"Fake news" alert: NYT narrative on Perry blows up

How does “fake news” travel around the nation and the world? First, a source has to publish false stories, and then like-minded people already inclined to believe it have to transmit it through other sites and social media. In fact, as T. Becket Adams and Mollie Hemingway both point out today, it looks something like … this:


And this, too:

All of this comes from a passage in a New York Times article about Rick Perry, one that uses one quote from an energy lobbyist to paint the incoming Secretary of Energy as ignorant of the actual job, without any other corroborating direct evidence or testimony. Supposedly Perry just thought he’d be an ambassador for American energy production:

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state. In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal. …

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,'” Michael McKenna. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

The only other testimony to the proposition that Perry “misunderstood” the job he accepted comes from a poli-sci professor at Southern Methodist University, who complained about Perry’s qualifications:


“Rick Perry was pitch-perfect for Texas politics,” said Calvin Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “He has very close ties to the oil industry. He is about ‘the Texas way’ — low taxes, low regulation. But none of that gives him the depth of knowledge needed for running the Energy Department.”

Four terms as governor certainly gives Perry the executive experience for the job, though, which is what actually relates to “running” the DoE. As the Times points out, Bill Richardson wasn’t even that qualified when he took the job in the Clinton administration; he was previously the UN Ambassador after 14 years in Congress and became governor of New Mexico later in his career. Did the NYT and the rest of the establishment media go nuts over Richardson’s appointment on the grounds of a lack of qualification? Here’s their coverage of the trial balloon of Richardson’s appointment in 1998, which never questions his lack of scientific qualification for the job, nor gives any hint that Richardson knew of the DoE’s operations. Philip Shenon managed to get this quote from the White House:

Barry Toiv, a White House spokesman, insisted that there was still no decision on whether to name Mr. Richardson to the energy post.

”There is no decision on the energy secretary,” Mr. Toiv said. ”He would be a very strong candidate given his experience as a Congressman from New Mexico, but he’s doing a fantastic job at the U.N.”


So for the Gray Lady, a suggestion that 14 years in Congress is acceptable qualification, but 15 years as governor is not? A month later, with the appointment already made, Neil Lewis’ coverage only mentions Richardson’s connections to Monica Lewinsky as a potential hurdle to confirmation, and never points out Richardson’s lack of experience in either energy policy or executive positions.

It seems that the NYT has a rather different standard for judging Energy nominees, or more likely, a bias against Republicans. For instance, the rest of the current article reads like a big, wet kiss to Ernest Moniz, whom Perry will replace. And here’s how Davenport and Sanger compare the two:

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

Yeah, there’s no sneering bias there in that news article.

Let’s get back to their single source for Perry’s supposed ignorance. As both Hemingway and Adams point out, McKenna wasn’t even around when Perry got the appointment in December, having left the transition team on November 16th — eight days after the election. In fact, as a quick scan of our own archives shows, Perry didn’t meet with the transition team until December 12th, four weeks after McKenna’s departure, and was appointed the next day.


Therefore, it’s impossible for McKenna to have been a source for Perry’s assumptions either during the meeting or at the appointment. Even without that knowledge, though, it’s clear from the quote that it’s only McKenna speculating on Perry’s state of mind, not actual testimony. “If you asked him on that first day” is nowhere near “I spoke to him on that first day,” or “He told Trump on that first day …” It’s McKenna projecting himself into Perry’s mind.

Actually, it might not even have been that much. McKenna tells The Daily Caller’s Alex Pfeiffer that Coral Davenport and David Sanger twisted his meaning by using the quote in that manner:

McKenna, though, told TheDC that the “headline” and lede of the story “don’t really reflect what I said.” He added that “of course” Perry understood the role of the Department of Energy when he was offered the job. Two-thirds of the DOE’s budget is devoted to maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpiles. The nation’s primary site for the assembly and disassembly of  nuclear weapons is located in Amarillo, Texas, a state Perry was governor of for 15 years.

Hemingway delivers a damning conclusion on this piece of “fake news”:

The New York Times ran a story by Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger that claimed, without any sourcing or substantiation, that Rick Perry thought the secretary of Energy job he was about to take was as “a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry” but then he “discovered that he would be no such thing.” The reporters claimed, again with zero evidence to substantiate their claims, that he only then learned “he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.” …

Times reporters Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger failed to substantiate their outlandish claims. Their editors failed the most basic task of making sure they backed up their rather insane claim or took it out of the story. And reporters who pushed the story despite its failure to back up its claim in any meaningful way should be ashamed of themselves. This is why people don’t trust the media. And while stories such as these help whip partisans on one side into even more of a frenzy than they’re in, they also serve to confirm the distrust for the media that many partisans on the other side experience. Do better.


Hemingway lists three other episodes that demonstrate a strange and dangerous disconnect between mainstream media outlets and their readers, but this is something quite different and more destructive. It’s not just mocking the way people outside of media think; this one is actually made-up news, and it propagated through the very people who have been screeching about “fake news” for the past few weeks. They propagated it for the same reason they accuse others of doing so — because it fit their preconceived notions about Perry and the Trump administration.

So much for the gatekeepers, eh?

Addendum: It’s worth noting, as Allahpundit does, that Perry himself testified today that he has learned much about the scope of the DoE since calling for its elimination five years ago. After dealing with the DoE for more than 15 years on energy production issues inside oil-rich Texas — and fighting over regulation with DoE and the EPA — it should be pretty clear that Perry knew that the DoE is more than a cheerleading agency. The fact that the state deals with almost all of the nation’s nuclear weapons would certainly indicate that a four-term governor would have been briefed on that as well. Perhaps this sneering, condescending article would have been better predicated on Perry’s testimony (although that would still require ignoring a lot of context for those remarks) … but that’s not what the New York Times did.


Update: Jeryl Bier does the research that the NYT apparently doesn’t (the post is now up at The Weekly Standard):

Perry clearly shows that he understands the DoE’s role in nuclear-weapons policy in this 2014 interview, and also puts a climate-change argument together that sounds remarkably similar to what he told the Senate earlier today.

Update: Becket also points out that Perry actually addressed the DoE’s oversight of nuclear weapons while publicly accepting the appointment on December 13th, 2016:

“As the former governor of the nation’s largest energy producing state, I know American energy is critical to our economy and our security,” Perry said in the statement. “I look forward to engaging in a conversation about the development, stewardship and regulation of our energy resources, safeguarding our nuclear arsenal, and promoting an American energy policy that creates jobs and puts America first.”

How did the NYT reporters not recall that? Well, it appears that the NYT never reported Perry’s remarks of December 13th. All the news that’s fit to print, eh?


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