An odd thing happened to me on Twitter last night, so I figured I'd share the experience -- which I found to be both revealing and discouraging. I've routinely condemned President Trump's overly broad and demagogic attacks on the press, just as I've hammered those in the media whose deep contempt for the president and garden variety bias too often vindicates the "fake news" moniker. Trump should not employ totalitarian-sounding formulations like "enemies of the people," just as journalists should subordinate accuracy to narratives. On that score, someone I follow retweeted the following description of Lindsey Graham's Fox News Sunday appearance yesterday, which immediately piqued my interest:
@LindseyGrahamSC just got fact checked by Chris Wallace on @FoxNews about WHY senate rules for judicial appointees were changed. The result? Graham pulled off his mic and ended the interview in a huff— Jason Johnson (@DrJasonJohnson) January 13, 2019
Who is Jason Johnson, the author of this tweet? According to his Twitter bio, he's a journalism professor at Morgan State University and a contributor at MSNBC. Having seen his account, I looked up the video of Graham's interview with Chris Wallace. I was a bit surprised -- and somewhat concerned, frankly -- to hear that the incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman had apparently misstated the facts on a very important episode in recent Senate history, and that he'd apparently become so agitated over getting called out that he'd "ended the interview in a huff," pulling off his microphone. That sort of spectacle happens occasionally on cable news, but based on my personal recollection and general understanding, it's an exceedingly rare occurrence on the prestigious Sunday morning chat shows. Did Graham (with whom I've had strong agreements and disagreements lately) really melt down, as described? Does he "foam at the mouth," as the hype headline below suggests? The exchange in question begins around the 12:30 mark, and continues through the end of the clip. You be the judge:
Wallace asks about the potential "political circus" of another SCOTUS opening on President Trump's watch, and Graham responds by wishing Justice Ginsburg (who is reportedly cancer-free, thankfully) a full recovery. He then pivots to accurately explaining Democrats' infamous 2013 rules change that 'nuked' the filibuster for judicial nominees, noting that this power grab has "come back to haunt them." After the Senator invokes Harry Reid's name for the second time, Wallace jumps into quickly explain the relevant history, correctly noting that Reid's Democratic majority went nuclear during the Obama administration, then Republicans seized on and extended that precedent to confirm Justice Gorsuch after Democrats attempted an unprecedented filibuster in 2017. As Wallace recapitulates this history, Graham nods along and says, "right."
Just before the interview ends, Graham asks to add one more point. He accurately reminds Democrats that given the new balance of power in the Senate, Republicans wouldn't need a single Democratic vote to replace a liberal justice with a conservative, thanks to what Reid "set in motion." This is also undeniably factually correct. With the substance of the conversation finished, Wallace says, "always good to speak with you, sir," as Graham simultaneously says "thank you." That leads to an awkward pause, due to the crosstalk and a possible satellite delay. Graham sits silently, apparently believing the segment to be over. After pausing for a potential response, Wallace chuckles at the awkwardness and moves on to teasing the next segment. Not realizing he's still on camera, Graham calmly begins to remove his microphone. And that's it.
Graham did not "end" the interview. There was no "huff." Indeed, there wasn't even a "fact-check," as the Senator did not disagree with or dispute the host's injected context, added for clarity. Literally everything about Johnson's tweet was a misrepresentation. I critiqued the professor in a series of tweets, pointing out my disappointment that someone who makes a living shaping future journalists had exhibited such shoddiness and disrespect for accuracy. This was basically a textbook example of fake news, promulgated, sadly, by a journalism professor. Johnson doubled and tripled down, casting aspersions on me, inventing things I'd never said, lazily invoking my employment of Fox as 'proof' of bias, and engaging in gas-lighting on the substance of my critique. His favorite talking point was citing the far-left Raw Story's write-up of the Graham-Wallace interaction, which ludicrously claims the South Carolinian "ripped off" his mic and "stormed off." He did absolutely nothing of the sort. You don't have to believe me over the professor, or vice versa. You can just roll the tape.
Rather than admitting he was wrong, or even deploying a face-saving equivocation such as, "I can see how people might interpret this differently," this academic refused to let the clear facts get in the way of his preferred storyline. He persisted in asserting his correctness, and mocking my supposed 'bias' and foolishness, even though there was easily accessible video for people to watch and consider for themselves. I repeatedly urged Twitter users who were following our disagreement to simply read each of our descriptions, then take a look at the clip itself. It speaks for itself, as does Johnson's representation of what occurred. I recognize that in an age of intense partisan tribalism, people often see what they want to see. But the purpose of journalism is, or ought to be, reporting the facts as they exist. It's alarming that someone charged with training young journalists would overtly disregard the facts, and enthusiastically betray factual accuracy -- unless, of course, this particular professor teaches a course entitled, "Trust-Eroding Clickbait 101." I'll leave you with Twitchy's partial roundup of reaction to this whole episode. I was especially gratified to get some backup from Brit Hume, who knows both Wallace and Graham very well:
I saw it Guy. You are right and the professor is clearly wrong. The interview was clearly over when Graham starts to unclip his mike. https://t.co/jKqGaWGq5t— Brit Hume (@brithume) January 14, 2019