about the pardon power in a 2015 Harvard Law Review article. This supposedly proves he forgot or was lying when he answered, “that is not a constitutional issue I have studied.”

But obviously, Cruz wasn’t claiming he never studied “the pardon power”; he was saying he never looked closely at the specific question of presidents pardoning themselves. It’s a purely hypothetical question that’s never been attempted or adjudicated, on which legal opinion is all over the map, so it’s natural for legal minds to deem other questions more worthy of their time.

Larimore actually tried to double down when I challenged her. Big mistake:

Gee, who could’ve guessed that a Slate alum would display Slate ethics and Slate tactics?

Snark aside, that’s the real story here: that a “conservative” news organization — a prestigious, “Special Report”-approved one that fancies itself a moral antidote to the uncouth rabble that supported Donald Trump — is no more trustworthy than the shameless propagandists that conservative media was meant to counteract.

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