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December 20, 2007

Roger Simon's Hit-Job On Fred Thompson At The Politico

I thought I'd said all I was going to say about Roger Simon's article in The Politico yesterday afternoon in the comments at Hot Air, but as more comes out about the article, I think it is worthy of a dedicated post.

Simon (not the Roger L.Simon of Pajamas Media with whom I interviewed Fred Thompson in November) put up a post called Fred Thompson: Lazy as charged (bad link earlier, now fixed -ed).

The article was damning—brutal, even—and highlighted what appeared to be a huge gaffe in his bus tour through Waverly, Iowa:

...Thompson rode four blocks to the local fire station. Local fire stations always have captive audiences (unless there is a fire).

Inside, Thompson shook a few hands — there were only about 15 people there — and then Chief Dan McKenzie handed Thompson the chief's fire hat so Thompson could put it on.

Thompson looked at it with a sour expression on his face.

"I've got a silly hat rule," Thompson said.

In point of fact, the "silly" hat was the one Chief McKenzie wore to fires and I am guessing none of the firefighters in attendance considered it particularly silly, but Thompson was not going to put it on. He just stood there holding it and staring at it.

To save the moment, Jeri Thompson took the hat from her husbandís hands and put it on her head.

"You look cute," Thompson said to her. She did.

Within the context of the rest of the article, Simon's snide editorial reference to the firemen being a "captive audience" would almost go unnoticed.

His description of what happened next, however, used an unambiguously doctored quote. We know this because the events were captured in a video shown at CBS News (click image to watch):

fred-firehat

Simon quoted Thompson as stating that "I've got a silly hat rule."

As the CBS video clearly showed, that was only part of Thompson's statement.

What Thompson actually said was, "I've got a silly hat rule that I'm about to violate."

Thompson then takes the Chief's helmet and starts to raise it if he is going to put it on, and then says, while laughing, "I ain't gonna do it... I ain't gonna do it."

At this point Jeri Thompson steps in and Fred puts the helmet on her. Throughout the video, you can hear those assembled laughing, including Chief Dan McKenzie, who handed Thompson the helmet to begin with. McKenzie is shown smiling widely at the end of the clip.

We don't know if the entire Politico article is grossly unfair in the way it characterized Senator Thompson's swing through Waverly, Iowa, but we do know, thanks to the CBS News video, that not only was Simon's editorializing of what occurred in the Waverly Fire Department mischaracterized, but that he doctored a quote to make his article appear all the more damning.

Simon is the Chief Political Columnist for The Politico—one that they tout as one of "Washington's most visible and experienced journalists."— and should know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that doctoring quotes is highly unethical by any journalistic standard.

In their mission statement, The Politico brags about those journalist they would empower:

Today, many of the reporters having the most impact are those whose work carries a unique signature, who add a distinct voice to the public conversation. Their work, in other words, matters more than where they work.

Reporters stand out from the crowd in a number of ways. Some regularly break news before their competitors. Some have a gift for interpretation, for connecting the dots in illuminating ways. Still others stand out through their eloquence and original storytelling.

Politico will promote and celebrate journalists who have a unique signature. That's why we've been able to attract reporters and editors who have worked at such places as Time magazine and The New York Times, National Public Radio, Roll Call and The Hill, Bloomberg News Service, the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and The Washington Post.

There is a difference, however, between voice and advocacy. That's one traditional journalism ideal we fully embrace. There is more need than ever for reporting that presents the news fairly, not through an ideological prism. One of the most distressing features of public life recently has been the demise of shared facts. Warring partisans -- many of whom take their news from sources that cater to and amplify their existing opinions -- live in separate zones of reality. In such a climate, every news story is viewed as either weapon or shield in a nonstop ideological war. Our answer to this will be journalism that insists on the primacy of facts over ideology.

Though a doctored quote and a misrepresentation of events captured on camera, Roger Simon seems to have violated that difference between voice and advocacy that The Politico claims to represent.

It remains to be seen if the senior editorial staff of The Politico will take this clear evidence of journalistic malpractice seriously.

Update: I just sent the following to The Politico via their contact form:

Roger Simon's "Fred Thompson: Lazy as charged" included a doctored quote.

Simon states:

"'I've got a silly hat rule,' Thompson said."

That is factually incorrect.

What Thompson said is "I've got a silly hat rule that I'm about to violate."

Simon left off the entire second half of the quote, which was captured, in full, in the CBS News video that captured the event.

You owe it it your readers to correct the record in Simon's story.

I would ask you further what remedy you feel is worthy for a reporter that doctors quotes.

Thank you.

I've also left voicemail for Chief Dan McKenzie at the Waverly, Iowa Fire Department, asking for his view of what occurred yesterday.

I'd be very interested in seeing what both The Politico and Chief McKenzie have to say, and hope they take the time to respond.

Update: Over at A Second Hand Conjecture, Michael W. notes that this is not the first time that Roger Simon of The Politico may have been caught using partial or non-existent quotes.

If this is indeed the case, it seems a resignation, and not a retraction, is in order from Mr. Simon.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 20, 2007 10:25 AM
Comments

There is no way to defend this. It's as clear as can be. Whatever Simon's motivations, he has proved himself to be unethical.

And it wasn't just cutting off teh end o the quote. He completely mischaracterized the gathering. Forget Fred - you think a fireman would be unhappy to be next to that pretty babe? And she DID look cute as hell in the hat. Yummy.

Maybe Roger is jealous of Fred?

Anyways...another lie revealed. Thank you.

Posted by: sts at December 20, 2007 12:42 PM

Roger Simon wrote a book about the 2000 election in which he confused Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter. Anyone who can't tell a Jewish liberal from PA from a Mormon conservative from UT has no business covering politics.

Is the Politico in the business of hiring deceitful morons?

Guess so.

Posted by: Anne Deupree at December 20, 2007 12:58 PM

The worst thing about this whole episode, for me, was the credulity it was treated with over at HotAir. That and when people disputed the account, AP accused Fred's supporters of being a step away from Paulbots.

Posted by: TBinSTL at December 20, 2007 01:39 PM

Notice that Simon interprets "silly" to modify "hat", when it actually refers to "rule", as in "hat rule", a rule about hats. Thompson has a silly rule about hats. By cutting off the second half of the quote, Simon makes it more difficult to imagine that Thompson might have meant something other than what Simon says. Ahem. When you actually listen to Thompson, it's obvious that he's referring to the rule, rather than the hat. The rule is the focus of the sentence, as you can see from the dependent clause, "which I'm about to violate." Simon is a biased incompetent.

Posted by: clazy at December 20, 2007 01:57 PM

I wouldn't be too hard on the guys over at Hot Air and Michelle. They did post an update, and we all get a little hot-headed from time to time, myself included.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 20, 2007 01:58 PM

So is CBS's John Bentley. Or maybe both are simply deaf.

Posted by: clazy at December 20, 2007 01:58 PM

One of the quote doctors over at TNR (where else) just adored Simon's story.

I don't remember which of their phony journalists it was -- not Fabricating Frank Foer, because I'd remember if it was his byline. One of the others... Ruth Shalit?

Posted by: Kevin R.C. O'Brien at December 20, 2007 02:16 PM

Another editorial statement (thinly disguised as fact) in Simon's Politico article on Fred Thompson, is that Fred did not walk down the mainstreet of Waverly, even though it is a main street kind of town. The implication by Simon is that Fred should have, and that the explanation by the campaign, citing concern for winter weather (ice/snow) is implausible. Two questions occur: 1.) is Waverly, in fact, a "main street" kind of town?; 2.) what is implausible about a concern for slipping on ice in December in Iowa, particularly when Weather.com shows a high in the 20's for most of this week, and a major snow storm went through that region last week?

(Note that Hillary's campaign is traveling by helicopter across Iowa, according to a chicago tribune article I cannot link to due to the comments engine)

The Hillary article mentions the snow storm that hit Eastern Iowa, and a search on google map reveals that Waverly is, in fact, in Eastern Iowa.

Posted by: mjh at December 20, 2007 02:17 PM

Sounds to me like The Politico hires has-been liberal journalists that (Fox) RINO News Network sets out to pasture.

This is not journalism. It is fiction. And should rightly be labeled as such. It looks like there is coming a time when the MSM is going to have to start putting ratings on their stories like Hollywood productions.

Posted by: Gomez at December 20, 2007 02:44 PM

Read the original piece. Thompson's people refused to allow Simon to sit in on Fred's meeting with the local newspaper editor, and Simon was peeved about it.

He decided to show them a thing or two . . . "Never pick a fight with a fellow who buys ink by the barrel," the old saying went. Update to " . . . who buys bandwidth by the terabyte."

I mean, how picky is it to criticize Thompson for not walking down Main Street? Simon claimed there were shoppers in one of the stores he could have greeted . . . the whole piece is a hit job. Extremely unprofessional.

Posted by: Jim Addison at December 20, 2007 02:46 PM

Simon does what all liberals do, he lies.

Posted by: Capitalist Infidel at December 20, 2007 03:11 PM

Politico is internet warmed over MSM. Jonathon Martin's snide coverage of the Republicans tends to raise the bile. Frankly, the Beltway crowd is all the same, no matter how they distribute their hits.

Posted by: Jake at December 20, 2007 03:42 PM

I have found politico to be suspect ever since they co hosted the first ridiculous debate for the Reps in the summer.

On that note, I don't think that the Politico has much sway in the Republican primary and thus I don't know how much effect this article will have. Whenever media like this try something like this it almost always hurts them more than the person they are trying to hurt themselves.

I think the Politico's reputation will take a much bigger hit than the Thompson campaign.

I will point out that Thompson is by no means the only Rep to be the subject of a hit piece.

Here is my analysis of a hit piece on Rudy...

http://proprietornation.blogspot.com/2007/10/hatchet-job-masquerading-as-political.html

Posted by: Mike Volpe at December 20, 2007 04:04 PM

I have found Politico to be suspect ever since they cohosted the ridiculous debate with MSNBC in the summer. I would add that I doubt they have much sway among the Republican primary voting electorate and frankly blogs like yours have more sway and as soon as your piece and others like it make their way around the right blogosphere, it will wind up hitting politico back and gain some sympathy for Thompson.

I think that the media hurts themselves a lot more than their intended target when they try nonsense like this.

I would also point out that Thompson is not the only Republican to have a hit piece directed at them. I think most have. Here is my analysis of a hit piece on Rudy...

http://proprietornation.blogspot.com/2007/10/hatchet-job-masquerading-as-political.html

Posted by: Mike Volpe at December 20, 2007 04:08 PM

The article is a biased hit-job even without the doctored quote.

Simon expects all politicians to conform to his and his colleagues' (extremely tired old) standards for how granular, local, "retail" politics ought to be done, and is done, in Iowa. We've all been reading the same damn stories about Candidate X eating the damned corned dog or Candidate Y kissing the baby for at least the last six elections, haven't we? That's their narrative.

To use a phrase that Fred's also recently used in Iowa, reporters like Simon want the candidates to "behave" (i.e., comply) like "trained monkeys, performing on command" -- and that includes giving (self-)important reporters like Simon practically unlimited access to the candidates everywhere they go.

Comes now Fred Dalton Thompson, a dignified and serious man who (politely, jokingly, and very wisely) refuses to wear the damned fireman's hat himself; who doesn't see fit to include big internet reporter Simon in his face-to-face meeting with a local newspaper editor; and who perhaps has other priorities right now than walking up and down snowy streets of a tiny town trying to find a small handful of locals who might possibly have a baby he can kiss, or a corned dog, or whatever.

Confronted with such "non-cooperation," then it's out with the truth, and on with the narrative ("Fred's lazy, it's true, I saw it with my own eyes, and who are you going to believe, me or that lying videotape?")

Fred has a spine. He won't pander. That puzzles and even confuses some people, but I think voters will ultimately recognize that it makes him a better candidate to actually be president (even if he's not the press corps' ideal campaigner).

Posted by: Beldar at December 20, 2007 04:22 PM

Thompson won his 1994 Senate run by defying the "conventional wisdom" about how campaigns should be run.

Seems he is doing the same thing here, and, as Beldar points out, the MSM is peeved about it.

It will be interesting to see how the people that really matter--that is, the voters, not the talking heads--view Thompson's approach.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 20, 2007 07:38 PM

No one is going to even remember he was running by March.

Posted by: Frederick at December 20, 2007 07:49 PM

That type of article fits well with a topic of discussion I listened to while driving home. The topic was the possibility of filing suit for journalistic malpractice, which, I think, would make for an interesting court battle.

Posted by: Boss429 at December 20, 2007 08:11 PM

Bob, I don't always agree with you, but wow do I love it when you get hold of something that piques your ire.

Posted by: Tony B at December 20, 2007 10:06 PM

Maybe the chief was handing Fred a new helment. I wouldn't want anyone trying on my helment since it's been in a few fires and crashed vehicles. No telling what kind of contamination is on/in it. We wipe them down with a bleach water solution before letting anyone handle them. Oh, I forgot. Simon is simply a lying and biased ahole.

Posted by: Scrapiron at December 20, 2007 11:20 PM

You're a firefighter, Scrapiron? May I go off-topic and thank you for being one of those that runs into danger when everyone else runs out?

Posted by: C-C-G at December 20, 2007 11:27 PM

To critique clazy's critique:

The amputated quote does the job of indicting the author of the article well enough without grasping for straws by trying to analyze which word was being modified by "silly."

Silly hats in political campaigns go back a long, long way--one of the most famous is Calvin Coolidge in the Indian chief's headdress. Think also of Dukakis in the tank commander's helmet. These gaffes have been discussed again and again over the decades, and there's no doubt that Thompson actually meant a "silly hat" rule. There's also no doubt that the phrase is simply shorthand for "unusual headgear worn with the object of endearing oneself with a targeted voter bloc," rather than an attack on firefighters and their helmets.

Posted by: novanom at December 21, 2007 09:23 AM

Who cares whether he said he was about to violate the rule or not? He didn't, in fact violate it. The point of this stupid anecdote is that Thompson didn't want to wear the hat because he has a rule against wearing hats that might make him look foolish in a shot. Why does it matter that he briefly indicated he would wear it but then changed his mind?

Posted by: Attack Monster at December 21, 2007 03:22 PM

Reminds me of when the media continually said that Al Gore claimed he'd "invented" the Internet.

Posted by: DLS at December 21, 2007 04:18 PM

Um, the omitted second half the quotation doesn't alter or otherwise modify the first half so as to change the meaning or context of his comment.

Aka, including the omission would not have salvaged the "gaffe."

Aka, all this hot air is over nothing.

Posted by: Nathan at December 21, 2007 04:26 PM

I ran into Roger Simon way back when reporting on nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. He wanted to hear ABSOLUTELY only one side of the story. It was a real shocker to meet a journalist who not only had a slant, but refused to hear the opposite side.

Posted by: stuart at December 21, 2007 06:42 PM

Attack Monster, it matters because, among other things, it puts a whole different spin on the event and makes a joke sound like an ill-tempered remark.

Posted by: Gina at December 21, 2007 06:50 PM

I'll be durned... I am actually finding myself in agreement with Novanom.

Parsing the sentence is secondary, what should be of primary importance to this story is the fact that the sentence was cut off and thus taken out of context--very much out of context, in fact.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 21, 2007 08:29 PM

I also tried to submit comments and contact Simon and the Politico regarding this story. The Waverly Democrat also offers a much different description of the events.

Posted by: Matt Moran at December 21, 2007 09:32 PM

The only thing new media has to differentiate itself is its credibility. Lacking that, the MSM has superior distribution, marketing, production, news-gathering, newsfeeds, etc.

The Politico has to decide if it's going to engineer an early death or not on whether it terminates this fraud and sets a clear standard for credible, ethical reporting. Lacking Simon's termination, there's no reason to read yet another tired Firedoglake-inspired liberal opinion blog.

Posted by: redherkey at December 21, 2007 10:39 PM

Simon got it right. There is no dispute that Thompson admitted he has a silly hat rule. That it was followed by "that I am about to violate" makes absolutely no difference. Thompson didn't have the courage or courtesy to put the hat on. And, being the weakling that he is, he left it to his wife to bail him out. Just as Bill relies on Hillary.

Thompson knows he blundered. That's why he referred to the incident in his request for more money filmed on his bus in Iowa by saying "We don't raise our hands when we're told to and we don't wear hats that aren't our own." before putting on a cowboy hat that made him look like a drugstore cowboy.

There are three things that are totally overrated: Young women (That's the polite version.), imported beer and Fred Thompson.

Posted by: Richard Graham at December 22, 2007 09:52 AM

Richard, can I borrow you for a few days? I need to drill some holes, and you spin well enough to be an excellent drill.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 22, 2007 10:34 AM

I'm as big an opponent of liberal media bias as you'll find, but I don't see the problem here with Simon's report. Simon quotes the "silly hat rule," but ignores that Thompson also (1) first said that he was about to violate it, and then (2) changed his mind and said he would adhere to the rule. Simon is exactly right in the substance here, because (1) and (2) cancel out. Would it have been more accurate to say that he initially said that he would violate the rule and then changed his mind? I guess, but it would have taken additional space, and would have added zero content to what Simon actually said about the episode. Right?

Best regards,

CThomas

Posted by: CThomas at December 22, 2007 11:55 AM

C-C-G: The problem with the blogosphere is people such as yourself who mouth off without backing their mouths up with logic. So, we'll give you a chance to prove yourself.

State intelligently and cogently why my observations are wrong.

And remember, no smart-mouthing-just logic.

"I used to be disgusted, now I'm just amused." Anonymous although it may have been Elvis Costello.

Posted by: Richard Graham at December 22, 2007 01:03 PM

Simple, Richard... Thompson did start to put the hat on, as reported above.

Therefore, at the time he uttered it, he intended to break the rule he had just mentioned. I call your attention to the statement "Thompson then takes the Chief's helmet and starts to raise it if he is going to put it on," which appears above in the main article. Therefore, the statement is germane and should have been included.

That he later changed his mind has no bearing on his frame of mind at the time he uttered the statement... he is not prescient, he could not have known he'd change his mind at a later time.

Therefore, logically, the full quote should have been included.

Please do not take my sharp tongue (fingers?) as evidence that I lack a similarly sharp brain. Quite the opposite, my sharp brain empowers my sharp tongue (or fingers, as the case may be).

Good day, sir.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 22, 2007 03:12 PM

Got an error first time, if this is a double post, I apologize.

Simple, Richard... Thompson did start to put the hat on, as reported above.

Therefore, at the time he uttered it, he intended to break the rule he had just mentioned. I call your attention to the statement "Thompson then takes the Chief's helmet and starts to raise it if he is going to put it on," which appears above in the main article. Therefore, the statement is germane and should have been included.

That he later changed his mind has no bearing on his frame of mind at the time he uttered the statement... he is not prescient, he could not have known he'd change his mind at a later time.

Therefore, logically, the full quote should have been included.

Please do not take my sharp tongue (fingers?) as evidence that I lack a similarly sharp brain. Quite the opposite, my sharp brain empowers my sharp tongue (or fingers, as the case may be).

Good day, sir.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 22, 2007 03:15 PM

Richard, C-C-G can't state why your observations were wrong because you didn't make any observations; you just offered a bunch of bitchy value judgments and meaningless insults. If someone that you approve of had done exactly the same thing as Thompson did, then your value judgments would have been exactly the opposite. It would have been courageous _not_ to put the hat on. Instead of his wife's actions showing him for a weakling, it would have shown him for being strong enough to rely on his wife. Instead of the cowboy hat making him look like a drugstore cowboy, it would have made him look like a movie-hero cowboy.

If you don't want bitchy responses, you should stop making such a bitchy comments.

Posted by: Doc Rampage at December 22, 2007 05:46 PM

Remember Michael Dukakis' tank ride while wearing headgear? Remember how silly he looked? Apparently, Fred Thompson remembers too.

Posted by: Sandman at December 22, 2007 06:02 PM

"That he later changed his mind has no bearing on his frame of mind at the time he uttered the statement... he is not prescient, he could not have known he'd change his mind at a later time."

Right. He fully intended to, but two seconds later he discovered that the intention had gone away. Happens all the time. Disgraceful that Simon denied him credit for those two seconds of sincerity.

You *do* have a sharp brain, CCG!

Posted by: SqueakyRat at December 23, 2007 05:47 AM

C-C-G and Doc Rampage: The news quote was accurate because it reflected what happened. Thompson was too cowardly to put the hat on and he let his wife bail him out. Thompson should have put the hat on and been done with it. It's that simple. Now, we have another example of a candidate's supporters blaming the candidate's cowardice and stupidity on the media. That's why Thompson is a loser.

You are both fortunate to live in a country in which people such as yourselves are allowed to post opinions that sound as if they are 15 year girls having their first menstrual cycle. (I am guessing, perhaps wrongly, that you are both "male.".) You are both classic examples of what Rush Limbaugh calls the "chickification" of America.

Posted by: Richard Graham at December 23, 2007 07:43 AM

Ya know, Richard, it seems rather crude of you to resort to insults after asking me for "no smart-mouthing."

Methinks thou dost protest too much.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 23, 2007 10:39 AM

Perhaps he didn't put it on because he won't wear hats which he is not entitled to wear.

Posted by: Dave at December 23, 2007 10:44 AM

Why is there so much angst and virtual ink spilled over the inoccuous phrase "captive audience"? It implies absolutely nothing other than the fact that a politician spoke to on-duty fire fighters who were not at liberty to leave the fire hall. It's not derogatory, factually incorrect, nor misleading. It "would almost go unnoticed" because it is scarcely worth noticing.

Really, is this what following and debating campaigns is all about? Restaurant tips? Silly parsing rules, and endless high dudgeon?

It seems the MSM is not the only bastion of hypersensitive delight in the trivial.

Posted by: Pazuzu's Petals at December 23, 2007 10:55 AM

Speaking of hypersensitive delight in the trivial, Pazuzu, where is the "angst" and "virtual ink" about that phrase? CY mentioned it twice, but you're the very first commenter to do so, after more than 40 comments.

Pot, meet kettle.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 23, 2007 11:16 AM

C-C-G;

I stand corrected. No commenter did mention it; just the author. I should have referrred to the ink spilled about the article in its entirety, not just that phrase.

My argument about the phrase stands - it's inoccuous.

As for the 'pot/kettle' trivial charge, CY put the phrase into play for discussion, and thus invited debate. So 'sloppy writing' - not 'trivial' - is the only accusation I'll accept from you.

Posted by: Pazuzu's Petals at December 25, 2007 03:43 PM

You completely misunderstood my argument, Pazuzu. The phrase "pot, meet kettle" referred to your own "angst" and "virtual ink spilled" over that statement, while you decry CY's.

To make it even simpler, while you are busily denouncing CY for his "angst" and so on, you are demonstrating your own "angst." Thereby proving that you are just as guilty of the errors you blame CY for.

Ergo, you are a pot, calling a kettle black.

Ain't logic wonderful?

Posted by: C-C-G at December 25, 2007 08:19 PM

Richard Graham:
"The news quote was accurate because it reflected what happened. Thompson was too cowardly to put the hat on and he let his wife bail him out. Thompson should have put the hat on and been done with it. It's that simple. Now, we have another example of a candidate's supporters blaming the candidate's cowardice and stupidity on the media. That's why Thompson is a loser."

Replace the negative adjectives with positive ones and the comment would have the same value - zero. As was noted above, your post has nothing to object to because it IS nothing but a series of value judgments that have no objective backing. And using your logic, it's a catch-22 - Thompson's silly if he puts the hat on and cowardly if he doesn't. What kind of objectivity is THAT?

How do we determine that this misquote is more than just leaving out two seconds? Well, maybe it's because Roger Simon gets so much else wrong here. Example: Thompson's expression is not sour as Simon describes, it's half-laughing. Example: Later in the article, Simon refers to a Waverly Democrat reporter who calls Thompson's response to her question about farming "glittering generalities" (HER question was vague, and he said he would try to reduce subsidies on farming and support funding for soil/land conservation programs).

Thus we can see that Simon goes beyond simple bias to dishonesty.

By the way, your complaint about "smart-mouthing" seems misplaced given that you're busy calling the candidate a coward and a weakling, and given that unlike many smart-mouthers, these two didn't use theirs to cover for a lack of logic. What is generally objectionable about foul language is that it's used IN PLACE OF logic - Doc Rampage at least used the language to COMPLEMENT his logic.

Posted by: Math_Mage at December 25, 2007 10:45 PM