In search of the Hunting Camp 7: What exactly did Rick Perry do about the offensive name on that rock?
In Sunday morning’s Washington Post, Stephanie McCrummen wrote a 2900-word report about this matter. Her work is extremely fuzzy.
In fairness, some of her work isn’t fuzzy. Early in her lengthy piece, McCrummen presents Perry’s account of what happened. He responded to two sets of written questions. This is McCrummen’s account of what Perry told her:
MCCRUMMEN (10/2/11): In his responses to two rounds of detailed, written questions, Perry said his father first leased the property in 1983. Rick Perry said he added his own name to the lease from 1997 to 1998, when he was state agriculture commissioner, and again from 2004 to 2007, when he was governor.According to Perry, the offensive name was painted over in 1983 or 1984. At some later date, the rock was “turned over”—placed flat on the ground. From the rest of McCrummen’s piece, it seems fairly clear that the rock was turned over onto its back, with the painted side facing up at the sky, not down. (With regard to this question, McCrummen makes little attempt to be clear.)
He offered a simple version of how he dealt with the rock, followed by a more elaborate one.
“When my Dad joined the lease in 1983, he took the first opportunity he had to paint over the offensive word on the rock during the 4th of July holiday,” Perry said in his initial response. “It is my understanding that the rock was eventually turned over to further obscure what was originally written on it.”
Perry said that he was not with his father when he painted over the name but that he “agreed with” the decision.
In response to follow-up questions, Perry gave a more detailed account.
“My mother and father went to the lease and painted the rock in either 1983 or 1984,” Perry wrote. “This occurred after I paid a visit to the property with a friend and saw the rock with the offensive word. After my visit I called my folks and mentioned it to them, and they painted it over during their next visit.”
“Ever since, any time I ever saw the rock it was painted over,” Perry said.
Is Perry’s account of this matter accurate? We have no idea. But as McCrummen continues, she gives the impression that several people—perhaps as many as seven—have contradicted Perry’s account. The editors of the New York Times clearly think that’s what they read.
But good lord, the way these journalists write! Much of McCrummen’s work is extremely fuzzy. Just consider her first description of the Hunting Camp 7:
MCCRUMMEN (continuing directly): Perry's version of events differs in many respects from the recollections of seven people, interviewed by The Washington Post, who spoke in detail of their memories of seeing the rock with the name at various points during the years that Perry was associated with the property through his father, partners or his signature on a lease.Careful! Did McCrummen say that these people contradicted Perry’s account? Actually no, she did not. She said their recollections “differ in many respects” from Perry’s “version of events.” Those familiar with the ways of the Washington press will understand that this group of words, in the end, advances a very weak claim.
Some who had watched Perry's political ascent recalled their reaction to the name on the rock and their worry that it could become a political liability for Perry.
McCrummen is a professional writer. Her editor is a professional too. If those people contradicted Perry’s account, why didn’t she simply say so? Careful readers should always note the thing that doesn’t get said.
According to what McCrummen wrote in that passage, did these people say they saw that offensive name in an unpainted state at some point after 1984? No, she doesn’t say that. She says they remember “seeing the rock with the name at various points during the years that Perry was associated with the property.” But of course, a person can still see “the rock with the name” today! The name itself has been painted over, according to photos McCrummen herself has seen, and it seems that the rock has indeed been tipped over. But “the rock with the name” has always been present at the camp. Presumably, you could have seen “the rock with the name” last weekend, had you been allowed on the property.
We know what you’re thinking! No journalist at the Washington Post would play such slick verbal games, especially with respect to such an important story! Who’s being naïve now, Kay? In fact, verbal games of precisely this type have been widely played, at both the Post and the New York Times, in the course of reporting important stories about major political candidates. Such verbal games were played during the years of the Whitewater hunts against Candidate, then President Clinton. Later, such verbal games were endlessly played against Candidate Gore.
(Example: In 1999, a long string of journalists made readers think that Gore had once pimped Willie Horton. Most of them knew that he’d done no such thing, so they selected their words with great care, giving the desired impression while avoiding the actual claim. This is exactly the way these people worked during those gruesome years, years the obliging career liberal world has agreed to disappear.)
Let’s be clear: We do not accuse McCrummen of any such misconduct. We don’t know what she was told by these seven people. We don’t know why she wrote her piece in the way she did. (Nor do we know what her editor may have done to her prose.) But this is what she wrote a bit later about the Hunting Camp 7:
MCCRUMMEN: This story is based on interviews with more than two dozen people, including residents, hunters, ranchers, government officials and others who live in Haskell County, where Perry's boyhood home of Paint Creek is found; in neighboring Throckmorton County, where the hunting camp is located; and elsewhere in Texas. Ray Perry did not respond to numerous attempts to reach him for comment. The campaign declined a request to make him available.Careful! Everyone agrees that “the block-lettered name was clearly visible” for a good chunk of the 1980s! Perry says the name was painted over, and thereby obscured—but not until 1983 or 1984.
Most of those interviewed requested anonymity because they fear being ostracized or other repercussions in their small community. Some are supporters of Perry, whose parents still live in Paint Creek. Others, both Democrats and Republicans, are not. Several spoke matter-of-factly about the hunting camp and its name and wondered why it held any outside interest.
Of those interviewed, the seven who said they saw the rock said the block-lettered name was clearly visible at different points in the 1980s and 1990s. One, a former worker on the ranch, believes he saw it as recently as 2008.
How many of the Hunting Camp 7 “said the block-lettered name was clearly visible” at some point in the 1990s? Did all seven people say it? Or could it be just one?
If someone said it was “clearly visible,” did he mean it was unpainted? Did he mean that the rock was standing upright?
And by the way: Did that former worker on the ranch say the name was “clearly visible” in 2008? Read with care: No, he did not. Or at least, McCrummen doesn’t report that he said that. You may have gotten that impression. But the actual claim isn’t there.
We know—no journalist would toy with the truth in this manner! Kay, who’s being naïve? Tomorrow, we’ll walk you through McCrummen’s account of what the various witnesses said. We’ll ask you to note the amazing haze which is found all through this report.
Perry says the name was painted over in 1984. He says the rock was turned over at some later date. Did anyone contradict this account?
We’ve spent hours on McCrummen’s report. We’ll have to say this: We aren’t sure.
The question you’re going to ask: What about that “person from the Dallas area?”
We don’t know what he saw or said. But we’ll give this advice: Read with care.