Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.
It turns out senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway didn’t misspeak only one time when she referenced a fictional “massacre” that unfolded in Bowling Green, KY at the hands of two Iraqi-born men in 2011. She actually told that tall tale in at least three interviews in recent weeks, attempting to defend President Donald Trump’s ban on travel for visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. That, and to wrap the media’s knuckles for ignoring the alleged massacre.
The latest revelation is troubling because it completely undermines Conway’s defense that when she mentioned the “massacre” on MSNBC last week, she simply made an “honest mistake” where she “misspoke one word,” and that instead of a “Bowling Green massacre” she meant to refer to the two Iraqi men as “Bowling Green terrorists.” In other words, “massacre” sprang out in a moment of on-air confusion, and then “haters” in the media blew the story out of proportion.
If that were the case, it might be within bounds for Conway to push back on critics, even though she was reckless using “massacre.”
But that’s not the case. Because if you look at the language Conway used on MSNBC, it’s obvious she didn’t employ “massacre” by mistake. (Her whole point was that the men were the “masterminds behind” the “massacre.”)
We now know that Conway picked the same word more than once while peddling the Bowling Green narrative, which certainly suggests the storytelling was deliberate. (“Massacre” isn’t a word that often tumbles out of mouths of surrogates by mistake, let alone twice while telling the exact same story.)
Why does Bowling Green matter, aside from the opportunity to mock Conway’s dishonest and dangerous fabrication? It matters because Bowling Green could offer a deeper glimpse into the alternate reality that may be developing within the White House regarding current events, and how that “reality” is being used to advance the White House’s desire to demonize Muslims.
Bowling Green matters because it represents the swelling challenge the press faces in covering the Trump White House, based on its almost chronic attempts to fabricate information. And as that challenge swells, it becomes imperative that journalists not believe anything the White House tell them – ever — before the claims are able to be independently verified.
Writing about Conway and her Bowling Green adventure in The New York Times, media columnist Jim Rutenberg suggested her debacle represented good news for the media in their battle against Trump era fake news. Pointing to the speed and authority with which the “story fell apart so spectacularly,” Rutenberg hoped “the tale of the ‘massacre’ could be the start of something new.” (The episode certainly damaged her reputation at CNN, which reportedly declined to have her on Sunday’s State of the Union.)
I also hope the Bowling Green debunking could be the start of something new. But I have grave doubts, simply because Trump and his advisers rarely seem chastened, even after caught telling flat out lies, or inventing news events, such as a fictional mass killing in the Bluegrass State.
Meanwhile, look at the fabrication that sprang sprung up around Conway’s lie. Trump on Monday suggested the press purposefully ignores or downplays terror attacks. (“They have their reasons, and you understand that,” saidTrump.) When pressed for examples, the White House released a list of large-scale attacks, including the December 2015 gun rampage in San Bernardino, CA, where 14 people were killed, and the November 2015 Paris terror attacks that left 130 dead and hundreds more wounded.
But the idea that news organizations across the spectrum, both national and local, collectively choose to not cover terror attacks is nonsensical and easily refuted. The three television broadcast network evening newscasts devoted 237 minutes to the San Bernardino attack, making it the third most-covered news story of 2015, according to television news analyst Andrew Tyndall. The same analysis found the Paris attacks to be the fifth most-covered story. Overall, the rise of ISIS was the fourth most-covered story.
It was just more nonsense from Trump. In fact, Alex Jones’ conspiracy-loving Infowars website has been pushing the idea that the U.S. press, for political reasons, won’t report on terror attacks. (Jones has been a close media ally of Trump’s dating back to the campaign. In fact, Trump appeared on Jones’ show to praise the conspiracy theorist’s “amazing” reputation just hours before the San Bernardino attack.)
In terms of the fictitious massacre, Bowling Green is emblematic of a White House that’s scooping up all kinds of dubious, unproven claims and presenting them as facts, particularly when the topic is hyping the threat of Islamic terror surrounding the travel ban. (Defending the initiative, Trump posted a fake news article on his Facebook page.)
Meanwhile, the idea that Conway simply misspoke is categorically false. Providing additional details to the fictional massacre, here’s what she told Cosmopolitan during a January 29 interview:
“Why did [Obama] do that? He did that for exactly the same reasons. He did that because two Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined ISIS, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills, and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.”
In that telling, the two men “traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills” and then returned to the U.S. to unleash their “massacre,” which took “innocent soldiers’ lives” in the U.S.
As Cosmopolitan explained, none of that is accurate.
The good news is Conway’s awkward “massacre” fabrication was quickly and aggressively debunked, and her reputation may have suffered a long-term hit. The disturbing downside: The Conway incident isn’t a random, dismissible incident. As the Trump White House has proven repeatedly, making things up is becoming the rule, not the exception.