On Tuesday, while still eating breakfast, I sent Cindi Scoppe an email telling her what a good column she had written about Nikki Haley’s ridiculous claim (later retracted) that half the job applicants at SRS had failed drug tests.
I was proud of the fine job she had done. I was also proud of myself, because I told her it was good without any caveats or “yes, buts” or any qualifications of any kind. I mean, I didn’t even tell her that I thought the headline could have been stronger. I was unusually nice, for me. (Dave Moniz, who worked for me as a reporter in the early 90s, used to say the highest praise anyone ever got from me was “pretty good.”)
But was she grateful? No. She complained later that I hadn’t said how good the column was on the blog.
So here goes. Actually, I think I’ll just quote from the piece:
THE EXTRAORDINARY thing about Gov. Nikki Haley’s discredited claim that half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site had failed drug tests — the actual number was less than 1 percent — wasn’t her acknowledgement that she couldn’t back it up. It was her explanation for why she ever would have parroted such an absurd claim to begin with.
Some unidentified someone she talked to told her that during the campaign, she told The Associated Press’ Jim Davenport last week, and she took it at face value and ran with it. “I’ve never felt like I had to back up what people tell me,” she said. “You assume that you’re given good information.”
I used to think the same thing about elected officials.
I don’t mean I believed everything they said. Quite the contrary. As a reporter, the most fun I had — and some of my most important work — was writing “fact check” articles that explained what was untrue or misleading about the claims politicians made in their political ads, speeches and debates.
Typically, this involved sins of omission: Candidates take their opponents’ votes or comments out of context to create an incorrect and unfair impression. And it tended to be confined to the campaign trail. The overwhelming majority of elected officials I’ve dealt with in a quarter century of covering politics could be trusted with the basic facts once the campaign was ended and they were talking about policy instead of their opponents. They didn’t fabricate “facts”; even Mark Sanford just manipulated numbers in convoluted and misleading ways — although he did it more purposefully and masterfully than any of his predecessors.
I took note before last year’s GOP primary of several misleading claims Ms. Haley had made during a meeting with our editorial board. What was striking was that she would stretch the truth so far in a setting where most candidates go out of their way to be extra careful. More striking was that there was no need for any of it. Although it might have meant a bit more work, she could have made legitimate arguments if she had stuck to the facts.
What has remained notable since she took office is that her demonstrably inaccurate claims continue to be unnecessary…
She goes on to give examples. It’s a good piece. You should go read it.
Wait, here’s another good bit:
That sort of carelessness is fairly common among people who aren’t used to being in the public spotlight. But most elected officials I know are actually quite careful about getting the facts right. They footnote their claims. They say they’ll have to get back to you before answering a question — not because they want to figure out how to spin it but because they want to make sure that they know what they’re talking about…
And here’s another:
Now that she has been forced to back off the drug-testing claim that she says convinced her that we need to make laid-off workers pass drug tests before they receive unemployment checks, I’m struck by the fact that she’s still pushing for the mandatory tests.
I don’t find it objectionable to require the tests. Wasteful, yes — since taxpayers would have to foot the bill, and indications are that fewer than 5 percent of applicants would test positive — but not philosophically objectionable.
What I find objectionable is basing an expensive policy position on an unbelievable anecdote that you didn’t even bother to question because it fits so comfortably with your preconceived notions. And then clinging to that position even after the anecdote has been so utterly discredited…
But you should still go read the whole thing.