Media: Um, that big Steve Scalise story probably didn’t happen, but he’s still ’embattled’ anyway
Hey, remember how the biggest story in every mainstream media outlet yesterday was the shattering revelation that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) spoke to a group with ties to the odious white supremacist David Duke in 2002? Ancillary stories blossomed with lightning speed throughout the day, spreading across the front pages like fractal patterns blooming on a computer screen saver: the latest comments from Scaliese, reactions from other Republican leaders, calls for his doom from top Democrats, hard-hitting political analysis from veteran correspondents about whether the “embattled” Republican could possibly survive this devastating scandal…
Have you checked the big news websites today? Nothing. Yesterday’s top story is gone. CBS and NBC still have day-old posts about Scalise apologizing for delivering the brief 12-year-old address he barely remembers, but he’s vanished everywhere else.
There’s a good reason for that: it turns out the big story was, depending on how charitable you’re feeling, either dubiously sourced, a mistake, or an outright hoax. It fell to Betsy Woodruff at Slate to dig deeper and discover that on the fateful day, Scalise actually spoke to an innocent civic association, along with representatives from the local sheriff’s office and the American Red Cross. The unpleasant chaps from the Duke-linked “EURO” group had the room booked after the civic association was finished with it.
This is all based on the shifting recollections of a “longtime associate of David Duke” and neighbor of Steve Scalise named Kenny Knight, who is beginning to look like the unreliable single source for a too-good-to-check “scoop” the mainstream media’s “multiple layers of fact-checkers and editors” didn’t bother to investigate thoroughly before cudgeling an apologetic sound bite out of the Majority Whip. After investing considerable effort in reminding her readers how awful Knight, Duke, and this EURO crew are, Woodruff gets down to the details of that epic conference room rental at the Landmark Best Western in Metairie:
According to Knight, the EURO conference was slated to start in the early afternoon, roughly around 1 p.m. But his reservation at the hotel gave him access to the conference space for a few hours before the event’s official kickoff. At the time, Knight headed the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, which was largely comprised of elderly people who lived in his and Scalise’s neighborhood.
Knight said he set up a morning event for his own civic association in the hotel space before the EURO conference started. Though that event was in the conference’s hospitality room, it wasn’t at all related to the EURO event, he said.
“It was my room to do what I want with it,” he said.
Knight invited then–state Rep. Scalise as well as a representative from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and a person from the American Red Cross to speak to the civic association at the hotel. Knight said he thinks the Red Cross speaker was from a local chapter but didn’t remember specifically. He also said he didn’t remember the names of either of the other speakers. The representative from the sheriff’s department spoke to attendees about a neighborhood watch program, and the person from the Red Cross discussed CPR techniques. Scalise also spoke.
“I wanted to reach out to him and give him an audience so he could talk to people from his district about legislation he was proposing,” Knight said. “I did that as a courtesy.”
And what a “courtesy” that turned out to be, twelve years later, when the media suddenly decided that nothing is “old news,” at least not when it hurts a member of the GOP leadership!
Knight estimates that about two-thirds to three-quarters of the people in the hospitality room at the civic association meeting were local residents who weren’t there to attend the EURO event, and about one-third to one-quarter were EURO convention attendees who arrived early and filtered into the hospitality room to drink coffee and kill time.
“I don’t think Steve was aware that there was a small contingent of people who came and sat in the audience prior to the EURO meeting,” Knight said.
I asked Knight if there was a sign on the hospitality room indicating it had been reserved for the EURO conference.
“I think not,” Knight said. “I really truly believe, if there were any signs or banners up, Mr. Scalise would [have asked], ‘What is that?’ And he probably would have left. Because I don’t recall having any banners or signs up at all.”
Annnnd…. scene. Once again, left-wing media proves it’s every bit as honest and competent as the President it worships.
The reason a few of yesterday’s “Scalise apologizes for hanging out with racists” stories are still haunting the “news” sites is that lefty “journalists” still think they can blow on the cold embers of this story and raise enough heat to sustain a Narrative that will endure long after the details are forgotten. You see, if Scalise apologized, there must be something to the story, even if it turns out his original recollection of that brief and forgettable day in 2002 was correct. Look at the way he responded when Big Media gang-tackled him and started clubbing him with a phony story! His apologetic response illuminates the secret racism lurking deep in his heart – nay, the entire collective Republican heart!
Or else it proves he’s not politically competent to hold a House leadership position. Something, anything… as long as there’s negative fallout for Republicans, flipping out over the original story is kinda-sorta justified under the “FAKE BUT ACCURATE!” banner, which we see fluttering over more and more media disasters these days. Give them time, and maybe they can work Scalise into a campus rape hoax.
This was Scalise’s Tuesday statement, issued as a media avalanche came crashing down upon his head: “Twelve years ago, I spoke to many different Louisiana groups as a state representative, trying to build support for legislation that focused on cutting wasteful state spending, eliminating government corruption, and stopping tax hikes. One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold. I am very disappointed that anyone would try to infer otherwise for political gain.”
There are grumbles from the Republican side of the aisle that Scalise didn’t handle this well, and of course the usual “he’s not worth defending” and “if you stick up for him, you must approve of everything he ever said or did” concessions to the deadly skill of Democrat headhunters have been made. Terror of the media animates much of what the GOP leadership does. There are plenty of right-leaning pundits who assume anyone the liberal media paints with a red laser dot on his or her forehead is pretty much a goner, so there’s no point in trying to save them, especially if they’re not rock-ribbed, steel-spined, 100 percent conservative warriors.
But really, what was Scalise supposed to do? He opens his front door one morning, cup of coffee in hand, and sees a media bulldozer coming right at him. He barely remembers the details of brief remarks he made over a decade ago. Character witnesses step forward to testify that he’s not a racist, including prominent Lousiana Democrats – no less than former governor Edwin Edwards, plus Rep. Cedric Richmond, the only Louisiana Democrat left on Capitol Hill – but the story doesn’t go away. Scalise ends up huddled with a media crisis team, maybe has some phone calls with other GOP leaders, and decides he might have somehow talked to these EURO clowns without realizing it, as the media almost unanimously insists. His statement is a bit too humble before the media furies, but he was probably worried about the savage MSM response if he had said something like, “I still don’t remember this incident playing out the way you’re reporting it, but since you won’t stop hounding me about it, let me just emphasize how strongly I disagree with everything they stand for.”
He could have tried going radio-silent and waiting for the story to either fall apart or disappear into the post-New Year’s news cycle, but that’s normally only an option available to Democrats. The press would have loved nothing better than to write stories about all the “unresolved questions” hanging over the House Republican caucus (and, what the heck, the Senate too!) because Scalise refused to express proper contrition promptly. You’d have been reading “One Year Later, GOP Leader Still Refuses to Address Controversial Remarks to Racist Group” articles in January 2016. It’s not unreasonable for Scalise and his advisers to have concluded that 2002 was never going to become “old news,” so he needed to take the hit and try to get past it.
It’s also not unreasonable for rank-and-file Republicans to be worried that their top leaders can be so easily bullied by the press. If this was a recon strike on the GOP brass to test their media defenses for the rest of Obama’s lame-duck term, the results were encouraging for Democrats.
The Narrative that will be flogged for some time to come, even as Big Media quietly scuttles off to New Years’ Eve parties and hopes everyone forgets the precise details of this latest embarrassment, is that Scalise emerged from a murky swamp of Southern racism that taints him, and his entire Party, no matter what he actually says or does. A big, fat asterisk needs to be printed in the history books next to that midterm wave election. CNN’s headline on the overall Republican response was, “GOP Leadership Stands By Scalise After White Supremacist Speech.” You don’t need a real story, if you can cook up headlines like that; the headlines become the story. The media action line on Monday and Tuesday was that Scalise had become an impossible dilemma for House Speaker John Boehner, with everyone swiftly agreeing that the sudden emergence of this 2002 story had tarnished the GOP’s image, scuttled its hopes of reaching out to black voters, and maybe even torpedoed the entire Republican Congress.
All that doom extracted from an incident that didn’t actually occur, and even if it did, it amounted to Steve Scalise chatting about tax policy with a few people sprawled on folding chairs in a hotel conference room, not addressing some huge football-stadium rally of white supremacist blockheads. Nothing left for the media to do but reiterate that the same standards of guilt-by-association will never, ever, ever be applied to a Democrat, and we can move on to an exciting new year full of hollow narratives and Fake But Accurate hallucinations!
Update: A further thought: now that a bit of Republican blood is in the water, more bites will be taken out of Scalise. There will be follow-up stories, no matter how thin the original one turned out to be. Something else bad enough to keep him bleeding could turn up. Study the process carefully, because it’s exactly the sort of thing you will never see done to a Democrat. They don’t have to suffer through immediate, intense follow-up hits.
There will also be some follow-up hits from Republicans, naturally including those who didn’t much care for Steve Scalise to begin with, and those who don’t care for John Boehner, and so forth. The GOP Establishment’s claims to produce politically solid, highly vetted, seamlessly professional candidates will be mocked. Some of that is healthy, but it can be taken too far, especially if it obscures the basic point that no matter what else he’s done, Scalise deserves fair treatment and the truth on this particular incident. It’s very dangerous to accept the premise that Our Guys don’t deserve meticulous accuracy from the media, or a vigorous defense. You don’t want to make it too easy to launch full-spectrum crusades against them with fuzzy stories, either forgotten or retroactively justified by whatever happens later.
Also, let us not be distracted from the importance of shining white-hot spotlights on the ridiculous double standard for Democrats and their dubious associations. Not only is that unfair, but the Democrats harvest a lot of money and power from the albatrosses they can wear around their necks with impunity.