Those comments were a clear reference to the beating that the Hill has sustained on the Hill. Witnesses have raised doubts in particular about the work of former employee John Solomon, who in March began publishing stories about Ukraine under the banner of the Hill. Though Solomon served as executive vice president for digital video, his investigative journalism was presented to readers as coming from an “opinion contributor.” Top State Department official George Kent, in his deposition in the impeachment inquiry, characterized one of Solomon’s key pieces this way: “It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.” Others have cast similar aspersions on Solomon’s output.
Pressure, accordingly, has been mounting on the Hill to take a close look at the work of Solomon, who departed the Hill this fall. On Friday, following Speier’s harsh comments, the Erik Wemple Blog asked the Hill if it would review the reporting.
An answer of sorts came this morning, as the Hill Editor in Chief Bob Cusack made this announcement via email to his colleagues:
As you are aware, John Solomon left The Hill earlier in the fall, but in light of recent congressional testimony and related events, we wanted to apprise you of the steps we are taking regarding John Solomon’s opinion columns which were referenced in the impeachment inquiry.Because of our dedication to accurate non-partisan reporting and standards, we are reviewing, updating, annotating with any denials of witnesses, and when appropriate, correcting any opinion pieces referenced during the ongoing congressional inquiry. As previously stated, the views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.We reiterate that we do not condone sending material out before publication.The Hill remains committed to giving voice to views across the political divide.
The Hill, however, shouldn’t confine its review of Solomon’s work to stuff referenced in the impeachment proceedings. Everything under Solomon’s byline should be submitted to retrospective scrutiny. That includes a report he delivered late last July, when he predicted that a then-pending report from the Justice Department’s inspector general would find that former FBI director James B. Comey had exhibited a “lack of candor” in his discussions with officials — a bureaucratic euphemism for lying. That report got echoed on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program.
A month later, the inspector general’s report emerged without any finding that Comey had exhibited a “lack of candor.” Solomon stood by his reporting. "We were not wrong,” said Hannity on his program.
Oh yes, you were.
In taking a skeptical look at the pieces of Solomon — who has worked at the Associated Press, The Washington Post, the Washington Times and the Center for Public Integrity, among others — his former colleagues at the Hill are continuing something of a journalistic tradition. Back in 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review, under the byline of Mariah Blake, took a close look at Solomon’s stormy tenure at the Center for Public Integrity and noted his “history of bending the truth to his storyline.” In 2007, CJR criticized his work at the AP and The Post for spinning small facts into big nothings: “John Solomon Gives Us Less Than Meets the Eye — Again.” More recently, the Erik Wemple Blog has questioned Solomon’s work on the Uranium One deal; HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly and Nick Baumann torpedoed his piece on the text messages of FBI officials; and ProPublica recently completed an investigation headlined, “How a Veteran Reporter Worked with Giuliani’s Associates to Launch the Ukraine Conspiracy.”
The point here: Had they kept their eyes open, managers at the Hill could have taken into account well-considered criticism of Solomon’s reporting well before 2019, when he began the Ukraine stories that are threatening to undercut the publication’s reputation. And they needn’t have relied on outside sources, either: In early 2018, Solomon’s colleagues at the Hill raised their own concerns with management, as reported by the Erik Wemple Blog. Management later announced that when Solomon wrote for the Hill, he’d do so as an “opinion contributor.” Solomon hailed the move in a statement that read, in part, “it is designed to allow me to analyze the facts my reporting has uncovered and help readers try to understand the complexities of Washington’s accountability issues. As I have been my whole career, I will continue to be an equal opportunist in looking at all sides of the issues and talking to both sides of the political aisle.”
On Sunday, Solomon appeared on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures” with host Maria Bartiromo, who complimented his reporting and lamented, “Now you’re being attacked on the left.” In his own defense, Solomon claimed, “every fact in every one of the columns I wrote for the Hill was vetted by the Hill, by their lawyers. And to this day, every fact remains in public, confirmed.” When Bartiromo asked what he would do about his critics, Solomon responded, “I’m in consultation with some lawyers right now about bringing some targeted legal action, not because I want to make any money, but because I want to correct the public record for the American people."
At least Solomon and his former managers share the goal of setting the record straight. There is an underside, however to Cusack’s announcement. First, it is tardy — only after The Hill has sustained embarrassing deposition testimony and a hallway dis from Speier does it undertake a review of Solomon’s work. Another problem altogether is the apparent fantasy that, somehow, moving Solomon’s work from news to “opinion” shifts the considerations at play here. Cusack writes, “As previously stated, the views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.” How is that notion even relevant to a series of “columns” that read like investigative stories?
UPDATE: Solomon sent this statement to the Erik Wemple Blog:
I welcome The Hill’s review of my Ukraine columns and suggested it myself a month ago. I believe it won’t be hard for The Hill to review these since all my source documents and original interviews are transparently linked for all to see. And the three main points of my Ukraine columns are now validated by Adam Schiff’s impeachment witnesses.1. State officials did have a concern that the Hunter Biden/Burisma connection posed the appearance of a conflict for Joe Biden, as well as ongoing questions of corruption. Those concerns forced them to cancel a USIAD jproject with Burisma.2. State Department officials exerted pressure on Ukraine prosecutors to drop certain cases against activists, including one group partly funded by George Soros.3. There were efforts around Ukraine in 2016 to influence the US election, that included a request from a DNC contractor for dirt on Manafort, an OpEd from Ukraine’s US ambassador slamming Trump and the release of law enforcement evidence by Ukrainian officials that a Ukraine court concluded was an improper interference in the US election.
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