Members of the establishment press have wildly mischaracterized Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s decision to involve himself in a dispute at his alma mater over a newly-elected gay student body president.
The Associated Press and The Washington Post are perhaps the worst offenders, although NBC isn’t far behind. All three outlets reported on an op-ed Perry published Wednesday, in which he suggested Texas A&M unfairly overturned the results of the student election “in the name of diversity,” and said it may have been stolen “outright.”
While it’s reasonable to ask why a member of the president’s cabinet is involving himself in a campus dispute, and certainly worth reporting, the outlets named above unfairly twist his op-ed almost beyond recognition. Perry’s perfectly legitimate concerns about the way the dispute was handled travel through the minds of a few journalists and voila! Out comes Rick Perry hates gay people.
Before we go further, let’s review the facts of the election dispute. A student named Robert McIntosh handily beat out his openly gay competitor, Bobby Brooks. He received 4,977 votes compared to Brooks’ 4,214. But the results were overturned later that night, after the student election board received anonymous complaints that McIntosh intimidated voters. He was not initially given a chance to defend himself, but was immediately disqualified, and Brooks was declared the winner.
Two days later, another charge also based on an anonymous complaint was filed accusing McIntosh of failing to include a receipt for (freely acquired) glow sticks used in a campaign video on his financial disclosure report. A student court found the charges of voter intimidation to be baseless, but upheld the charge regarding the glow sticks. Although McIntosh obtained the glow sticks for free at a charity event he participated in, the judges cited a rule that all items acquired for the campaign must be disclosed.
Now here’s how Perry responded. Opting to weigh in on the outcome — certainly a striking decision — he published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle saying he is “deeply troubled” at the school’s handling of the matter, although he was initially pleased to hear an openly gay student had been elected president.
“I viewed it as a testament to the Aggie character,” he wrote, saying he was “proud” the students appeared committed to treating everyone equally based on character rather than personal characteristics. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “a closer review appears to prove the opposite; and the Aggie administration and SGA owe us answers.”
At best, the school government “made a mockery of due process and transparency,” he wrote. And at worst, the school allowed the election to be “stolen outright” from McIntosh. Perry argued the court gave “no consideration” to whether the punishment — 11 seconds of a video involving free glow sticks — fit the crime, and noted the court admitted the charges against McIntosh were “minor and technical.”
“Now, Brooks’ presidency is being treated as a victory for ‘diversity,’ he wrote. “It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for ‘diversity’ is the real reason the election outcome was overturned. … What if McIntosh had been a minority student instead of a white male? … The outcome would have been different if the victim was different.”
The AP, WaPo and NBC quickly pounced on the news, writing headlines that frame his op-ed as an attack motivated by the fact the student who was declared president is gay. “Perry blasts election of first gay Texas A&M student president,” the AP wrote.
Inside the stories, each of these outlets chose to leave out certain facts and to add in other points clearly designed to criticize Perry and tie him in a negative way to President Trump. Here’s a case in point, from a paragraph in the AP report recounting the facts of the case.
“The campus election ended with junior economics major Bobby Brooks winning about 4,200 votes. Another candidate, Robert McIntosh, son of Dallas-based GOP fundraiser Alison McIntosh, got nearly 5,000 votes but was disqualified amid complaints he intimidated voters and failed to provide receipts for glow sticks used in an online campaign video.”
Notably absent from this description is that the complaints filed against McIntosh were anonymous (possibly originating from the Brooks’ campaign), and that the glow sticks in question were obtained for free at a charity event. Also, note the reference that McIntosh’s mother is a Texas GOP fundraiser, a fact clearly intended to suggest Perry is helping out a donor. All three of these additions and subtractions that put McIntosh in a more negative light are also present in the WaPo and NBC reports.
Additionally, neither of these outlets mention Perry’s expression of initial pride that Brooks was elected as the first gay student body president. And two of them suddenly drop a few lines making an at best dubious comparison between Trump’s past behavior and the argument Perry makes.
“Perry is following in the footsteps of his new boss, though on a far smaller scale,” the AP wrote. “Trump spent months claiming without any evidence that his presidential election against Democrat Hilary Clinton would be rigged against him — until he won it.”
And in WaPo: “With a tone that resembled the same fury over ‘political correctness’ that boosted Trump, Perry insinuated in his commentary that McIntosh was unfairly disqualified because his opponent was gay.”
Let’s be more precise. Perry expresses “fury” because he believes the outcome of an election appears to have been rigged for the sake of political correctness, not out of rage at political correctness itself. And unlike Trump’s claims about Clinton, Perry does have legitimate grounds for his concern about the way the election was handled, even if his explanation for it is speculative.
All three reports contain cheap shots, but the AP report in particular is chock full of them, including a snide reference to Perry running the agency that “oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal,” and a note that he placed a “close ally” in the school who brandished a pocket knife when the university discussed firing him. The Washington Post doesn’t get around to a summary of the facts of the election until deep into the report and well past the attention span of many readers — 11 paragraphs to be exact.
There’s no question it’s odd for the Energy Secretary to weigh in on an election dispute at a college campus. But buried inside these reports is one possible explanation other than “Rick Perry is anti-gay people.” Perry is notoriously fond of his alma mater.
“There are three institutions that are most important to Rick Perry: his wife and family, the U.S. military and Texas A&M,” former Perry chief of staff Ray Sullivan, who worked on both his presidential campaigns, told the AP. “It depended on the day, or the weekend, which one had the top priority.”
“This must be his inner Aggie speaking,” Rice University professor Mark Jones told The Houston Chronicle. “Because this is certainly not something you expect a cabinet secretary to weigh in on — actually, probably not even a governor. It’s strange. Of all the things he could have an opinion on, this is probably not the smartest move for a cabinet secretary. He must really be upset about it.”
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