When I was a press secretary in the U.S. Senate, my boss instilled in me an important lesson: Don’t put anything in an email you don’t want to see on the front page of the Washington Post the next day. It was an obvious lesson once you thought about it, but it was one many people never seem to learn.
I worked in the Senate in 2006, before Facebook and Twitter. But the lesson should be even more true for social media. I don’t understand why some people don’t get this, but it happened again last week.
I broke a story on the Daily Caller about a board member of the Colorado ACLU who called for Donald Trump supporters to be shot. Specifically he posted a story about Trump under his own comment reading:
The thing is, we have to really reach out to those who might consider voting for Trump and say, “This is Goebbels. This is the final solution. If you are voting for him I will have to shoot you before election day.” They’re not going to listen to reason, so when justice is gone, there’s always force, as Laurie would say.
Putting aside Godwin’s Law, which says the longer any discussion on the Internet continues, the more likely someone will call someone else a Nazi, it seems to have become oddly consequence-free for liberals to speak about Trump in this way. The “If you are voting for him I will have to shoot you before election day” part struck me as not particularly “civil.”
The post came to my attention via Twitter. Glenn Reynolds, also known as Instapundit, retweeted someone who had a screen capture of the post and mentioned his association with the ACLU. I looked him up on Facebook and quickly found the post and screen captured it for myself. Then I Googled his name to confirm the ACLU affiliation and found video of him to compare to his Facebook pictures to ensure these people were one in the same.
Then, I wrote my story.
Within an hour it had taken off. Soon, I was contacted by a reporter for a local Colorado TV station who’d recorded an interview with the man who made the post. (His name is in my stories if you’re dying to know.)
The man deleted the post and denied making it, accusing me of either being duped or complicit in a hoax against him. Neither was remotely true, and I damn sure wasn’t going to sit back and take it.
After recounting how the story came to be and that I’d seen and captured the post myself, the reporter filed a story with his allegation relatively unchallenged. But I wasn’t done.
The man’s defense was patently absurd. Rather than lash out in anger against what he claimed was untrue, he was scared, defensive and qualifying. His statement lacked logic:
It’s very clear that wasn’t my belief, that we shouldn’t do that type of thing. That was all put together with comments from a bunch of other elements from other comments on other threads and presented as one unified whole as though I was doing the one advocating that trump supporters should be shot or anything, which is just not me. I don’t believe in violence against people.
I don’t question his distaste for violence, but he did write the words.
“That looks to me like assembled political attack material,” he continued, “That’s the only way I can describe it.”
It also could be described as “the truth,” but he chose not to do that.
I assembled three different screen captures of the post, by three different people on three different machines, one of which was a mobile device. If this were some sort of “hit job,” it was an elaborate one, perpetrated by “conspirators” who didn’t know each other against someone none of us had ever heard of. I knew that wasn’t the case because I knew the truth.
My post went live after the story of his denial did. It showed him to be lying, most likely out of fear of being called out.
By the next morning, he had no choice. He resigned from the ACLU board of directors in Colorado and admitted the truth. He went from claiming he didn’t do it to saying, “It was intended totally as a joke. They are taking that stuff out of context. It's smear politics.”
As for taking him out of context, it was exactly what he’d written in full. It may well have been intended as a joke, and I doubt he ever intended to shoot anyone. The problem is he lied when he denied he’d written it. Once he admitted the truth, his fate was sealed.
You’d think a liberal would be familiar with the lesson of Nixon – that the cover-up is worse than the crime.
If he’d said it was a joke from the start, that sarcasm just doesn’t translate to Facebook posts, especially when read by people who don’t know his sense of humor, the story ends. But he chose to say he hadn’t written it, and now he is off the board of the Colorado ACLU has a result.
I take no joy in my part in his losing his position (he has another job I hope he keeps), but the lesson learned is an important one. Everyone will face something similar at some point. How we handle it will determine how it goes. As cheesy as it sounds, honesty is the best policy. Say what you mean. If what you want to say isn’t something you’d stand behind no matter who saw it, then that’s on you, not society.
And when you’re caught, because you will get caught sooner or later, remember the truth is always the easiest story to keep straight.