The New Hampshire Republican State Committee is unhappy with Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief of the Huffington Post and author of a recent article on New Hampshire politics. According to Jennifer Horn, the group’s chairman, “A legitimate news organization would have already disciplined the author and retracted this false story. But the Huffington Post’s lack of action confirms that it is more interested in dishonest political advocacy than actual journalism.” In a statement, Horn pledged to “alert all state and federal Republican candidates” about the Huffington Post’s “lack of standards.”

Just what did Grim do to invite such media criticism?

He alleged that New Hampshire senate candidate Scott Brown had lobbied sitting Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to vote against a bill by Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whom Brown is seeking to unseat. The lede of Grim’s piece originally read like this: “Sen. Kelly Ayotte explained Thursday why she voted to support legislation by her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), despite a call from a fellow Republican to oppose it.”

Some context here: Huffington Post reported earlier this week that Brown had urged Republican leadership to vote against this Shaheen legislation on energy efficiency — the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act — as part of an effort to deny Shaheen a campaign-worthy legislative victory. The bill recently died. Brown faces a September Republican primary in pursuit of a chance to knock off Shaheen.

At the center of Grim’s article was a call that Brown had made to Ayotte, who ended up voting for the bill. Summing up the call in a brief chat with Grim, Ayotte said:

Obviously, I talk to him regularly. There’s not much to see in it other than the bill came up because it was on the floor but I told him what my position is but I wasn’t lobbied on it or anything. Obviously, I just did what I thought was best based on my state and I voted the way I thought I should.

So, was she lobbied by Brown or not?

The New Hampshire GOP cites that transcript as proof that she most certainly was not. “Grim deliberately and maliciously edited Senator Ayotte’s quotes to fit the phony, preconceived narrative that he wanted to push,” notes the Republican group in a memo.

Grim suggests that literalism in this case feeds a false conclusion. “He didn’t lobby me — that’s a phrase that senators and congressmen regularly use. It’s a particular phrase that doesn’t have a lot of meaning,” says Grim, noting that the backdrop of the call is critical: Brown opposed the Shaheen bill and called Ayotte to talk about it. “It’s quite plain what the conversation was about,” says Grim.

Yet the Huffington Post’s original story claiming that Brown was lobbying senators to oppose the legislation rested on the thinnest of sourcing. Here’s how the allegation was first spelled out in the HuffPost Hill newsletter: “Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, now running for Senate in New Hampshire, called Senate Republican leadership to urge them to make sure that Shaheen-Portman, the Senate’s energy efficiency bill, didn’t pass, so as not to give Shaheen something to run on, HuffPost Hill was told.” Bold text added to highlight a sourcing technique commonly deployed by tabloids and local television stations.

The New Hampshire Republican group picked up on the flimsy reportorial underpinnings, saying that the Huffington Post “failed to identify a single named or unnamed source to back up the phony rumor.” Following the Huffington Post story, Politico’s “Morning Energy” newsletter put the matter before Brown’s spokesperson, who issued a statement addressing the politics of the matter but stopping short of denying the Huffington Post’s story. MSNBC.com and TPM have followed the Huffington Post’s reporting.

When pressed on the reporting, Grim responded via e-mail, “I first reported in HuffPost Hill with a blind source, but then the next morning the Brown campaign confirmed it to Politico, so in our follow up story, we didn’t need to reference sources. My original sources on this are very good though.”

Following publication, Grim’s story underwent a change, from the original opening sentence:

Sen. Kelly Ayotte explained Thursday why she voted to support legislation by her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), despite a call from a fellow Republican to oppose it.

To:

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) explained Thursday why she voted to support legislation by her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), despite a call from a fellow Republican who opposed the bill.

The original, in other words, clearly frames the call from Brown as a lobbying effort, while the second leaves the matter more open-ended. Grim tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the “to oppose” language resulted from a copy-editing error and that the change restored the original intent.

The story’s headline also changed to “more fully reflect the conversation with Ayotte,” according to an italicized note at the foot of the story. Jeff Grappone, a spokesman for Ayotte, passes along this statement regarding the story: “The latest updated version bears no resemblance to the original, which was grossly inaccurate and misleading. The story still fails to include direct comments from Senator Ayotte that would have discredited the original premise that she was pressured to vote against the legislation. The whole thing is a non-story.”

The New Hampshire Republican State Committee blasted away at Grim & Co. in a memo to New Hampshire Republican officeholders and candidates: “Left wing blogs like Huffington Post have a right to carry water for liberal politicians like Jeanne Shaheen, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama. They are free to peddle mistruths and falsehood that damage their credibility if they chose. But they shouldn’t be viewed as serious or trusted news institutions that provide unbiased coverage.”

The New Hampshire Republican State Committee pledges to boycott the Huffington Post. The group’s tough-on-media credentials include supporting a threat from the Republican National Committee to ban CNN and NBC from hosting Republican primary debates if they ran specials on Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both networks bagged their plans.

Disclosure: Grim is a former colleague of Erik Wemple (Blog).

Full statement from New Hampshire Republican State Committee:

“An unbiased reporter would have never published this story given the clear comments that Senator Ayotte made in the interview. The mistakes made in the post are too serious and egregious to be considered simple errors, which leads to the obvious conclusion that this was a deliberate attempt to spread misinformation. A legitimate news organization would have already disciplined the author and retracted this false story. But the Huffington Post’s lack of action confirms that it is more interested in dishonest political advocacy than actual journalism. The New Hampshire Republican Party intends to alert all state and federal Republican candidates about Huffington Post’s lack of standards if they refuse to properly address this issue immediately.” – NHGOP Chairman Jennifer Horn

Memo to candidates from New Hampshire Republican State Committee

To: New Hampshire Republican Candidates and Elected Officials
From: Jennifer Horn, New Hampshire Republican State Committee Chairman
Date: May 16, 2014
Re: Deceptive Practices Employed By Liberal Huffington Post

Over the past several years the lines have been blurred between credible news organization and partisan organizations pushing misinformation. The problem was on full display this week when the liberal blog The Huffington Post spent several days trying to advance a phony story of its own creation in an attempt to influence our United States Senate race.

While this particular issue focused on Scott Brown and Senator Kelly Ayotte, similar incidents could occur involving any one of our outstanding Republican candidates or elected officials.

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post published a blog that falsely accused New Hampshire Republican candidate Scott Brown of “lobbying” Republican senators to kill a bill sponsored by Senator Shaheen “so as to not give Shaheen something to run on.” The post failed to identify a single named or unnamed source to back up the phony rumor.

The bill ultimately failed because partisan politicians like Harry Reid and Jeanne Shaheen refused to allow an amendment to approve the bipartisan Keystone XL Pipeline that has been blocked by the Obama Administration.

The next day, the Huffington Post manufactured another post by asking liberal Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for reaction to their false report. Predictably, Schumer launched phony partisan attacks against Brown.

The next day, liberal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the United States Senate to launch partisan political attacks based on the false, unsourced post published by his ally, the Huffington Post. The false story was spread as his dishonest attacks were picked up by other liberal blogs.

Later that day Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post, approached Senator Kelly Ayotte in the halls of the senate to ask her if Brown had pressured her to “slow down” the bill.

“No he didn’t,” said Ayotte in response to Grimm’s question according to a full transcript. “I told him what my position is, but I wasn’t lobbied on it or anything and obviously I did what I thought was best based on my state and voted the way I thought I should.”

Despite Ayotte’s clear statements, Grim wrote an utterly dishonest post with the blaring headline “New Hampshire Republican throws Scott Brown under the bus.” The story alleged that Brown had called Ayotte to lobby her on the bill even though she clearly said, “I wasn’t lobbied on it or anything.” Grim deliberately and maliciously edited Senator Ayotte’s quotes to fit the phony, preconceived narrative that he wanted to push.

After the recording of the full conversation was circulated to New Hampshire media to correct the record, the Huffington Post’s phony interpretation was mocked and criticized.

WMUR-TV said that the “audio of the interview provides a different context and premise — and maybe not even a story.”

“The story’s first paragraph went on to explain that Brown, a U.S. Senate candidate, had called Ayotte to lobby her to vote a certain way,” reported WMUR. “But the audio version of the interview, which to Huffington Post’s credit eventually was posted with the story, had Ayotte directly saying that Brown didn’t lobby her.”

New Hampshire Journal noted “The Huffington Post later changed the headline after an audio of Ayotte’s interview with its reporter was circulated widely to the media. The lead to the story, which had said that Brown called Ayotte to lobby her against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s energy efficiency bill, was also watered down in a later version.”

An unbiased reporter would have never published this story given the clear comments that Senator Ayotte made in the interview. The mistakes made in the post are too serious and egregious to be considered a simple error, which leads to the obvious conclusion that this was a deliberate attempt to spread misinformation. A legitimate news organization would have already disciplined the author and retracted this false story. But the Huffington Post’s lack of action confirms that it is more interested in dishonest political advocacy than actual journalism.

Left wing blogs like Huffington Post have a right to carry water for liberal politicians like Jeanne Shaheen, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama. They are free to peddle mistruths and falsehood that damage their credibility if they chose. But they shouldn’t be viewed as serious or trusted news institutions that provide unbiased coverage.

Given this unfortunate incident and the Huffington Post’s obvious lack of integrity, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee will no longer participate in its stories or respond to inquiries from its writers.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.