If only Mark Twain had popularized a phrase to capture the deepest levels of hypocrisy, as he did for “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The quaint and archaic line about the pot calling the kettle black doesn’t sufficiently convey the chutzpah of the New York Times, which recently defamed the Washington Examiner as being part of a “propaganda feedback loop” because it has published stories about the possibility of election fraud.
Its wafer-thin allegation was based on a Harvard study, the tendentiousness of which may be judged from its suggestion that Media Matters, an egregious Clintonian propaganda outfit, is a source of reliable information. The New York Times cited two Washington Examiner stories but didn’t provide a scintilla of evidence that the first was incorrect and failed to note that when subsequent reporting showed the second to be faulty it/we reported that too.
So much for the few specifics.
The burden of the New York Times story as a whole was that talk of significant fraud is a “conspiracy theory” that’s been repeatedly “debunked.” Teaching reporters the difference between “rebutting,” “refuting,” and “debunking” can be a Sisyphean task. Stories about voter fraud are frequently rebutted; that is, challenged and disputed. Fewer can be refuted, that is, shown definitively to be wrong, which is very different.
But, just as a matter of logic, it is impossible to use the fact that voter fraud has been modest in the past to debunk concern about shenanigans in the wholly new circumstances of 2020, with mail-in ballots orders of magnitude more numerous than ever before.
Voter fraud has previously been slight, but it is nevertheless real. I was talking with Karl Rove recently, and he recalled that President George W. Bush lost New Mexico in 2000 by a few hundred votes but won it by about a thousand in 2004. He noted that the difference might have been the discovery of a large number of fraudulent voter registration cards, one of which was sent to the 14-year-old son of a vice cop.
But none of this touches on the real outrage, which is that the New York Times should think itself in a good position to point its finger at anyone for the spread of misinformation. My colleague Becket Adams has delivered a magisterial swipe at the New York Times’ hypocrisy on this matter, but it is worth unpacking a little of it again. Although there has been stiff competition, it may be that the New York Times has spread more disruptive falsehoods than any other news outlet in the past four years.
It led the way in stoking hysteria over the concocted narrative that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election. It was the New York Times that, on Feb. 14, 2017, ran a story saying “phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials.” This false story was breathlessly repeated by such luminaries as MSNBC’s Joy Reid and Rachel Maddow and helped spark a three-year hunt for a nonexistent conspiracy, the media and Democratic obsession with which blighted an entire presidential term.
Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who played a key role in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, who was clearly a militant opponent of Trump, nevertheless annotated a copy of the New York Times story, writing, “The statement is misleading and inaccurate … We have not seen evidence of any individuals associated with the Trump team in contact with [intelligence officials].”
Strzok’s notes (more than a dozen of them) demonstrate what “debunking” looks like. The New York Times’s story was quite some Valentine to the nation and, to use the Gray Lady’s own terminology, accelerated a “propaganda feedback loop.”
The New York Times is also responsible for the 1619 Project, which is now being incorporated into grade school curriculums to teach a false and dark history of our country. To fit its narrative that the nation was really founded 157 years earlier than Independence Day 1776, and was built more than anything else on slavery, the New York Times grossly misrepresented the causes of the American Revolution. The paper resisted overwhelming counterarguments from real historians and then, when resistance became impossible, sneaked corrections in surreptitiously and denied that it ever intended to say what it actually had said repeatedly and forcefully for more than a year. The 1619 Project is a “propaganda feedback loop” for the children of America.
There are mistakes, there are distortions and misinformation — and then there’s the New York Times.
Hugo Gurdon is the editor-in-chief of the Washington Examiner.