The sayings of the Hunting Camp 7: Yesterday, Rick Perry made an intriguing statement about the hunting camp matter.
In this morning’s Washington Post, Rachel Weiner reports what Perry said. Note the peculiar headline, which simply repeats what Perry said last week:
WEINER (10/7/11): Rock with racial epithet was painted over in 1984, Perry saysThe offensive name was painted over in 1984, Perry once again said. As such, Perry was simply restating what he told the Post’s Stephanie McCrummen last week (for our prior report, just click here). Speaking with Fox, Perry added this kicker: "I think there were very much some strong inconsistencies and just misinformation in that story.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry denied Thursday that a racial epithet was visible on a rock outside the hunting camp his family once leased in his first on-camera television interview since The Washington Post reported its existence over the weekend.
"I think there were very much some strong inconsistencies and just misinformation in that story," the Republican presidential candidate told Fox News.
"I know for a fact that in 1984, that rock was painted over. It was painted over very soon, my family did that.
"I have no idea where or why people would say that they had seen that rock, because that's just not the fact," he added.
We’ll guess that Perry may be right, although we’ll suggest a different explanation / analysis.
We’re not sure there was “misinformation” in McCrummen’s report. Instead, we'll suggest there may have been misleading insinuations—insinuations which made readers think, incorrectly, that certain claims had been made.
In her report, McCrummen quotes four to six people who may seem to contradict Perry’s account of this matter. But did these witnesses really contradict Perry? Sorry, Kay—you’re being naive. If you understand the way “journalists” work, it just isn’t clear that they did.
Let’s be clear. We don’t know what these witnesses actually said to McCrummen. Some of them may have contradicted Perry’s account in specific ways—though we’d have to say this isn’t clear from the things McCrummen wrote.
We don’t know what these witnesses actually said. (Only two of them are named.) But we do know what they seem to be saying in McCrummen’s lengthy front-page report. And Weiner is being naïve, just like Kay. As she continues this morning’s report, she describes what she thinks she read in McCrummen's report.
Poor kid! She even seems to think that seven people were quoted:
WEINER (continuing directly): In the Post report, seven people said that they had seen the name on the rock at points in the 1980s and 1990s; one recalled seeing it as recently as 2008. Some of the seven are Perry supporters.Weiner thinks that seven people were quoted or cited. According to her, these seven folk said, in the Post report, “that they had seen the name on the rock at points in the 1980s and 1990s.” She also reports that one of them said that he had seen the name on the rock as recently as 2008.
After the article was published, a Perry spokesman disputed the account, saying that "a number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent and anonymous.”
If that’s what those “seven” people said, at least one of them might have been contradicting Perry’s account of this matter. (Yes, that’s right—we said “might.”) But is that really what they said? Let’s run through McCrummen’s report about the Hunting Camp 7, which by our count is really the Hunting Camp 4 to 6.
What did these people tell McCrummen? Did they really contradict Perry? More precisely:
Did any of the Hunting Camp 7 say they saw the offensive name in an unpainted state after 1984, when Perry says it was painted over? Weiner seems to think that’s what she read in McCrummen’s report.
We’ll have to say Weiner is wrong.
Let’s start by listing the dramatis personae, the witnesses McCrummen cited. At most, we can only find six such people—and two of these people say nothing that's even dimly relevant to Perry’s account of the matter.
Only two of these people are named. We’ll use the language McCrummen used to describe her various witnesses:
The Hunting Camp 7:McCrummen refers to seven witnesses who somehow challenged Perry’s account. She may have spoken to seven such people, but at most we only found six in her report.
Ronnie Brooks, a retired game warden
Another local who visited the property with Perry
A former worker on the ranch
A person who still lives in the area
A person from the Dallas area
Bill Reed, who used to lease a hunting parcel adjacent to the Perrys
Let’s run through the various things these people are quoted saying. For McCrummen’s report, just click this.
A person who still lives in the area: If we’re going by what McCrummen reported, we can pretty much dump that “person who still lives in the area.” This is the only statement McCrummen attributes to this person. We apologize for printing the offensive name. Centuries of brutal history are tied up in that word:
MCCRUMMEN: Approaching [the hunting camp] from the western side, drivers would eventually reach a long, metal gate where the rock stood to the left.We have no idea what else this person may have said to McCrummen. But by Perry’s own account, the offending term was clearly visible through 1984, after which time it was painted over. Nothing this person is quoted saying contradicts that account.
“It just said ‘Niggerhead,’” said one person who said he saw the rock in the 1980s and did not want to be named, because he still lives in the area. “That's all that was on it.”
Did this person say something else to McCrummen? More specifically, did he say that he saw the rock in an unpainted state after 1984? If he did, it would have been easy for McCrummen, a professional writer with a professional editor, to quote him making that statement.
But she offers no such quotation. Sorry, Kay! When you’re dealing with Washington “journalists,” you should always pay attention to the things that don’t get said.
Bill Reed, who used to lease a hunting parcel adjacent to the Perrys: A man named Bill Reed is quoted at length near the end of McCrummen’s report. Did he say that he saw the name in an unpainted state after 1984? Sorry, Kay! In McCrummen’s report, these are the things he says:
MCCRUMMEN: “The cowboys, when they were gathering cattle, they'd say they're going to the Matthews or Niggerhead or the Nail" pastures, said Bill Reed, a distributor for Coors beer in nearby Abilene who used to lease a hunting parcel adjacent to the Perrys'. "Those were all names. Nobody thought anything about it."Nothing Reed says there is actually relevant to the accuracy of Perry’s account. Careful! In a paraphrase, McCrummen has him saying that some who went to the Perrys’ cabin may not have been offended by the property's name—but that is a very slippery construction. According to McCrummen, the property had always had that offensive name, for as long as anyone could remember. As you reread this passage, we’ll suggest that you savor the slippery nature of McCrummen’s presentations.
When Rick Perry returned to Paint Creek from the Air Force in the late 1970s, Ray Perry, a county commissioner at the time, was determined to introduce his son to people who could bolster a future in politics, Reed said. Ray Perry once borrowed Reed's hunting lodge, which was big enough for large groups, to host a party for 75-or-so people in the late 1970s or early 1980s, an event Reed described as a political coming out party.
"He was bringing in political leaders, important figures, business leaders . . . big-money people out of Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, where all your big money comes from," Reed said.
He and others said that the Perrys used their own cabin for smaller gatherings and that some who went there may not have been offended by the property's name.
"You know, Texas is a little different—you go where it's comfortable," Reed said. ". . . It would have been one thing if they had named it, but they didn't. So, it's basically a figure of speech as far as most people are concerned. No one thought anything about it.”
Did Reed ever say that he saw the name on the rock in an unpainted state after 1984? If so, it would have been easy for McCrummen, a professional writer, to quote him saying that, or simply to report that he said that.
But she makes no such claim.
It would have been easy for McCrummen to write this: “Reed said that the Perrys used their own cabin for smaller gatherings and that some who went there may not have been offended by the name, which they saw on the rock in an unpainted state.”
But she doesn’t write that.
At this point, we’re pretty much down to the Hunting Camp 4. Let’s turn to the first person McCrummen quotes, another person she cites by name.
Ronnie Brooks, a retired game warden: The first person McCrummen quotes was willing to speak on the record. Did Ronnie Brooks see the offensive name in an unpainted state after 1984?
In the following passages, you may well think you hear him say that. We’ll suggest that you read with more care. For the record, the repetition in these passages comes from McCrummen’s report:
MCCRUMMEN: “I remember the first time I went through that pasture and saw that,” said Ronnie Brooks, a retired game warden who began working in the region in 1981 and who said he guided three or four turkey shoots for Rick Perry when Perry was a state legislator between 1985 and 1990. “. . . It kind of offended me, truthfully.”Agreeing with Perry’s account, Brooks say the rock was turned over—laid down flat—soon after Perry began using the camp. Second question: Did he see the offensive name on the rock in an unpainted state after 1984? You might get the impression that Brooks says he did in the passage above. But McCrummen, a professional writer, doesn’t actually say that.
Brooks, who said he holds Perry “in the highest esteem,” said that at some point after Perry began bringing lawmakers to the camp, the rock was turned over. Brooks could not recall exactly when. He said he did not know who turned the rock over.
Perry was a Democrat serving on the appropriations committee at the time. He was also in the process of forming relationships that would lead to his switch to the Republican Party when he ran for agriculture commissioner in 1989. In two interviews, Brooks, the former game warden, said he could not recall who came.
"One year there'd be four or five. The next might be eight or 10, something like that," Brooks said. "They'd cook, fish, might kill a wild hog and eat it. They'd just go there to relax and enjoy themselves. He was a very gracious host and, in my opinion, well thought of."
Brooks said he saw the rock laid down flat by the gate soon after Perry began bringing lawmakers there. Brooks could not recall exactly when. He did not know who moved the rock.
To Brooks’ credit, he says he was “kind of offended,” presumably by the name on the rock, the first time he saw it. But when did that first encounter occur? He began to work as a game warden in the area in 1981. He could have gone to the property in question at any point in the next several years, before Perry’s father joined the lease on the property.
Reading that passage, you may get the impression that Brooks saw the name for the first time between 1985 and 1990. Sorry, Kay! McCrummen’s prose allows you to think that. But that ain’t what she actually says.
Did Brooks see the offensive name in an unpainted state after 1984? It may sound like he said that. But McCrummen, a professional writer, doesn’t quote him saying that. She doesn’t even report that he said it, though she could have done so had she wished.
By our count, we have only three witnesses left. We’ll look at what they said tomorrow (darn it). For the record, these last three witnesses may really seem to contradict Perry in McCrummen’s report.
In particular, that “person from the Dallas area” may seem to be making an unvarnished statement. We’ll suggest that you read with great care.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at what those last three people are quoted saying in McCrummen’s report. For today, let’s compare what we’ve already seen with what Rachel Weiner has said.
This morning, readers of the Washington Post are given their latest account of this matter. In a news report, Weiner tells them this:
WEINER: In the Post report, seven people said that they had seen the name on the rock at points in the 1980s and 1990s; one recalled seeing it as recently as 2008. Some of the seven are Perry supporters.From Weiner’s account, a reader may think that as many as seven people were quoted contradicting Perry. A reader may even think that seven people “said they had seen the name on the rock at points in the 1990s,” long after Perry said the name was painted over. (Everyone agrees the name was clearly visible for almost half the 1980s.)
Weiner’s prose is every bit as murky as McCrummen’s. But as of now, we have only three witnesses left—and no one has contradicted Perry’s account. In particular, no one has said that he saw the name in an unpainted state in the 1990s.
Weiner said seven; we’re down to three. It’s how modern journo-scam works.