Avert your eyes: AP reporter says sensational WaPo claim on Tillerson "not true"

Extraordinary claims should require extraordinary proof. That’s a good rule of thumb these days when weighing claims from either the government or the media, which is why today’s report on the culture at the State Department from the Washington Post should have tripped everyone’s grain-of-saltometer. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has started off his tenure in a bubble, their sources claim — so much so that subordinates have been instructed not to make eye contact with the boss.

Er … really?

On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as “reading time,” when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings.

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

No, not really, insists the Associated Press’ beat reporter at State for the last eighteen years. Matt Lee took to Twitter to dispute this claim, and to lament that bad reporting is making it more difficult to get reporting on real issues at Foggy Bottom needed attention. Lee responded to a tweet from The Hill repeating the Post’s story (via Twitchy):

When challenged on this story, Lee explained that the same claim got shopped to him “weeks ago,” and that his research proved it untrue. Lee also insinuated that these tidbits of fake news are coming from people hired by the Obama administration who have axes to grind:

This raises another concern about the State Department, and more broadly about the Trump administration. Their transition team failed to produce timely appointments to key positions in the bureaucracy, which means that Obama appointees have remained in place. This allows for the kind of mischief that we’re seeing in this story, as those with axes to grind against the current president have carte blanche and standing to spin all sorts of fantasies about dysfunction. The solution to that is to have the White House start performing more effectively on nominations, and to stop trying to spin their failure so far on the idea of downsizing government. They’re not downsizing — they’re perpetuating the Obama-era bureaucracy, and it’s doing damage in more serious ways than this silly story creates.

But let’s not lose focus on the media’s issues in this case. While anonymous sourcing is necessary in some instances, it gets seriously abused and eventually produces nonsense like this attempt to paint Tillerson as adopting the airs of an 18th-century French monarch within the walls of Foggy Bottom. This kind of extraordinary and bizarre report should either have named sources attached to it, or not printed at all. Matt Lee’s debunking should prompt the Washington Post to either name its sources now, or retract the story.

For an industry suddenly obsessed with “fake news,” some outlets seem to have little interest in preventing it from appearing on their own presses and broadcasts. To wrap up this silliness, let’s give Monty Python the last eye-averting word.


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Ed Morrissey 10:01 AM on June 02, 2023