On Thursday, Andrew Kaczynski, senior reporter and founder of CNN’s “K-File” investigative reporting team, sent out a series of tweets calling attention to an article he’d written about a potential controversy involving DNC chair candidate and progressive favorite, Rep. Keith Ellison.
That piece, “Rep. Keith Ellison faces renewed scrutiny over past ties to Nation of Islam, defense of anti-Semitic figures,” recounts how in the ‘90s Ellison—who is a Muslim—was involved with the controversial black separatist group the Nation of Islam. He had a connection to the group’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, who, as Zaid Jilani points out, has made both anti-Semitic and anti-white comments.
As it turns out, Ellison defended Farrakhan against criticism of his rhetoric. In addition, Ellison has similarly defended Kwame Ture, going so far as to write a column castigating University of Minnesota President Nils Hasselmo for criticizing Kwame Ture, who had been invited to speak at the school, and who had previously made anti-Semitic remarks. In that piece, he criticized “Zionism.”
Still, Ellison has had nearly a decade-long career as a member of the United States House of Representatives, and in that time he has won the support of Jewish groups—a fact mentioned in the piece.
However, Kaczynski has drawn criticism from notable journalists for other omissions. He does not mention that Ture was the former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which Zaid Jilani of The Intercept was quick to note, as well as the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party.
Jilani went on to write a rebuttal piece after examining Ellison's college essays. Still, as both pieces make clear, there is no denying that Keith Ellison was a radical years ago.
Journalist Emmett Rensin also took issue with the report for leaving out an explanation of the historical role the Nation of Islam:
Much has been made about the proliferation of fake news during this election cycle. Concern has reached fever pitch lately given Trump's victory, because many in mainstream media have attributed his rise to the spread of misinformation.
In large part, the responses have failed to examine the root of why false information spreads so quickly. Part of the reason for that is the fact that the answer is so simple: Besides being wired to seek out confirmation bias, Americans feel they can no longer trust mainstream media to provide diverse perspectives, report facts, or tell the stories that matter—a reality that speaks volumes.
Kaczynski's piece on the controversy surrounding Keith Ellison's past provides a wonderful jumping off point to illustrate just how mainstream media is in large part to blame for the spread of fake news—The Washington Post's largely discredited blacklist notwithstanding.
Besides his omissions regarding Ellison, which, if included, could have made the report feel less like a hit piece, Kaczynski's coverage of the progressive favorite's challenger for the DNC chair position, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, has been similarly one-dimensional—but to the opposite effect.
On November 16th, after Dean had entered the race, the founder of the 'K-File' wrote a piece titled, “Howard Dean: This election may be young people's Kent State or Edmund Pettus Bridge,” which, when read, was little more than a platform for Dean's stump speech. Literally all the piece contained was the background of Dean's candidacy, and long quotes of his, often interrupted by “he said.”
No background is provided about Dean other than the fact that he had held the post before.
Absent was any mention of the fact that the former Vermont governor now works for the firm Dentons as a lobbyist for the health industry, or that since this career development, he has abandoned many of his former progressive positions. Nowhere is it mentioned that as a superdelegate for Vermont, a state in which Sanders won handily, Dean famously cast his vote for Clinton, firing back at critics in a series of tweets claiming superedelegates do not “represent people.”
Just as the omitted information in his piece about Ellison was important, so too are these facts—especially in light of growing calls for a new direction within the Democratic Party from progressives and millennials. Even before Clinton's catastrophic defeat, the party's power structure—the superdelegate system in particular—as well as its cozy relationship to big industry, had come under fire. Surely Dean embodying these grievances bears mentioning in a piece about the former Vermont governor stressing the need to reach young people.
But for whatever reason, Kaczynski did not feel this background was worth mentioning.
When taken into account, the reporter's past coverage of Dean, which goes back years and includes an interview from 2013, provides further fodder for skeptical minds.
There is the matter of this curious tweet crediting Dean as a trailblazer:
As governor, Dean did indeed pass nation's first bill legalizing civil unions, but he was not the only Democratic presidential candidate to publicly take that position in 2004. In fact, Rep. Dennis Kucinich went even further, announcing his support for same-sex marriage.
And of course, there are all of those times Kaczynski got a little too excited about Dean's screaming.
Although there is no way of knowing for sure what’s going on in Andrew Kaczynski’s head, the CNN reporter has built a reputation around uncovering juicy scoops without regard for the outcome as it would impact particular candidates.
This election cycle alone, he and his team uncovered Hillary Clinton’s super-predator video, Bernie Sanders’ Sandinista video, and Donald Trump’s 2002 interview with Howard Stern in which he responded “I guess so” to a question of whether or not he supported the Iraq War. Few who know his work would suggest his internal preferences, whatever they may be, eclipse his pursuit of newsworthy content.
As NPR noted:
Andrew Kaczynski loves the hunt, but winces when he thinks about his ultimate prey.
“Sometimes politicians do, like, generally change their opinions on things, and there have been, like, they’ve moved with the times,” he says. “But other times, like, it just comes off as so cynical and political that it can be somewhat disheartening.”
That said, thanks to a few oversights and omissions, it does not take much imagination to concoct a narrative of a mainstream media reporter targeting the enemies of the political establishment. And that’s the crux of the problem.