Pinocchios all around: Especially at the top, the Trump administration is full of people who may perhaps seem "unwell."
We'd place Bannon, Flynn and Trump himself at the top of that pile. We'd also look to Kellyanne Conway, who has furiously done it again.
As the leading authority skillfully tells us, Conway "is an American political activist currently serving as Counselor to President Donald [J.] Trump." In that role, she has demonstrated at least three major skills:
She has demonstrated 1) the ability to avoid responding to any question at all, and 2) the ability to reply to any question about her boss by immediately discussing the acts of someone else.
Most significantly, she had demonstrated 3) the ability to Take Offense at Any Word That Has Ever Been Spoken by Any Person On the Face of the Earth.
In this grievance-spewing role, Conway appeared on Wednesday evening's Hardball. She spoke with Chris Matthews, who isn't inclined to criticize someone whose first name includes the word "Kelly."
At the end of the interview, Matthews praised Conway for what he called her "brilliant counterattacks." Earlier, though, she had done it again! Earlier, she had said this:
CONWAY (2/2/17): Two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people didn’t know that because it didn’t get covered.Matthews didn't challenge any part of that statement. We can't say that he can fairly be blamed him for that.
That said, Conway's statement was riddled with errors. At least one of her errors actually cut against her own team's basic frameworks.
By now, Conway has been widely assailed for (some of) the misstatements in that passage. Let's consider the fact-check performed by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, who left that passage in shreds but failed to assign any Pinocchios to the president's angriest flack.
On the whole, Kessler gives a reasonably decent account of Conway's error-riddled statement. For starters, he notes that there is, and was, no such thing as "the Bowling Green massacre," an obvious point to which Conway has actually acceded.
Kessler provides the basic facts about the incident in question at Bowling Green, Kentucky—an incident which didn't involve a "massacre" or any deaths at all. That said, the incident did involve the arrest of two Iraqis, each of whom later pled guilty to federal terrorism charges. Each of the men had been involved in attacks on Americans forces when they still lived in Iraq.
If you want to review the basic facts, we'll recommend Kessler's piece. That said, Kessler made some slightly strange decisions in the course of his fact-check. Just to establish the record, this is his nugget assessment:
KESSLER (2/3/17): In defending President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees, immigrants and citizens from Iraq and six other Muslim-majority countries, Conway referred to something that didn’t happen—the “Bowling Green massacre.” (She also incorrectly said that President Barack Obama “banned” Iraqi refugees, which we have previously fact-checked as false.)Oops! Kessler identifies two major misstatements by Conway. He also says that Conway tweeted a claim about what she meant to say.
Conway was on her way to a Four-Pinocchio rating when, about an hour and a half after The Fact Checker sent her a query about her remarks, she tweeted that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists.”
Conway's tweet makes it sound like she made an honest mistake. We'd say that's one of the possibilities, but Kessler vouches for this unverifiable claim at several points in his fact-check. At one point, he goes beyond what Conway tweeted, identifying the actual "'massacre' that Conway was referring to."
Why would a fact-checker do such a thing? We have no idea. Kessler also makes this peculiar statement about the actual events in Bowling Green:
"Although Conway claimed that the media did not cover the story, the arrests caused an uproar in Congress."
As you can see, the second part of Kessler's statement doesn't relate to the first. The fact that the arrest "caused an uproar in Congress" doesn't speak to Conway's claim about a lack of press coverage.
In fact, there was zero coverage of the massacre, because no such event occurred. But there were two arrests and two guilty pleas, and if we want to tell the whole story, those arrests and pleas don't seem to have gotten a lot of coverage from the Washington Post or the New York Times.
As best we can tell from the Nexis archive, the Post and the Times barely mentioned the arrests of the two Iraqis and the later guilty pleas. If we want to tell the full story, we'll at least give Conway that.
That said, Kessler's construction failed to address Conway's claim about the lack of coverage. It also led us away from any questions we might have about his own newspaper's performance.
On the whole, we'd give Kessler some semi-Pinocchios for the way he treated Conway's performance. In his strangest decision, he seemed to vouch for Conway's good faith, although he had no apparent basis for doing so.
Beyond that, he avoided granting Pinocchios without explaining why he did so. A cynic could even suspect that he fudged one part of his fact-check in service to his own paper.
If we were inclined to hand out stickers, we'd be inclined to grant some semi-Pinocchios here. But we'd also have to grant some stickers to Kevin Drum, who took an equal-but-opposite flawed approach to Conway's error-strewn effort.
What have they done with the real Kevin Drum? In his own furious, snark-heavy post, Drum asserts that Conway didn't make an honest mistake in her error-strewn recitation.
"Do not for a second think that this wasn't deliberate," Drum says. Where Kessler leaps to vouch for Conway's good faith, Drum leaps in the other direction.
Losers, can we talk? This is precisely the type of assertion that Fox bats away in its sleep. Even the slowest performers at Fox could handle Drum's unfounded claim. As they did, they'd tell Fox viewers that they shouldn't believe a single word a fellow like Drum ever says.
It's plain that Conway made several misstatements on Hardball. Is it possible that her misstatements were made in some type of good faith? That she actually bungled the giant pile of index cards which are constantly fluttering around inside her grievance-fueled head?
In our view, she may have known that she was misstating; it's possible that she didn't. In part, we say that because one of her misstatements on Hardball tends to cut against her own side. Once again, here's what she said:
"Two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people didn’t know that because it didn’t get covered."
In fact, the Iraqis in question were already active, radicalized operatives before they entered the U.S., in at least one case on a refugee visa. Their entry into the country was, in fact, a breakdown in vetting procedures.
Recognizing this fact, the Obama administration took steps to re-examine those procedures. But Conway's misstatement of the chronology tends to cut against the way her team wants us to think about the dangers which inevitably adhere to the practice of admitting any refugees at all.
As with any other procedure, there will always be the possibility of errors in vetting. Conway's error in chronology actually directs our attention away from this wonderfully frightening fact.
Kessler vouches for Conway's good faith; Drum insists on the opposite judgment. In truth, neither fellow can defend his claim. Drum's claim, though highly pleasing, is precisely the type of claim Fox stars bat away in their sleep.
Over Here within Our Own Tents, it feels good to gobble the porridge Drum served in this instance. That porridge left us with two questions, though:
What have they done with the real Kevin Drum? And who have they put in his place?
We'd also tag Kessler for this: Kessler goes too easy on Conway in one other respect. We refer to the trademark acts of misdirection she committed in the course of acknowledging her basic misstatement.
No one misdirects quite the way Conway does! Consider this puzzling tweet by Conway, which Kessler quotes but glosses:
"Honest mistakes abound. Last night, prominent editor of liberal site apologized for almost running a story re: tweet from fake account."
This tweet advances Conway's claim that she made an "honest mistake." In the course of making that claim, she behaves in Trademark Conway Fashion, calling attention to something some "prominent liberal" allegedly did.
This qualifies as a definitive act of Look-Over-There Conwayism. That said, does this tweet even make sense?
To us, it pretty much doesn't. Why would someone "apologize" for an error he or she "almost" committed? This is a classic Conway play. Inevitably, it doesn't make sense.
Might we make one final point? In his own post, Drum mocks Matthews for failing to correct Conway's misstatements on the fly, in real time.
We're sorry, but that doesn't make much sense either. Big cable stars should know many facts. They can't know every one.