Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and/or his supporters have been screaming about mainstream media misfeasance for months now. Screaming that CNN’s Dana Bash was too conflicted to cover the candidate. Screaming that the media were irresponsibly reviving an old issue when it asked about those old, racist newsletters. Screaming that before all that happened, the media paid no substantive attention to Paul.
Someone heard the screams.
Thirty-three-year-old Ben Swann anchors two newscasts per day at Fox 19 in Cincinnati. In between, he puts together three weekly segments of something the station has branded “Reality Check.” Though these fact-checking videos often address the local stuff at the heart of Fox 19’s regional coverage, Swann takes the franchise national. That’s where Paul comes in.
“I’m a big believer in the Constitution,” says Swann. “I’m a constitutionalist in terms of my view of politics, and I struggle with a lot of the spin that I see.”
Cue a spin-rebutting edition of “Reality Check”: Back in November, Swann churned out a segment titled “An endorsement for fairness in dealing with Ron Paul.” (see video below). Here’s how Swann starts the discussion: “Texas Congressman Ron Paul is the political force that nobody’s talking about. Tonight I take a look at three areas where the media claims that Rep. Paul is too radical to get the Republican nomination. The question is, is that true?” Swann concludes that when it comes to the federal budget, entitlement programs and foreign policy and military commitments, Paul is no outlier. Swann:
Here are the facts: Ron Paul does not say that he is against defense. He says he believes in funding for a strong national defense. So, of course, he’s a candidate that the military would not support, right? Well, according to USA Today and PolitiFact, Ron Paul has received — get this — more campaign contributions from people who work for the military than President Obama and almost three times as much as all the other Republican presidential candidates combined.
After gushing for several minutes about Paul, Swann declares that this is “not an endorsement” of the candidate, but rather an “endorsement for fair coverage, and there is no question the congressman isn’t getting it.” In response to a question from this blog, Swann amplified the point: “Rep. Paul does not have the backing of left- or right-wing media, therefore is pushed from both sides.”
In other editions of “Reality Check,” Swann counter-pushes on behalf of Paul. In one, he applauds Paul’s truth-telling ways on Iran; in another, he exonerates the candidate from the anti-Israel charge that opponents like to hang on him. Swann says to the camera: “If today Israel decided that it must launch an attack on Iran to protect its own people, which candidate aside from Ron Paul would support that move without Israel first receiving U.S. approval?”
On the topic of Ron Paul’s racist, homophobic and creepy-cum-conspiratorial newsletters, Swann allows his affection for constitutionalist politics to corrupt his judgment. A segment titled “The story behind the Ron Paul newsletters” features Swann straining to minimize the newsletter scandal, starting with the volume of racist content — Swann says that only nine newsletters carried such stuff.
And he even scares up what sounds like a small-scale media scandal to raise suspicions about the soundness of reporting on the newsletters. His target is James Kirchick, the New Republic reporter who took the newsletter story from crusty backwater to pressing, contemporary issue in 2008.
In Swann’s words:
I found, when researching this story, that [Kirchick] explained that most of the newsletters had no byline. Specifically, none of those racist newsletters had a byline, says Kirchick, except for one. One newsletter that contained the byline of someone else, not Congressman Paul. But Kirchick fails to disclose two very important things: whose name was in that byline and which article they wrote. He only states that the mystery writer wrote “One special edition” of the Ron Paul Report. The only special edition I can find is the 1992 article, “A Special Report on Racial Terrorism.” Why is that important? Because this edition of the newsletter that is most often quoted to prove racism.
A follow-up segment takes the conspiracy further, as Swann claims newsletter-oriented scoopage relating to Kirchick’s alleged reportorial omissions. Follow along:
For the first time, I am going to share with you the name of that [mystery] writer in connection with the article he authored. It is a 1993 edition of the Ron Paul Strategy Guide. The article is titled “How to Protect Against Urban Violence.” The author is James B. Powell. The full eight pages of his article match so closely to some of those other so-called “racist newsletters” it is stunning.
Kirchick has a comeback that’s light on equivocations:
Ben Swann has said that he “share[d]” for “the first time” the supposed “mystery writer” of one of Ron Paul’s newsletters. Wrong. TNR published the “Ron Paul Strategy Guide,” bylined by a James B. Powell in 2008 (not 2007, as Swann erroneously says). Swann also insinuates that Powell was the author of the notorious 1992 “A Special Issue on Racial Terrorism.” Never mind that it was written in the first person, like nearly every one of the newsletters, to give the impression that Paul was indeed the author (for instance, a reference to “my coin expert Burt Blumert”). This week TNR released a 1993 monograph edition of the newsletter titled “Race Terrorism in America.”
Having trouble making it through all this back and forth over newsletter authorship? That’s the point. It’s a distraction, a distraction from the fact that far too many newsletters under Ron Paul’s name carried language like this: “Racial Violence Will Fill Our Cities” because “mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white ‘haves.’ ”
To further shoo away the entire matter of the newsletters, Swann argues that “every single candidate for president, including President Obama, has been called a racist.” That sort of journalism counters what Swann views as poor journalism by the national media. “For the most part I believe that the media has done a poor job of covering the newsletter controversy, largely because it is a complicated issue,” writes Swann in response to a question from the Erik Wemple Blog. “Rather than independently verifying the content of those newsletters, most members of the media appear to have over-simplified the issue with statements like ‘… Ron Paul’s racist newsletter, which was published for over 20 years.’ ”
Regardless of how you feel about the racist newsletters and how utterly they disqualify Ron Paul for higher office, “Reality Check” ’s probing of national political issues is working for Fox 19. These videos, says Swann, consistently fill out four of the top five traffic-generators for the Fox 19 site. “We get traffic all over the country and all over the world. A lot of that has to do with social media,” he says, noting that ”Reality Check,” combined with the wonders of the Internet, gives his affiliate a reach it wouldn’t have imagined a decade ago.
Like many local TV personalities, Swann got into this biz dreaming of a career as a national network correspondent. Yet the reach that he’s getting, in part through soft-pedaling the horror of the Ron Paul newsletters, is prompting him to ”rethink that strategy a little bit.” He notes, for example, that he has more of a Facebook following than Eric Bolling of Fox News. Now there’s a fact we can agree on.