Are we not fact-checking evidence-free claims anymore?
Pour out a cold one for the Golden Age of Journalism
At what point are journalists going to hold Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accountable for her evidence-free conspiracy-mongering?
Are we already past the days of those too-clever-by-half media fact-checks?
The New York congresswoman speculated this week that the police officer who evacuated her from her office during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot intentionally endangered her — and that he may even sympathize with those who would do her harm. After all, Ocasio-Cortez explained Monday during an Instagram livestream, the officer allegedly looked at her with "a tremendous amount of anger and hostility."
An airtight case!
Ocasio-Cortez claims she heard loud bangs in her office during the riot “like someone was trying to break the door down.” She claims she went to hide in the bathroom, at which point she heard someone enter her office and say, “Where is she?”
"This is the moment I thought everything was over,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “I thought I was going to die. ... I really just felt like if this is the plan for me, then people will be able to take it from here.”
She then revealed to her social media followers that the person who entered her office was not a rioter but a Capitol Hill police officer, who instructed her to go to a different office building for her safety. But "things weren’t adding up," Ocasio-Cortez said.
“Like,” she added, “there was no partner there, and no one was yelling — he wasn't yelling like, 'This is Capitol Police! This is Capitol Police!' And he was looking at me, and all this anger and hostility.”
Ocasio-Cortez claims the officer’s “hostility” made her fearful.
“Did he not say he was Capitol police on purpose?” the lawmaker asks. “Was he trying to actually put us in a vulnerable situation?”
“All these crazy thoughts go through your mind,” Ocasio-Cortez said later, as she recounted her efforts to find a safer office to hide. “Are some offices safer than others because they have white-sounding names? Or male-sounding names?”
The congresswoman has been on a roll recently, lobbing serious allegations of wrongdoing at her usual targets. She even claims Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas “almost” had her “murdered.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, few, if any, in the press have bothered to challenge what are by all objective standards deadly serious and verifiable accusations. Indeed, many journalists seem perfectly content merely to repeat her allegations and leave it at that.
And that's the obvious problem here, that there is basically no pushback against Ocasio-Cortez from the industry that spent the past four years telling us how skilled it is at holding the powerful to account.
Who is the police officer in the congresswoman’s story? What is his take on her version of events? Will he have a chance to defend himself? Will establishment journalists even bother to uncover his identity?
This is no small thing, accusing a member of the U.S. Capitol police of possibly conspiring with a seditious, murderous mob. If true, there ought to be an investigation. But that probably won’t happen. Ocasio-Cortez will move on and the establishment press likely won’t press the matter.
During the latter half of the Trump administration, the press took the unprecedented action of censoring the president and his minions. Newsrooms that participated in the blackout argued that it was too dangerous to allow President Donald Trump and his cohort a free hand to spread lies and rumors. Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, faces no similar scrutiny or censorship, despite the fact that her tales likewise lack evidence. Indeed, there is eagerness among a great many reporters simply to parrot the congresswoman’s remarks, without even so much as the pretense of seeking out corroborating evidence.
More than 100 Capitol Hill police officers were injured protecting members of Congress. One officer died. Two have committed suicide.
None of Congress’s 535 members were hurt during the riot.
If Ocasio-Cortez knows something about the motivations of the officer who evacuated her from her office, something beyond “he looked angry,” she has a responsibility to provide the public with that information. The press should likewise do its job and actually vet her remarks for truthfulness.