CAW, With Qualifiers, Apologizes for Role in Bogus Ron Johnson Story

In a lengthy blog post, more than 1,400 words, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig apologized for his organization’s role in pushing out a false story about U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. While Kraig clearly apologizes for CAW’s part in advancing the false narrative that Johnson was sending cease and desist letters to constituents urging Johnson told hold town hall meetings, the piece also includes several qualifiers. And Kraig attempts to diminish CAW’s role in the episode.

CAW posted on its Facebook page a cease and desist letter Johnson’s office sent to a single constituent.  Yet CAW characterized the letter as being sent to people who seek a town hall session from Johnson. Johnson’s office told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the constituent had begun to engage in harassing behavior and the letter was sent on the advice of Capitol Police.

Kraig includes a brief apology in a paragraph that attempts to separate CAW from “fake news sites” and is filled with examples Kraig offers as conservative misinformation for which the responsible parties never apologized:

In this blog I am going to do something that the purveyors of “fake news” never do: apologize. I am doing this because we at Citizen Action of Wisconsin strongly believe that a healthy democracy, where government decisions flow from the public, requires advocacy that is based in fact. The degradation of communication standards we are seeing in American public discourse–from oil industry funded climate denial, to fake health care “death panels,” to the President’s unsubstantiated accusations of wiretapping and voter fraud–is undermining the authentic public debate we need to foster truly democratic decision making.

That the examples Kraig gives as false information are indeed false is in dispute.  Further, Kraig then asserts that the poster didn’t realize the standard to which the posting would be held, or that it might be widely shared:

The Citizen Action organizer who made the Facebook post and the webpage did not believe he was dashing off something that would be scrutinized like a press statement or a piece of journalism. He could not have known at the time that it would spread virally over the internet, generate dozens of media calls from state and national reporters, and be scrutinized by PolitiFact(The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel PolitiFact rated CAW’s claim false).

If the hoped result wasn’t widespread dissemination it begs the question: then why share it? Kraig then dilutes the apology by rationalizing CAW’s actions:

I do believe that PolitiFact should take into account whether the subjects of their scrutiny correct the record or double down on a misleading statement. Journalists, after all, make factual mistakes on a regular basis, and expect to be able correct the record through further reportage.

In addition, PolitiFact in its format of framing a question that can be rated “true or false” tends to take attention away from other important elements of the story. PolitiFact did not ask whether or not it was reasonable to send any constituent a “cease and desist” letter, and also took the account by Johnson’s staff of Mr. Good’s conduct without any corroboration as “fact.” However, The Intercept (co-founded by crusading investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill) interviewed several Congressional insiders who found the action of Senator Johnson’s office highly unusual…

The action by Johnson’s office may be unusual but, as stated above, it was an action recommended by Capitol Police. Kraig then attempts to blame Johnson’s office for the poster’s lack of judgment:

The unusually punitive reaction of Senator Johnson’s office, in the context of his recent refusal to hold public town hall meetings at a time when Congress is making tremendously consequential decision about the future of health care and other issues, is the reason the Facebook post went viral in the first place, and is a critical part of the story. It is also why our organizer was so quick to post the information on social media without carefully explaining the full context of the letter.

Kraig does, however, close with a clear apology:

Given the tremendous and growing power of social media, clearly exhibited by the President Trump, Citizen Action should have had in place safeguards that assured that we would not post a charge against a public figure without providing appropriate clarifying context which clearly matches the evidence to the claim. For that failure I apologize, and promise we will strive to do better.

There was no indication Monday that others on the Left, including State Senator Chris Larson, who pushed the false narrative planned on apologizing as well.