Ryan Sager: Misreporting from Iowa

The NY Sun sent libertarian Ryan Sager out to Iowa to report on the GOP Straw Poll. Within an overall slam of all things Iowan and Republican, Sager delivers this flourish.

The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he’s little more than Jesus Christ’s running mate. The pandering from the stage told the story. Mr. Romney promised not a chicken in every pot, but “a button on every computer” for parents to block obscene material. Anti-immigrant ranter Tom Tancredo nearly brought the house down decrying the fact that Americans sometimes have to “Press 1” for English. Mr. Huckabee earned his second-place finish in part by making the specious claim that farm subsidies safeguard America’s food independence. (You think it’s bad depending on foreign oil, Mr. Huckabee asked? “Wait until our country messes up and has to depend on foreign food.”) Senator Brownback of Kansas, the third-place finisher, declared as he often does in his stump speech: “All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus.”

Rep. Tancredo along with the vast majority of Republicans is not “anti-immigrant,” as Sager would have it, but pro-enforcement — he favors the enforcement of existing immigration law. Tancredo is consistent in that stance, and Sager is just as consistent in misconstruing Tancredo and anyone else on the pro-enforcement side as “anti-immigrant.” Sager does this because he takes the extreme libertarian view that the border ought to be open to all, and anyone who disagrees with him can’t be doing so on a reasonable basis because they have in mind national security or the rule of law; it must be bigotry at work. As for what Sager reports that Romney said and what Huckabee said, I haven’t seen the entire event but based on Sager’s characterization of what Brownback said (and let the jury note that having produced this ad, I’m no water-carrier for Brownback) Sager’s report is not likely to be entirely consistent with the facts. On Brownback, Sager writes:

Senator Brownback of Kansas, the third-place finisher, declared as he often does in his stump speech: “All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus.”

The impression given is of a Christian cheerleader leading a chant. But according to Byron York and the highlight reel of the actual event, Brownback was quoting Mother Teresa, not “declaring” anything:

Brownback explained that he met Mother Teresa once, when she came to Congress, and he was given the assignment of accompanying her to her car: “As I put her in the car, she grabbed my hand, she looked me in the eyes and said three words four times: ‘All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus.’ It was her faith that powered her to help millions. Faith is a good thing, not a bad thing.” Now, you can argue one way or the other about whether Brownback was saying a president should govern by Mother Teresa’s words. But “All for Jesus” was his quotation of her statement to him.

It’s probably the sentence about faith being a good thing that vexes Sager to the point of nearly Dowdifying what Brownback actually said. Such a reaction would be consistent for young Sager.

You can watch a highlight reel here for yourself. The section about Mother Teresa is at the 4:06:00 mark.

If Sager’s report were to be taken by itself, we’re looking merely at a couple of errors in fact that ought to be corrected, but such errors are consistent with Sager’s tone and reporting over the course of his career. In his reporting Sager is consistently hostile to social conservatives and anything that even carries a mild whiff of Christianity. Along with that, Sager periodically announces the end of the libertarian/conservative alliance, though no one follows his one-man walkouts. In fact, reading his work over the past several years, one could reasonably conclude that he’s bigoted against Christians and would prefer a world in which Christians are uniquely disallowed from participating in electoral politics. If that isn’t his stance, he should feel free to email me what his stance on Christians in politics actually is. I do know for a fact that Sager is an unreliable chronicler of events he has witnessed because his worldview gets in the way.

So take his reporting this election season with a massive grain of salt.

Update (AP): Here’s the “All for Jesus” clip.

Update (bp): Return volley from Sager, return from York. If Sager really thinks that Brownback is resorting to “tribalism,” well, Ryan Sager has never seen tribalism. Probably hasn’t even been to a high school football game. Byron York has the last word for now:

On the larger issue, maybe Sager is right. Maybe he’s wrong. But if you’re reporting on an event, the point is this: If you’re quoting someone, say so. If you’re quoting someone quoting someone else, say so. We have punctuation marks specifically for that purpose, regardless of what you, the writer, think is the higher truth. That kind of stuff matters.


Update: Denoument.

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