Two Chears for Nicholas Fandos

The standard rule that reporters cover both sides of a debate and find some source to contest lies rather than doing it in their own name (and the name of the newspaper) has not survived Mitch McConnell’s office.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Fandos notes that “A senior Republican aide in the Senate” lied on a very simple fact which is in the public record.

The aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail internal strategy, argued that in doing so, the House had denied Mr. Trump proper due process rights afforded to Mr. Clinton, suggesting the current president was not given a chance to contest the House’s record.

The House invited Mr. Trump to mount a defense before the Judiciary Committee during its impeachment proceeding, including requesting witnesses and documents, but the president’s legal team declined, saying it would not dignify an inquiry it deemed illegitimate with a response.

So it is very good that the lie was clearly described as a lie. I accept the Grey Lady’s style which does not allow the use of the appropriate plain English words “lie” or “lied”. I think it would be better to have written that a source resorted to flat out lies when attempting to justify McConnell’s decision to break his work, without quoting the lie and just noting that the source lied. But I don’t expect to convince anyone.

However, I do not think that anonymity should be granted without the qualifier that the reporter will name the source if the reporter is convinced that the source lied.

I do not think anything is gained by allowing people to infect the discussion with flat out lies. Reporters will not recklessly burn sources in ambiguous cases, as that will be punished. Reporters will be punished for adding the qualifier. Therefore, I think it must be made a matter of policy that reporters are not allowed to hide the names of liars.

I note also that the justification for the grant of anonymity is based on another lie. The aid aims to convince the public with an argument. The claim that the deliberation was meant to be private is simply another lie. This shows the worthlessness of the rule that reporters must explain why they grant anonymity. The practice is to report a lie used to request anonymity as an un-contestable truth.

Also, I am not a lawyer, but I think that the senior aid slandered the House of Representatives and its Judiciary Committee. The claim is false. It is a matter of very public record that it is false. Needless to say the House of Representatives is as public a figure as there can be, and Senate aids are as close to having “speech or debate” immunity as is anyone who doesn’t actually have that immunity. Given those considerations, I think the aid is liable for slander. The statement was a damaging flat out lie. He or she must have known that it was a lie. The highest possible standard is very low compared to the level of the tort.