Journalists would do themselves a huge favor if they stopped treating Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas as a right-wing nut job and consider the possibility that he is actually smarter and more reasonable than his critics say.
They’d spare themselves an awful lot of embarrassment.
The Washington Post has egg on its face this week after it was left with no choice but to concede Cotton was indeed correct when he said last year the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, would receive a federal stimulus check following a Senate vote.
“The Senate voted on an amendment to exclude prisoners, like the Boston bomber, from getting stimulus checks,” Cotton said in March 2021. “Every Democrat voted to send checks to prisoners, and every Republican voted to stop prisoners from getting checks.”
The Washington Post fact-checker responded at the time by awarding Cotton two Pinocchios, claiming his remarks lacked “significant context.” The fact-checker also accused Cotton of “scaremongering,” characterizing his remarks as “talking points … crafted for future campaign ads, not serious legislation.”
Tsarnaev did indeed receive a federal stimulus check, as Cotton’s office noted in an email this week to the Washington Post.
The paper amended its fact-check accordingly, conceding the senator was actually correct. As a brief aside, let’s not overlook that the fact-checker’s default position was never “we have no idea if this is true” but “he’s probably wrong.” How can one flunk a statement when one has no idea whether it’s true?
Infuriatingly enough, even after the correction this week, the Washington Post still awarded Cotton a single Pinocchio, claiming his factually true statement “still lacks some context.”
This is getting to be an embarrassing habit for the press, reflexively attacking Cotton for holding positions they end up conceding or even embracing.
When Cotton suggested in 2020 that COVID-19 might have escaped a lab in Wuhan, China, members of the press scoffed, writing him off as a tinfoil right-winger.
Then, after it became increasingly likely the lab leak theory is indeed the true explanation for how the pandemic started, media simply backpedaled, pretending as if they took the theory seriously all along and never mocked or criticized Cotton. It was an embarrassing and shameful about-face.
Later, as anti-police riots marauded across the country, claiming more than 20 lives and causing billions of dollars in damage, Cotton rather sensibly suggested in a New York Times opinion article that federal troops should be deployed to assist overwhelmed police districts.
Members of the press again responded as if Cotton had proclaimed himself the Christ. They wrung their hands and accused the senator of insanity, of dangerous speech. They even claimed he was directly endangering black lives — all because he suggested local law enforcement could use some backup to deal with unhinged, murderous rioters.
Later, after a pro-Trump mob sacked the Capitol, many of the same media figures who voiced shock and anguish over Cotton’s New York Times opinion article practically wept with joy when National Guard members turned the nation’s capital into a full-blown militarized zone.
These people know we can see them, right?
These self-owns don’t have to happen. It’s not as if Cotton is forcing journalists to be reflexively opposed to the things he says, only to agree and even promote them later. Perhaps if they took the senator seriously, treating him as more intelligent than his Democratic critics are willing to admit, we would see fewer of these embarrassing media missteps.