Correcting the Record on Nick Frankovich

A particularly salty Twitter brawl broke out last Thursday night over a video clip from Jonah Goldberg’s appearance last week at UW-Madison, during which a student became the target of some SwampCon indignation by bringing up a high-profile National Review embarrassment which the magazine and its brethren would very much rather conservatives politely forget about: Nick Frankovich’s knee-jerk smear of the Covington boys.

For those who need a refresher, the Covington boys were Catholic high school kids who attended the March for Life in January, some of whom were wearing MAGA hats while harmlessly waiting for their bus afterward. During the wait, they were approached and harassed by Native American activist Nathan Phillips and some creeps from the Black Hebrew Israelites group. Video of the incident quickly spread, as did a narrative that it depicted a bunch of white pro-Trump teens harassing an elderly minority gentleman.

It was a lie from the start, and within days a bunch of people tripped over themselves to walk back their “rush to judgment.” Among the offenders was National Review deputy managing editor Nicholas Frankovich, who wrote a post containing the following claims:

“Bullying” is a worn-out word and doesn’t convey the full extent of the evil on display here…

Read the accounts again or, if you’d rather not, watch the video. The human capacity for sadism is too great…

…boy who makes himself the co-star of the video by stepping forward and getting in Phillips’s face…

Decide for yourself who is more pleasing to Christ, Phillips or his mockers. As for the putatively Catholic students from Covington, they might as well have just spit on the cross and got it over with.

The next day, after a consensus settled that the kids were innocent, Frankovich wrote an “apology” post. Here’s the entire statement:

Early Sunday morning, I posted a “strongly worded” (Rich Lowry’s description) condemnation of the conduct, seen far and wide on video, of a group of high-school students at the conclusion of the March for Life on Friday afternoon. I was preachy and rhetorically excessive, and I regret it. The overheated post I wrote has been taken down. Let this apology stand in its stead, both here on the Corner and in the memory of readers who justifiably objected to my high-handedness.

We’ll dig into all of this soon. Here’s the video of this week’s exchange revisiting it:

STUDENT: As I’m sure you know, in January of this year, while attending the March for Life event, a group of students from Covington Catholic High School were involved in an incident with Native American activist Nathan Phillips. It would later come out that Phillips provoked the confrontation by approaching the students, but it was too late. The damage had been done. The left-wing media attacked the kids as racist and left-wing film producer Jack Morrissey tweeted his desire to see the kids thrown into wood-chippers.

All of this is to be expected from the left wing, but much to my surprise, the right wing’s initial reaction was also the same, to attack the students. Your colleague at the time, Nicholas Frankovich, wrote an article titled, quote, “The Covington Students Might as Well Have Just Spit on the Cross,” in which they [sic] condemned the students as, quote, “evil.”

My question for you is, instead of tacitly defending this piece on Twitter, why didn’t you stand up for innocent young American patriots?

Goldberg’s response begins:

[sighs] So you’re one of the kids I’m talking about. [Audience laughter, moans] That’s fine, I’ll answer the question but I think it’s moronically loaded and idiotic and bad-faith, but I’ll answer it, I’ll answer it, [inaudible].

Give Jonah credit for this much, at least: he lets the audience know up front that he’s an ass.

I don’t think I knew about the Nick Frankovich piece until, I don’t know, twelve hours after or something like that, he made a mistake, as did an enormous number of other people. If you actually read the rest of National Review, a lot of people like you and friends of yours have this desire to turn one mistake that one of, a really decent guy made in a blog post late at night, into representative of what all of National Review stands for. And that’s bad-faith garbage if you read all of the other things that people at National Review wrote about that story. It’s just flatly untrue.

And so what you’re doing is what, it’s a version of what my friend David French calls “nut-picking.” You are picking one example and holding it up as a Medusa’s head, and saying, ‘this condemns the entire Right.’ And it’s logically garbage. Moreover, he apologized for it, you are bringing it up as if it’s this incredibly important moment in American culture and the American Right, when it is utterly trivial [inaudible]. Most conservatives freaked out about the Covington thing, you don’t have to be part of some new subversive sort group of young conservatives, alleged conservatives, and take this up as your banner to prove your authenticity over the establishment Right, when everybody from Fox News to National Review lost their minds about that thing.

Goldberg’s rhetorical sloppiness (condemning National Review “condemns the entire Right”?) requires a bit of parsing, but by “everybody…lost their minds about that thing” he apparently means that we all agree now about the Covington story, so there’s nothing to argue about. But the issue is not whether the Covington facts are in dispute now; it’s that the role of conservatives like Frankovich in smearing the students has not been adequately addressed.

“Mistake” makes it sound like Frankovich merely believed erroneous early reports or drew defensible inferences from incomplete information (we’ll be generous and stipulate that that was theoretically possible). But the video he linked in his article and used as the source of his claims doesn’t support them at all.

It shows a bunch of kids mostly standing in place, laughing and cheering, at points keeping time with the drumming of Phillips and his colleagues. It is not at all obvious that any “mockery” is taking place, let alone anything that could be semi-plausibly interpreted as “bullying,” “evils,” or “sadism.” The video even contains a a clear clue against the idea that the kids are any sort of aggressor, as partway through several of them display visible confusion about the situation, asking “what’s happening” and “I don’t know what’s going on.”

It’s an unusual scene, to be sure, but a scene to which the natural reaction is curiosity as to what’s really happening, not hallucination of things that aren’t.

The most egregious line is Frankovich’s reference to the “boy who makes himself the co-star of the video by stepping forward and getting in Phillips’s face,” Nick Sandmann, for one simple reason: Sandmann is standing in place when Phillips approaches him and gets in his face. Frankovich’s own source shows the opposite of what he claimed it showed, and it’s not a particularly close call. And throughout the face-off, Sandmann looks nothing like some confrontational punk; he starts out with a grin, and clearly becomes more uncomfortable as Phillips continues to beat a drum inches from his face.

“Rush to judgment” and “mistake” don’t begin to explain the glaring discrepancies between Frankovich’s characterization and his own linked source, but that’s not even the worst part. No, that would be the fact that his subsequent mea culpa post is a classic example of the non-apology.

In it, Frankovich expresses regret for being “preachy,” “rhetorically excessive,” “overheated,” and “high-handed.” But no matter how many times you reread it, you will not find any of the following:

  • An acknowledgement that he unjustly harmed the Covington boys. Frankovich’s “apology” isn’t even addressed to a specific wronged party, and could easily be read as merely apologizing to NR readers for upsetting them.
  • An admission that his claims were not just poorly expressed, but untrue. In fact, his wording (“the conduct, seen far and wide on video, of a group of high-school students at the conclusion of the March for Life on Friday afternoon”) makes it sound as if there isn’t even a factual question about his original screed.
  • An explanation for how he came to so spectacularly misrepresent the video’s contents, or for why he felt justified subjecting pro-life teenagers to such venom.

Despite missing every element of an authentic apology, Frankovich’s follow-up was good enough for National Review, which preposterously claimed in its official editorial on the debacle that “Nick was operating off the best version of events he had on Saturday night.” It was a lie, but a lie the NR team decided was sufficient to close the case.

In the real world, however, how such a smear got published at a top conservative website remained a very real, very troubling question. If one wants to give Frankovich’s motives the benefit of the doubt, the only possible explanations are (a) he didn’t actually watch the video and cribbed the details entirely from the mainstream media, in which case his recklessness remains unaddressed; or (b) he isn’t competent enough to to watch videos and accurately convey their contents, which is kind of a problem for anyone in an editorial position.

If you don’t believe Frankovich is a lazy moron, however (which I don’t), questioning his motives and biases is unavoidable. Goldberg blames it all on social media for ginning up a “race to be wrong first” (yes, really), but in light of everything the Right has been through since Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, there’s another more logical explanation for why “conservatives” like Frankovich talked about kids in Trump hats the exact same way the MSM did: because they share the MSM’s prejudices against wearers of Trump hats.

The theory is certainly consistent with Frankovich’s past writings—the former #NeverTrumper tried to rationalize conservatives and even pro-life Catholics voting for Hillary Clinton, and suggested that Trump’s election might be divine punishment—and would explain why he couldn’t bring himself to admit the Covington kids weren’t the monsters he painted them as. They still wore that horrible man’s hats, didn’t they?

But don’t you dare bring it up to Jonah! After he answers, a student asks which “subversive group of young alleged conservatives” Goldberg was referencing. Goldberg replies:

I don’t know the name of it, the kid who like, whatever, runs it, all I know is that every time one of these groups, where someone comes with one of these detailed questions, reading from their iPhone, tends to be part of it. And it’s part of a game.

Think about that: the mere fact that a student takes the time to prepare a detailed question and reads it (as opposed to what, memorizing it or rambling/stammering at the mic?) makes a question suspect? Aren’t preparation and coherence what you want at these things, instead of wasting everybody’s time with incoherent nonsense?

And because Jonah apparently decided he didn’t make quite a big enough ass of himself during the Q&A, he also fit some more invective on the subject into his Nov. 20 newsletter, calling the “whiny” student a “pasty troll” with a “really stupid” question, and even suggesting he was part of the “alt-right”—solely because he disputed whether a group endorsed by Michelle Malkin warrants the label (The Dispatch’s Nov. 18 morning update also calls the kid an “alt-right protester”).

We need to note here that this exchange coincides with another controversy surrounding Malkin’s defense of “new Right leader” and loathsome worm Nick Fuentes (I have already said Malkin should disavow him and repeatedly criticized her for not doing so).

However, while it is now (sadly) fair to accuse Malkin of coddling elements of the alt-right, at the time of the Goldberg Q&A the uproar over her comments had not fully blown up Twitter and Malkin had not yet doubled down so hysterically about Fuentes himself. So it’s entirely possible that the kid was merely referring to Malkin’s defenses of students who’ve questioned Young America’s Foundation and Turning Point USA speakers about immigration, and wasn’t aware of the Fuentes stuff at all.

One might reasonably expect a longtime center-right pundit (particularly one who just launched a media venture that purports to “describe the opposing points of view with honesty and charity,” and whose own definition of the group in question was vague enough to encompass anyone reading a question off an iPhone) to exercise a modicum of patience and nuance on this stuff, to attempt to understand where a young critic was coming from and clarify whatever confusion he might have. These are confusing times full of blurred battle lines, dozens of righty factions, and countless lunatics and grifters looking to smuggle themselves into the mainstream by latching onto valid grievances and causes.

It’s way too easy for young people to get lost in all this noise. They need serious, mature conservatives to help them navigate it all, to separate the conservative factions from the cranks, to learn how to pursue their conservative values and legitimate question while recognizing which players are just bigoted clowns who have infiltrated and are exploiting rightful anti-establishment discontent for their own ends.

Or, if you’re a thin-skinned, tribalistic hack who sees large swaths of the movement’s base as a peasant class that should sit down, shut up, and defer to the nobility and genius of your fellow travelers, you can just call that kid a bunch of names, write him off as a bigot, and call it a day. What could go wrong?

David French Lies Some More, Calls for a Democrat President

Of all the things I’ve ever gotten wrong, the most embarrassing is probably that, once upon a time, I called David French principled.

My first exposure to French was via the Evangelicals for Mitt website, where he (rightfully, at the time) made the case for nominating Mitt Romney in 2008 (shocking as it may seem to younger righties today, back then he really was the conservative alternative to pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani, nanny statist Mike Huckabee, and pro-himself John McCain).

From there, I found French’s background as a religious liberty attorney who volunteered to go to Iraq not only incredibly impressive, but incredibly humbling. As anti-Trumpism began morphing from a valid primary position into a general-election malady, French’s service to both his country and the movement kept me straining to give his intentions the benefit of the doubt for as long as I could.

But eventually, it became impossible not to notice that David wasn’t merely wrong, but dishonest.

It became impossible to ignore that he was willing to risk the lives and liberties of millions of Americans for no better reason than to register his contempt for a distasteful presidential candidate. Since 2016, there have been countless examples of French’s distortions (demonizing Christians while twisting their arguments, playing semantic games to trash honest conservatives, and pieces that so egregiously misstate facts and law they have to be extensively fact-checked by colleagues after publication), and his watered-down conservatism (suggesting we can’t do anything about libraries hosting drag queen events for kids, asserting hateful lunatics have a First Amendment right to teach students at taxpayer expense, citing fringe trolls as evidence conservatism as a whole and America itself are becoming more racist, and most recently accusing the Right of “caricaturing” environmentalism).

But while his latest piece for Time Magazine (where he apparently runs the stuff that’s too dishonest and too lefty even for post-Buckley National Review) may mark a new low, it also helpfully gathers many of his worst lies into one place, the ultimate proof that Pastor David French thinks the commandment against bearing false witness is either optional or doesn’t apply to him, and just how much of other people’s lives, liberties, and well-being he’s willing to sacrifice to be rid of Donald Trump. Continue reading

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.

The Unbearable Shallowness of #NeverTrump Arguments, Part 2: Kevin Williamson

We continue our tour of #NeverTrump’s dangerous shallowness with National Review’s Kevin Williamson, whose work on the subject is particularly insufferable thanks to his wrapping profoundly stupid arguments in arrogant contempt for all who disagree.

Cruz and the rest should not be bullied into accepting the nonsense that refusing to go in for Trump is a vote for Mrs. Clinton. It isn’t. Declining to support Trump is an act of integrity and good taste. It isn’t anything Cruz or Bush has done that makes Trump unsupportable — that is Trump’s doing, and no one else’s.

I don’t know what’s lamer: the suggestion that “Trump’s doing” somehow negates NeverTrumpers’ free will in choosing not to vote for him, or the two-word denial that not voting Trump amounts to supporting Clinton. Presidential elections only have two viable candidates. The only way to make one lose is to get the other more votes. Of course deliberately withholding votes from the alternative to Hillary benefits Hillary. This is not complicated.

And “act of integrity and good taste”? To give Hillary Clinton the opportunity to effectively end the Constitution and the conservative movement via a one-two punch of establishing a 6-3 leftist Supreme Court (at best) and amnestying enough future Democrat voters to ensure we never win another national election in our lifetimes? Another 9/11? Fifty million more abortions? More persecution of Christian employers and conservative activists? More liberties and checks on government power erased? More disenfranchisement of the states and the people? Possibly sacrificing our opportunity to ever fix any of the crises facing America?

Meh, says Kevin to all of that. Hating Trump is more important to me than the suffering of millions of Americans.

Kevin did, however, elaborate on “it isn’t” in an earlier article, and good Lord is it worse than you’re expecting: Continue reading

National Disgrace Marco Rubio Wants to Inflict Himself on America Again

The one silver lining to this disaster of an election was supposed to be that at least we’d be getting rid of Marco Rubio. Unfortunately, Rubio has just decided he wants to stay in the Senate after all.

If the Right really held honor at a premium, the very possibility would have been met with such a unanimous hail of incredulity and disgust that Rubio never would have considered it (then again, if that were the case his presidential ambitions never would have gotten past a momentary delusion of grandeur).

Rubio ran for Senate claiming to be an anti-amnesty candidate, then when he got there he repeatedly lied to the country on behalf of the Gang of 8 amnesty bill. That left the GOP base even more distrustful they could trust anybody in elected office, giving Donald Trump his opening to gain a real foothold with the electorate. Not once has Rubio taken responsibility for his dishonesty.

Then, when he ran for president, he repeatedly lied about Ted Cruz, the only plausible alternative to Trump. Finally, he ensured Trump’s victory by helping to split the conservative vote and screw over Cruz’s delegate prospects long after it was clear he wasn’t going to become the nominee…and yet, after all he did to both Cruz and the country, Rubio has the gall to ask Cruz to help his new vanity campaign?

You have no honor, Mr. Rubio. The country cannot trust you. For the incalculable harm you’ve done to your country, the only way you could regain a sliver of your honor would be to acknowledge you don’t belong anywhere near public office.

New at Federalist Papers: Lefty Video Game Shamelessly Straw-Mans the Gun Debate

Nothing makes liberals happier than bragging about their imagined moral superiority to conservatives, no matter the facts. And a new left-wing computer game is making waves doing just that, exploiting the recent shooting in Orlando, Florida to push gun control.

Thoughts and Prayers: The Game is a 30-second-long game playable in your browser for free. It shows a map of the United States, with targets and death tolls popping up all over it to represent recent mass shootings.

The screen has three buttons: “Think,” “Pray,” and “Ban Assault Weapon Sales.” The first two do nothing, and the third just brings up sarcastic messages like “That’s Unamerican” and “You Don’t Have the Votes.”

The message is obvious: conservatives and Republicans offer victims of gun violence nothing but ineffective sentiments, while refusing to consider the one policy that would actually save lives. However, as usual, none of the facts back up the condescension on display.

Read the rest at the Federalist Papers Project.

New at Live Action: Vox Spreads Abortion Myths While Pretending to Correct It

Just days after unsuccessfully arguing that banning abortion with rape and health exceptions is still too extreme, Vox has a new video that purports to debunk the “biggest myth about abortion you probably think is true.” Unfortunately, being Vox, all the video ends up doing is reinforcing myths.

The video’s narrator, Liz Plank, demonstrates that those who “feel passionate about abortion” “don’t know much about it” by interviewing pro-life protestors outside the Supreme Court.

Read the rest at Live Action News.