- - Tuesday, January 6, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

During the past year, there were some false stories (University of Virginia’s rape case) and disputed facts (actress Lena Dunham’s “Republican” rapist) that liberal media organizations simply accepted or didn’t properly investigate.

Yet, the non-controversy involving Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise may have been the most shameful of all. In my view, this systematic attempt to destroy his reputation without checking the facts, creating an indirect association almost out of thin air, is absolutely disgraceful.

It all started when a liberal political blogger, Lamar White Jr., seemingly found evidence in late December that Mr. Scalise had spoken at a 2002 meeting of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) about a state tax issue. This racist, white supremacist group had been founded by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and one-term Louisiana State Rep. David Duke.

Within days, Roll Call dredged up an old quote. In 1999, Mr. Scalise was considering (along with Mr. Duke) running for an open House seat. He reportedly said, “The novelty of David Duke has worn off. The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

New Orleans Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace also jumped into the fray. She wrote the following on Dec. 31, “This is what I remember about the first time I met Steve Scalise nearly 20 years ago: He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage.”

To call this a public relations nightmare would be an understatement. Faced with intense public scrutiny, Mr. Scalise told the media: “One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”

Mr. Scalise’s character was immediately defended by Republicans like Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Orleans businessman Roger F. Villere Jr., as well as Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat who is black. This allegation didn’t fit with the man they had known and worked with for so many years.

Meanwhile, a funny thing happened on the way to the public lynching. Mr. Scalise told The Times-Picayune on Dec. 29 that he didn’t remember speaking at the EURO meeting. Moreover, “David Duke was never at any group I spoke to.”

Guess what? He was right on both counts.

It turns out Mr. Scalise had discussed this tax issue with the Jefferson Heights Civic Association. They had held a meeting earlier that day at the same hotel. While the organizer, Kenny Knight, is reportedly a longtime associate of Mr. Duke, it’s clear that these are two very different events.

Hence, the GOP majority whip just apologized for something he didn’t remember doing — and, in fact, never did. Yet his reputation has been sullied, and he’s still getting attacked from all corners (including the White House), for a non-controversy whipped up by the liberal media.

That’s just ridiculous.

To run with this farfetched story, and ignore the process of due diligence to ensure all the facts are correct, is terrible. To nearly destroy a politician’s career for something he apparently didn’t do, is inexcusable. If the conservative media had done something similar to a Democratic politician, they would have been raked over the coals — and justifiably so.

And let’s tidy up one lingering matter: Mr. Scalise never said he was the same as Mr. Duke. His quotes tried to show they had similar conservative values — lower taxes, smaller government, free speech, individual rights and freedoms — without sharing the latter’s despicable views on race and religion, among other things.

For those who have never worked in politics, this is a tactical maneuver. You attempt to break into an opponent’s core constituency by exposing his weaknesses — or political “baggage.” While Mr. Scalise’s comparison wouldn’t win him a Pulitzer Prize, it’s pretty obvious (to me, anyway) what he was trying to do.

The liberal media should, therefore, be ashamed at their recent actions. As more and more false stories are being reported, people are beginning to lose faith in news organizations. It’s up to newspapers, magazines and academic publications to regain the shattered trust of readers.

What’s the best way to start? Apologize to Mr. Scalise, and start reporting events properly again.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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