A Belated Reply to Ramesh Ponnuru on Kavanaugh and Roe

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to my column last week at LifeSite, in which I take issue with his defense of Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony regarding Roe v. Wade. I appreciate the opportunity for a serious exchange on the subject; hopefully we can clarify some of the Right’s thinking on a tradition that’s caused so much trouble.

Ponnuru accurately summarizes my position; I think he can be fairly summarized as believing nominees shouldn’t commit to overruling specific precedents, but should be more willing to discuss a precedent’s strengths or flaws (from which senators and voters would obviously be able to draw more useful inferences).

Certainly, I agree that it would be improper for a judge to promise, for instance, “I’ll always rule however the National Right to Life Committee wants me to.” I also recognize the legitimacy of certain qualifiers, such as noting that a case involving abortion in some way doesn’t necessarily mean Roe’s legitimacy will be the question it hinges on.

Beyond that, though, I have never heard a persuasive reason why it would be improper for a nominee to commit to ruling certain ways on known legal questions. If a precedent is in fact illicit, I’ve never gotten a good answer why it’s wrong in principle to make reasonably sure that a nominee would overturn it.

Obviously, I can see potential danger in a judge agreeing to deliver a particular outcome in exchange for an appointment, but a bad ruling is hardly mitigated just because its signatories honestly believe in it. So shouldn’t the legitimacy of a pre-confirmation commitment depend entirely on whether the judgment being committed to is correct?

It seems perfectly straightforward to me that a judge’s explanation for his position would demonstrate to fair-minded observers whether it’s rooted in illicit partisanship or defensible legal philosophy, regardless of what conversations he and the president might have had beforehand as to whether they’re on the same page.

It also seems to me that consistently applying the no-commitment principle would take us to some pretty absurd places. Is anyone who’s ever openly criticized Roe, like William Pryor or Michael McConnell, automatically disqualified from joining SCOTUS? Sitting justices who’ve previously declared themselves for or against Roe in majority or dissenting opinions also have a “commitment” on the record that will telegraph their disposition in future abortion cases; how is that meaningfully different?

What’s the limiting principle to the no-commitment rule, and what do the above questions say about the rule’s merits for judicial nominees?

Finally, I’d like to make clear that despite my reservations about nominating Kavanaugh in the first place, I fully support confirming him in light of the Left’s vile campaign to destroy him.

It’s all-but inconceivable that withdrawing him at this stage would lead to confirming anyone better, his powerful testimony calling out “the Left” by name for its “calculated and orchestrated political hit” gives me some hope that he’s more of a movement conservative than he let on during the first round, and most importantly, the Left’s tactics of demonization and intimidation cannot be rewarded.

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Jonah Goldberg Fires at Me, Somehow Shoots Own Foot

Last month, I called out Jonah Goldberg’s foolish Twitter declaration that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative” at LifeSiteNews, and reacted here to his subsequent tweetstorm about a LifeNews piece compiling unfavorable Twitter reactions to him. This was one of his follow-ups that most stood out to me:

The issue, of course, is that Goldberg has never been shy about touting National Review’s record of kicking out beyond-the-pale apostates.

So I replied:

Goldberg never responded, directly or indirectly, to my article or any of my rebuttal tweets. I don’t know whether he simply missed it or he decided to concentrate fire on the easier target, but given his Twitter habit of responding to softballs from anonymous fringe types while strenuously ignoring substantive counterpoints, I have my suspicions.

Anyway, he displayed his selective support for kicking out apostates once again with a recent G-File. Here are some key quotes:

  • From the very beginning, NR has stood against the ‘irresponsible Right.’
  • And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right.
  • Like water seeking its level, bogs claim whatever they are allowed to claim until stopped by nature or man. That “supposedly” is the rhetorical device that says, “Let the swamp grass grow, it’s not my responsibility to prune it.”
  • My view then, and now, is that everyone should not only be forced to choose between traditional conservatism and the alt-right but that they should force that choice on others.
  • Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”
  • By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

Huh. Apparently there is a “thing” apostates can be kicked out of after all.

As should be needless to say, I fully support excommunicating white nationalists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, etc. from conservatism (I’ve written plenty about that myself). Where I and Goldberg’s other critics differ is that we believe that defenders of violence against children deserve the same treatment, on both conservative dogma and human decency grounds.

So, in response to the G-File, I reminded Goldberg of his own words (again). This time finally got a response:

As funny as it was to see Jonah slap the “gibberish” label on a tweet that’s mostly one of his own quotes, the invocation of his podcast was more interesting. Had he finally confronted the meat of the issue? Did he put me in my place with a superior review of embryology, natural law theory, conservative history, or the Founders’ thinking?

After listening to the podcast he cited…not exactly. During the segment (starting at 50:40) devoted to complaining about the pushback he got with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (not exactly an authority on conservatism), Goldberg merely says that “a pro-life website went hammer and tongs after me” (presumably LifeNews) and mentions a couple writers at The Federalist. 

At no point do Goldberg or Douthat address, directly or indirectly, anything I said on the matter or any variation of the objections I raised (they don’t get specific about anything any of Goldberg’s other critics said, either). So how does he know I “made a fool of” myself? How does the podcast demonstrate it? Apparently Goldberg either (a) confused me with the LifeNews author, (b) didn’t know my reasoning but lazily assumed it was probably covered in the exchange, or (c) did know and was deflecting with simple ad hominem.

None of these possibilities are a great fit with the image of one of “serious” conservatism’s best and brightest.

As for the points Goldberg did make, none of them vindicated his original thesis. If anything, they reinforced my own observations at multiple points (you might even call it gibberish):

As a matter of political strategy it is insane to me for pro-lifers to say “you have to be a conservative to be a pro-lifer.” Because that way you’re basically telling every socialist, every good Catholic, every Nat Hentoff type, everyone who wants single-payer healthcare, that they also have to be pro-choice, right? You want to make it a separate track.

That would be insane…if any of Goldberg’s critics had said it. Maybe he heard it from some random troll (he does love his random trolls), but “pro-lifers must be conservatives” is a pretty glaring reversal of the actual proposition in dispute, “conservatives must be pro-life.” Of course pro-lifers should want non-conservatives to oppose abortion, but simply stressing that abortion is incompatible with American conservatism’s first principles hardly implies otherwise.

There are so many different kinds of conservatism, many of which I despise, right? I mean, read Friedrich Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” something the libertarians love to quote the title of, but never quote the essay […] He says that America is the one place in the world where you can call yourself a conservative and still be on the side of liberty, because we’re trying to conserve a fundamentally liberal institution, which is the American Founding […] a “conservative” in America means something profoundly different than a “conservative” in Portugal, you know? A conservative in Portugal might want to restore the throne; a conservative in America wants to uphold the principles that overthrew the crown. Very different things. Radicalism and conservatism are the two most contingent ideologies; they depend entirely on where and when you’re talking about.

In retrospect, I should have expected the Hayek tangent to make an appearance here. I enjoy a good chat about what conservatism conserves across different nations and eras, but…we’re not in Portugal. It’s not the seventeenth century. The “where and when [we’re] talking about” is 2018 America, where conservatism is generally understood to have something to do with conserving the principles of the American Founding.

So why rest his defense on some rambling about what conservatism might mean in other parts of the world? Why completely ignore the intellectual tradition and first principles that could shed light on the question? Perhaps because (as I showed) where American conservatism falls on the right to life is so utterly straightforward that Goldberg knew he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if he did anything other than obfuscate.

The reason abortion makes me uncomfortable at the second and third trimester is because I think it’s a moral horror. The reason why abortion makes me uncomfortable in the first two weeks of conception is, I don’t like the state being involved in the process of deciding who is and who is not a human being. So it’s a very libertarian point on the beginning of life. I cannot muster anything like the moral horror I have for things like partial-birth abortion for the aborting of blastocysts. The morning-after pill doesn’t shake me to my core and fill me with a sort of morally-generated disgust the way essentially infanticide does in the eighth or ninth month. And so I’m just willing to admit my intellectual weakness about the beginning of the argument.

Alternate headline: Jonah Goldberg admits he’s not qualified to be commenting on abortion in the first place.

This is pure emotion. There’s no appeal to evidence, no attempt at reasoning, and no serious application of conservative dogma…on one of the most fundamental, most straightforward natural-rights questions possible. Didn’t the Right use to pride itself on following reason over feelings, in contrast to the Left?

There are lots of people who came after me, including people I’m friends with, who see conservatism as a sort of industrial analogue to the Republican Party, that it’s a movement, that it’s a network of institutions. And so, to me what they were doing is they were replacing an intellectual, philosophical conception, with the Young America’s Foundation and the NRA, this network of institutions, right? And those are just different things to me.

First, conservatism quite obviously is a movement (whether specific organizations are effectively reflecting its first principles are a different story). Second, where does Goldberg get off claiming he sees conservatism as an “intellectual, philosophical conception” and his critics don’t, when his critics are the ones arguing philosophy and he hasn’t made a single philosophical counter-argument?

He strenuously avoided any exploration of any concept or work — purpose of government, natural-law theory, individual rights, constitutional interpretation, American conservative thought since the Founders, etc. — that would have produced a reviewable argument as to whether there can be a conservative case for legal abortion.

What an inspiring example of the intellectual caliber that apparently merits a slice of a $2.4 million grant for “reconciling individual freedom with cultural values that make freedom and progress possible” these days…

A lot of these outlets and institutions thought I was the better target of their ire than Tomi Lahren, because there is this unbelievable deference to clickbait warlords out there. And so I’m throwing her under the bus for saying something stupid, that is contrary to the strategic argument, that is contrary to the moral argument, and instead, because I made some rhetorical concession to something that they didn’t like, and because I’m in this anti-Trump box for a lot of these people, they’d rather attack me than attack her, even though they didn’t realize that I was actually carrying water for them. And that’s part of the weird moment that we’re in.

This is, to use one of Goldberg’s favorite terms, horseshit.

Sean Davis, Kimberly Ross, and Micaiah Bilger were among the voices to criticize both Goldberg and Lahren (I tweeted about her latest stupidity herehere, and here, and wrote about her here, here, and here last year). The conservative commentariat torched her Roe comments (for instance) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and in countless tweets. So it’s not as if taking some time to slam Goldberg’s comments somehow detracted from holding her accountable.

As I said at LifeSite, in the grand scheme of things the stupidity of a provocateur pandering to the lowest common denominator is ultimately less concerning than someone who supposedly knows better, speaking with the perceived credibility of one of the Right’s most esteemed publications. If anything, the Right focused too much on Lahren’s poison and not enough on Goldberg’s.

So what’s the root cause of all this nonsense? Why is Jonah Goldberg so hellbent on carving out space for pro-aborts under the conservative umbrella, and why is he so abysmal at backing it up?

Like I’ve acknowledged in the past, I appreciate that he has written insightful pieces on abortion, and that he takes his uncertainty as a call to err on the side of caution rather than a license to kill. But between the above, his April admission that he disagrees “to some extent” with the “moral, practical, [and] legal grounds” for thinking “abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such”; and his suggestion last year that there’s some substantive moral difference between Doug Jones supporting abortion-on-demand and Roy Moore being “the more evil man in his personal conduct” for his alleged crimes, it all paints a distinctly squishy picture.

I believe there are ultimately two things going on here, neither of which are intellectual. The first is that Goldberg simply doesn’t want to give up any of his own claim to the conservative label (not that his stance makes him not a conservative, but it does make him less conservative). The second is that he doesn’t want to admit that more than a few of his personal friends in this industry hold a position every bit as repugnant as the worst the John Birch Society peddled at its height.

This whole affair is another example of what so many of Cruise-Ship Conservatism’s lectures to the Results-Oriented Right boil down to: double-standards. None of it is about upholding first principles or wiping clean parasites. It’s about tearing down competitors for the soul of the movement by any means necessary, while insulating themselves and their allies from criticism for the exact same offenses.

New at LifeSite: In Defense of Religious Conservatives’ Alliance with Trump

Last week, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf launched a vicious attack on Vice President Mike Pence, Hillsdale College, its president Larry Arnn, and by extension every conservative and religious American who supports Donald Trump. The attack echoed a slur we’ve heard far too much from the “respectable” wing of the Right, so I took the opportunity to respond at LifeSiteNews.

You can read the whole thing at LifeSite, but here’s the gist:

[B]ut while justifying [Trump’s] sins would be a moral compromise, neither Christianity nor conservatism has ever held that a man must be perpetually shunned or endlessly condemned for what he did or was in his past. We’re all sinners, and all capable of redemption […]

Yes, we’re supposed to seek the most virtuous leaders we can. But the Founders also taught, as in Federalist 51, that if “angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

This was one of first lessons drilled into me at Hillsdale: human nature is fallen. The Founders knew self-serving leaders would be such a constant of American history that they baked it into the Constitution, balancing the various parts of government so that ambition would be “made to counteract ambition.” They expected checks and balances to work through officeholders’ self-interest, not their high-mindedness.

In other words, they never expected selfless moral exemplars to be the norm, and understood that the task of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because we dislike the finite choices the democratic process has given us. The question remains whether to attempt to do good through a flawed vehicle, or accept an administration committed to massive evil.

Again, please read the rest at LifeSiteNews. For related reading in which I elaborate on all the above, you can check out my 2016 assessment of all the reasons for and against voting for Trump in the general election, my 2016 Stream article on what casting a vote is and isn’t about, and my Federalist Papers Project response to the attacks on pro-Trump Christians in the wake of the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Roger Kimball also wrote a great response to Friedersdorf at American Greatness. A snippet:

Conor Friedersdorf’s real objection is that Larry Arnn should engage in “moral compromises in order to achieve political outcomes.” But what is the “moral compromise” he has in mind? Is inviting the vice president of the United States to campus such a compromise? Is taking pride in seeing graduates of the college one presides over work for the president such a compromise? For no other institution or administration in history would this be true.

Friedersdorf, meanwhile, followed up his first two pieces of the subject with a compilation of messages he got from anonymous Hillsdale alumni — most of which just happen to mindlessly parrot his central attack. I suspect (and desperately hope, for the sake of Hillsdale’s intellectual seriousness) that either they were cherry-picked, or that #NeverTrump students were disproportionately likely to respond to his feedback request in the first place.

The ‘Respectable’ Right’s Collusion Bait-and-Switch

As I’ve been saying for a long time now, NeverTrump’s nonstop wailing about the supposedly declining integrity of the conservative movement might be easier to take at face value if they themselves didn’t lie all the time. This week saw the emergence of an especially duplicitous new talking point.

As the conspiracy mongering continues to rage over Donald Trump supposedly conspiring with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election, skeptics have pointed out that essentially the only thing NeverTrumpers have to hang their hat on is the June 2016 meeting to hear out a Russian lawyer’s claim to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Foolish and wrong, certainly, but not evidence that the Trump campaign learned of, condoned, or encouraged any illegal Russian activities, or that it promised anything to the Kremlin in exchange for support. So various Trump supporters and collusion skeptics have reiterated this week that if this is what passes for “collusion,” it’s a nothingburger:

The NeverTrump reaction was as predictable as it was pathetic. David French did what he does best — straw-manning:

Jonah Goldberg highlighted Hemingway in particular in a July 27 G-File audaciously titled, “Who Cares about Truth Anymore, Anyway?” He characterized her argument as “the allegation Trump colluded with Russia is suddenly no longer an insane conspiracy theory and slander, it’s not really a problem at all.”

Jake Tapper, the MSM hack NeverTrumpers pal around with because they don’t really mean any of their own rhetoric about honesty, boosted Goldberg’s attack:

All of this is dishonest on two levels. First, this isn’t a new argument from collusion skeptics at all; Hemingway, for instance, has been saying the same thing at least since last October.

Second, these people know damn well there are multiple usages of the word “collusion” flying around, and that the Trump Tower meeting is neither what conservatives are talking about when they express skepticism nor what the vast majority of Trump’s accusers mean by the term.

How do we know this dishonesty is premeditated? For one thing, it would strain credulity for any professional political analyst, particularly a “conservative” one, to be so unfamiliar with the basics of the argument.

For another, in Goldberg’s case Andrew McCarthy explained this very point to him on the same day Goldberg attacked Hemingway, in response to his direct questioning:

When I said that turning to a foreign government for campaign dirt was not “collusion,” I meant it was not the collusion that is the rationale for the Trump-Russia investigation — specifically, the cyber-espionage conspiracy to influence the 2016 campaign.

To be clear, collusion is literally just concerted activity. It can be made to sound sinister, but it is not necessarily good or bad, criminal or innocent. It’s just people doing stuff together.

A subset of collusion is conspiracy. Conspiracy is a crime. Technically, it is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime — the conspiratorial agreement is a crime even if its criminal objective is never realized.

Now, French’s tweet predates both Mollie’s comment and Jonah’s swipe at McCarthy*, but again, French is (at least) competent enough to be aware of the distinction. Even if he wasn’t, he retweeted the McCarthy swipe (but not McCarthy’s answer), so it’s not as if he wasn’t following along.

Evidently, debating opponents’ actual positions instead of knocking down caricatures is not among the ethical principles our betters are concerned with preserving in the Age of Trump.


*Speaking of which, publicly calling out a National Review colleague for ridicule as a supposed hypocrite instead of privately reaching out to express a good-faith concern (in doing so including a gratuitous highlight of something McCarthy had already clarified was just a verbal mix-up, doesn’t exactly seem like a great moment in professionalism.

Abortion, Jonah Goldberg, and the Integrity of Conservatism

On Thursday, I responded to a foolish, revealing statement by Jonah Goldberg asserting that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative.” You can read the whole thing at LifeSiteNews; here’s the gist:

[The Declaration of Independence] establishes that the core purpose of government is to secure the unalienable rights God has equally endowed on every human being – and among those rights, “life” is the first one listed. It’s the obvious prerequisite to exercising any of the other freedoms for which conservatism stands.

If you accept the Declaration’s premises, the only question remaining is one of fact, not philosophy: are the preborn the same kind of “life” Thomas Jefferson was writing about? The inarguable answer is yes.

According to all the established criteria of modern biology, a whole, distinct, living human exists once fertilization has occurred.

On Friday, Goldberg responded…not to me or the case I made, but to a LifeNews article that merely highlighted his comment and rounded up a handful of disapproving Twitter responses. As a result, his tweetstorm largely missed the substantive problems with his claim:

That last one here is key. Jonah identifies as “essentially pro-life” and has written valuable material on abortion in the past, though he also displays some muddy thinking on the subject that undoubtedly informs his level of comfort with “conservatives” who embrace it.

But at the end of the day, he is comfortable with them wearing the label, and not because he or anyone else in the more, shall we say, Beltway-sympathetic cliques of the Right is some absolutist for accommodating any and every deviation from first principles. Goldberg (rightly) says it “helped the cause” when National Review “purged the Birchers.”

So why don’t those who endorse legalized violence against children deserve to be similarly purged? What makes such a barbaric view any more respectable? Why doesn’t it carry a similar risk of morally and intellectually diluting the movement?

I’ve mentioned before a couple other instances of Goldberg demonstrating that he doesn’t consider abortion support beyond the pale, such as when he revealed that NR has “pro-choice” writers who “just don’t typically make that case in our pages” and that he disagrees “to some extent” on “moral, practical, [and] legal grounds” that “abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such”; and when he suggested that Roy Moore was “the more evil man in his personal conduct” than pro-abortion Doug Jones.

In other words, he draws an arbitrary distinction between “personally” doing evil and doing evil through government, and/or fails to recognize some evils as evil at all.

It can’t be repeated often enough: the idea that most #NeverTrumpers were acting out of concern for the election’s long-term impact on conservative principles is exactly backwards. They were more comfortable with surrendering the presidency to Hillary Clinton because they weighed the issues at stake, including but not limited to abortion, less heavily than those of us who desperately wanted a different nominee yet recognized the stakes remained the same.

Keep that in mind the next time you see one of their lectures to the rest of us, which should be any minute now.

Some Thoughts on Brett Kavanaugh & the Supreme Court Circus

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Judge Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed as Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court Justice. Democrats will howl over bogus complains, and Republicans will tune them out and fall in line.

A majority of the Right seems satisfied that on the whole, Kavanaugh is a decent originalist. Ann Coulter is thrilled with him, while Daniel Horowitz identifies several causes for concern. My own review of his abortion-related rulings and statements leaves me cautiously optimistic that he’s more likely than John Roberts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

While I’m majorly disappointed that Trump passed on nominating Amy Barrett (for whatever nonsensical reason), I’m open to Kavanaugh turning out either way. The real problem is that Senate Republicans won’t do their due diligence and thoroughly vet any of their own party’s judicial nominees before giving them lifetime power — never mind the fact that every modern GOP president has gotten it catastrophically wrong at least once.

Out of all the major conservative voices, Mark Levin is just about the only one I’ve seen state what should be obvious:

[T]he conservative senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee must use the confirmation hearing to ask him legitimate questions to verify his backers’ claims that he’s a textualist and originalist. There are certain gaps in and concerns about his record despite all the cheerleading.

I was one of a few lonely voices screaming that we were moving too fast on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. And sure enough, while Gorsuch has turned out mostly fine so far, he’s also cast at least one horrendously wrong vote with disastrous ramifications. No judge is infallible and it’s impossible to predict every future possibility, but are we really going to say there isn’t any connection between rushing through the homework and being unpleasantly surprised just a year in?

Of course, none of this would be as big a problem if Congress exercised its constitutional power and duty to rein in rogue justices when they trash the Constitution. Unfortunately, since our current, swampy crop of Republicans has neither the interest for serious vetting or the willpower to truly check the legislative branch, “pass the justice to find out what’s in him” continues to be the order of the day.

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.