The 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference is here. The annual event, once again hosted in National Harbor, Maryland, has become the go-to spot for conservative activists and media figures. Wave of speakers, pundits, media figures, and officials step up to the podium each year to discuss big ideas and major issues.
After last year’s culture shift at the event, it remains to be seen whether CPAC will stay true to its principles or continue veering in a more populist direction. However, that hasn’t yet taken away from the event’s political importance, and journalists are still covering the event in droves.
Some of these journalists are already doing a bang-up of a bad job.
The Case Study
In his coverage of Day One of CPAC, Rupar primarily shared short video clips of prominent speakers. That, by itself, is perfectly fine. I’ve shared pull quotes myself at past CPACs where I’ve been in attendance.
What’s not so good is when the reported “quotes” deliberately or negligently misrepresent the content of the video. For example:
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 28, 2019
Rupar’s “quotation” isn’t what McDaniel said. Here’s a more complete version, in context:
We can’t think that the American people understand what socialism is. We do have to go out and educate. We have to talk about Venezuela, where 90% of the people right now are living beneath poverty, that they don’t have groceries in their grocery stores, that people are eating dog food to survive. That is the path that Democrats are taking us down by promising everything. Free healthcare, free education. What that will do will bankrupt our country, turn us into a socialist nation, and it is the biggest power grab in history.
McDaniel based her argument in reality. As a result of the collapse of Nicolás Maduro’s socialist and authoritarian economic regime, Venezuelans have actually been documented buying dog food for human consumption. Even more disturbingly, some Venezuelans are slaughtering zoo animals, rats, and even pet dogs for food. It is also true that many new Congressional Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are either openly socialist or have advocated for more socialistic policies.
But Rupar, apparently, didn’t care to engage with the substance.
This kind of misleading clickbait journalism isn’t unique or limited to Rupar, but this is a particularly blatant example.
The tactic itself is actually fairly audacious. He’s placed the original video source that he misquotes right there, in front of the viewer’s face. The presence of the video itself implies that the quote must be accurate. After all, “Why would someone lie about this and put the evidence right there?”
The presentation of this information basically baits the viewer into trusting the journalist and being lazy. Otherwise, they would have to take the whole two minutes necessary to watch the clip and judge for themselves.
Rupar’s done this several times in his coverage of Day 1 of CPAC. One tweet cuts off a critical line from Scott Walker’s comments on abortion. Rupar mischaracterizes the statements as literal claims, when the removed line more clearly shows that Walker is drawing an analogy.
Another Tweet cuts an entire line out of Lindsey Graham’s comments on social media censorship to accuse Graham of spreading “baseless conspiracy theories.” Graham’s claims aren’t just being misrepresented: the premise Rupar is trying to advance is itself suspect. The New York Times, of all places, recently published a massive exposé of Facebook’s internal policies regulating speech. The Times itself called the platform “arguably one of the world’s most powerful political regulators.” Rupar took a cheap shot, and missed.
The Shot and Chaser
The best part of all this is Rupar’s own hypocrisy. Earlier on Thursday, Rupar went after President Trump for… misquoting and misrepresenting someone else’s statements.
Rupar wrote an entire Vox article dedicated to Trump misquoting Michael Cohen. Trump stated in a press conference that Cohen said there was “No collusion with the Russia hoax.” Rupar wrote:
But Cohen did not say there was “no collusion.” What he said was that he does not “know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia,” but “I have my suspicions.”
I’ll be the first to admit that is a significant difference. As I wrote last April, the words people use actually matter. Cohen didn’t offer hard or direct evidence of President Trump colluding with Russia. However, Cohen did offer examples demonstrating the “suspicions” he held. Trump’s statements are, at best, spin, and at worst more dishonesty.
Rupar was right to call Trump out. But then, later in the exact same day, Rupar did an about-face. After he spent almost a thousand words going after Trump about misquoting others, he promptly jettisoned that standard as it applied to his own conduct.
Rupar didn’t even need to misquote people. He could still have criticized those clips without the dishonesty. For example, Rupar could have chosen a number of responses to Graham’s tweet in particular. He could have accused Graham of hypocrisy or flip-flopping on the “fairness doctrine,” for example. He also could have semi-plausibly accused Graham of racism. Graham asks the audience if they are worried about “Chinese, uh, students and professors coming to America to basically steal our stuff?” (Yes, that’s an actual quote Graham said, right at the end of the exact clip Rupar pulled. Watch it.)
But no. Rupar took cheap shots, and missed anyway.
Let’s All Stop Being Stupid
Twitter “journalism” has, in many cases, become hot garbage. It has so much potential to be valuable for sharing instant video of major world events, and on-the-ground reports. But it can be–and often is–readily misused.
I’ve never met Rupar personally, and he could be a very nice person. But he’s guilty of the exact kinds of misquoting and misrepresentation that he seems so keen to point out in others. It’s hypocritical, and it make the current problems in online journalism worse.
And that’s just one example of some of the “media coverage” of CPAC, Day 1. Let’s hope things turn around going into Day 2.