Kellyanne Conway messed up.
Speaking with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Thursday night, President Trump’s senior adviser invented a mass killing that never happened.
“I bet it’s brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre,” she said. “Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”
There was no “Bowling Green massacre,” in any Bowling Green. There was, as many have pointed out, an incident in 2011 where two Iraqi men were arrested for trying to send weapons to al-Qaeda. Both men admitted to having attacked American troops in Iraq, but no attacks occurred in the United States. The Bowling Green massacre has the happy distinction of being the least-deadly massacre in American history.
When the Conway clip started to proliferate on social media, there were a few directions that the response could go. We’ve come to expect a certain pattern from Trump himself: An outrageous claim, an immediate blowback, a doubling down from Trump, a sometimes strained defense from his loyal defenders. It’s a function of the odd political space Trump occupies, one that straddles truth and falsehood, where he’s given credit for what people want to read into his comments versus what he actually said. (“Take him seriously, not literally.”) How would that cycle iterate for someone besides Trump making an obviously false statement from within his inner circle?
The first response was right on cue. Reaction on social media was immediate and harsh. “Bowling Green Massacre” trended on Twitter, with any number of jokes made at Conway’s expense. News outlets rushed to offer unusually brief fact checks: The “massacre” simply didn’t happen.
On Reddit’s The_Donald forum, one of the most energetic and loyal bastions of Trump fandom, the ensuing response was varied — and rather muted. One user shared the clip uncritically, saying Conway had “school[ed] libs” on the massacre. Another called it “a strange choice of words” but declared it “only 10% as dishonest as what the media does every day.” In response, another user chalked the comment up to a mistake.
Multiple users had another theory: Conway specifically misspoke to draw attention to her broader point about Obama’s action on Iraqi refugees. “Kellyanne plays 5D chess,” one wrote. Another suggested that Conway had set up “fact-check tee-ball,” giving media outlets a way to dig into the story she wanted to tell.
On Friday morning, Conway responded on Twitter.
So much for the five-dimensional chess.
It was clear from the outset that Conway had her facts wrong, of course. It’s important to remember, though, why she made the claim that she did. She was hoping to do two things at once: Imply that refugees were a risk to American security and suggest that the media wasn’t telling Americans that truth.
Her comment that “it didn’t get covered” probably referred to the Obama Iraqi ban, not to the massacre. But that alleged ban also didn’t happen, as our fact-checkers have pointed out. There was a slowdown while the administration reviewed the program, but there was no month in which Iraqi refugees weren’t admitted to the country. That’s why it, too, was “brand-new information to people.”
The claim about the ban — a more subtle one, laced with asterisks — has not been as readily debunked. The_Donald has talked about it a lot since the Trump administration first used it as a validation of its immigration executive order. No claims that it was a secret strategy to trap the media or that it was a sneaky way to bring attention to the situation. Just … acceptance.
You’ll be glad to know that Conway still managed to make lemonade out of the whole Bowling Green situation.
Sure, Conway got her facts wrong. But, as always, the real problem is the media.