Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan has spent the Trump era insisting on how Donald Trump is at odds with what she calls the "reality-based press." But what about when the facts line up against candidates Margaret likes? Well, then facts are no longer fair. "Alternative facts" are produced.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is rising in the polls, and after the whole "Fauxcahontas" mess, another one of her personal stories has been challenged. Warren routinely claims on the trail that she was dismissed from a teaching job because she was pregnant. But the Washington Free Beacon poked holes in that story. Warren told a UC-Berkeley interviewer a different story in 2007, that she decided to stay home with her first baby. Then they dug up records from the Riverdale, New Jersey school district, which showed Warren was offered a second year of teaching, and she declined.
"A news report can be narrowly factual and still plenty unfair," Sullivan began. She took great exception to conservative news sources saying Warren "lied" -- the opposite of how liberals insist the L-word needs to be used against Trump as often as possible. Sullivan's online headline: "The Elizabeth Warren pregnancy smear shows how poisoned the media world is."
In the paper, the Free Beacon took a hit. Inside Friday's Style section, the headline was "An outlet's miscarriage of journalism" and the photo caption under Warren read "Contrary to a report from a conservative news outlet, Sen. Elizabeth Warren hesn't lied about how she lost a teaching job."
Sullivan had no much swagger about Warren's new rebuttal, she was comparing the pregnancy-discrimination story to a wacky charge of Warren's adultery with a young man:
If Warren had shot back as cannily to this as she did to the recent absurd report that she’d had an affair with a 24-year-old Marine (she wittily tweeted out an image of her alma mater, the University of Houston and their mascots, the Cougars), she could have swatted this away.
It wasn’t until the next day that some much-needed perspective began to emerge, thanks to a CBS News report.
It included crucial context that would have been ever-so-helpful in the initial piece, such as this interview with a retired Riverdale teacher, Trudy Randall:
“The rule was at five months you had to leave when you were pregnant. Now, if you didn’t tell anybody you were pregnant, and they didn’t know, you could fudge it and try to stay on a little bit longer. But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.”
So the official documents are somehow overruled by "rule" talk from old colleagues. Sullivan was very satisfied:
It all seems to track: There is no big controversy here. No apparent lie and no “character issue” that should unduly concern the voting public.
If there is a scandal here, it’s how — in the bad-faith media world — narrowly presented facts without sufficient context can do unfair harm.
They can and will be weaponized, falsely regurgitated and twisted beyond recognition.
This is the same Margaret Sullivan who stared at Clinton accusers like Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones in 2016 and called them a "twisted version of the Last Supper."