Conservative website Twitchy has made a name for itself as a clearinghouse of snark. It pokes fun at liberals on Twitter, rouge journalists, and current events in a very lighthearted format. However, despite my enjoyment of Twitchy and my respect for Michelle Malkin, its original founder, they sometimes go a bit overboard.
Twitchy’s recent story on the Russian Flag guy at CPAC was one that went overboard.
So What Actually Happened?
Hadn’t heard of the CPAC Russian Flag incident? That’s ok: it just happened today, and the Twitchy story does recap many facts fairly well.
Peter Hamby, the director of news from Snap, shared a tweet with a picture of CPAC attendees waving Trump flags. The problem? Those flags looked a lot like Russian flags.
Crowd at CPAC waving these little pro-Trump flags that look exactly like the Russian flag. Staffers quickly come around to confiscate them. pic.twitter.com/YhPpkwFCNc
— Peter Hamby (@PeterHamby) February 24, 2017
CPAC staff members quickly removed the flags from the crowd, and shortly thereafter caught the culprit passing them out: Ryan Clayton, a progressive activist from the group “Americans Take Action” and a Huffington Post writer.
— James O’Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) February 24, 2017
What did Twitchy Write?
Twitchy jumped on the story, relying heavily on several Twitter replies concluding that the initial post was biased. Here’s a screencap of some of those tweets, which argue that Hamby believed Trump’s supporters brought the flags:
As you might expect, many conservative activists on Twitter responded forcefully to what was framed like a clear-cut case of media bias.
But hold up. What’s really going on here?
Where Things Went Wrong
Look at the context carefully. Hamby first posted about the incident at 10:34 AM. His first tweet contained two basic facts: (1) that CPAC attendees were waving the Russian flags, and (2) that CPAC staff members were confiscating them. There was little other information available at that point.
The irate response tweets started up immediately thereafter, while it was still a developing story with very little context. The first tweet–which is what everyone ultimately latched on to–accused Hamby of believing that Trump’s supporters were waving the flags. The Twitchy story was published at 1:31 PM.
There is nothing in Hamby’s tweets indicating what his beliefs were on the subject. He literally just took a few pictures, shared them, and moved on. Rather, it is the initial Twitter reply–and, subsequently, Twitchy–who appear to take as fact an assumption of Hamby’s beliefs.
Additionally, Twitchy didn’t diligently follow up on the story. Between 10:34 AM and the article’s time of publication at 1:31 PM, Hamby made two additional posts on the subject. The first, posted at 10:50 PM, clarified that the people waving the flags were unaware they were being trolled. The second, posted at 1:21 PM, contained several pictures taken from Snapchat clearly picturing Clayton.
The only thing Hamby didn’t do was clearly link the pictures to Clayton. However, other journalists, such as Guardian reporter David Martosko, had already been spreading that information around. At that point, such a linkage was almost unnecessary.
So did Hamby mess up? Maybe, if only by not sharing Clayton’s name. However, he did everything else he was ethically required to do by following up and making appropriate clarifications. Other journos filled in the gaps, as well, so the story in the public record ended up being correct.
By contrast, Twitchy’s story is based almost purely on a false inference with zero evidence. Plus, Twitchy failed to follow up and re-check the original sources. I can forgive their missing the second tweet, since it was only posted ten minutes before publication. But the first one? It had been out for over two hours prior–and it completely undermines the bad inference that motivates the article.
I’m sorry, Twitchy. I love you, but you jumped the shark on this one.