Student reporter’s misleading video edited, used by Democrats to embarrass Republican candidate for AZ schools superintendant

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Republican State Senator John Huppenthal of Arizona hasn’t had a good week. On Thursday, his campaign was forced to fend off a legal challenge that might have disqualified him from the race for state schools superintendant, and though he only ended up receiving a fine for collecting his nominating petition signatures too early in the election cycle, the embarrassing flap was widely reported across the state.

But the more significant blow came when the Huffington Post posted a story about Huppenthal’s supposedly embarrassing interview with a student journalist. The reporter, high school student Keith Wagner, had clearly spent a good deal of time researching Huppenthal’s voting record, and he confronted the state senator with some questions about a vote he made to cut funding from state career and technical education programs.


Huppenthal, apparently dazed by the question, asks to leave the room for a moment and never returns — at least according to the text at the end of the video. It certainly seems embarrassing, at first glance. But the video that made the rounds on the Huffington Post was heavily edited, and Wagner now says he’s not thrilled about it.

Wagner claims that ,despite the text at the end of the edited clip of his interview, Huppenthal actually returned to finish the interview. So, who made those edits at the end of the video? The Arizona Democratic Party. Reports AZCentral:

Wagner completed the 6-minute video at the end of the school year and posted it on YouTube on June 9. It didn’t attract much attention until Democrats posted an edited, 2-minute version late last week. It seemed to show Huppenthal walking out on the student and not returning, which wasn’t the case. That version drew much more attention than the original, including a mention Tuesday on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC.

Wagner said the two-minute version did not accurately represent his interview with Huppenthal. But he said he believes the senator was unprepared for his questions and confused about some of the facts related to his vote last yearin favor of House Bill 2028, which cut education funding to help balance the 2008-2009 state budget.

The story seems simple enough: Democrats manipulate innocent student journalist’s report to make Republican candidate look stupid. Right? Well, maybe not. Here’s Wagner’s original video. Huppenthal walks away at the 4:20 mark.


Wagner’s original video may have been the source of the confusion because it fails to show Huppenthal returning, implying that he never did. (The video’s description does note that Huppenthal returned, but it’s unclear whether that clarification was there from the start, and the description is not visible when the interview is embedded in other web pages.)

More substantively, Huppenthal has an explanation for why he looked like a deer in the headlights: Wagner was wrong on the facts. The Phoenix New Times reports the Huppenthal campaign’s response on the whole affair:

GOP spinmeister Jason Rose has stepped into the fray regarding a high-school student’s video report that included an interview with state Senator John Huppenthal, who is seeking to become Arizona’s schools superintendent.


The Yellow Sheet [an Arizona subscriber-only political wire] further notes that the bill Wagner was asking about didn’t cut the monies with which Wagner was concerned. Rose quotes the Yellow Sheet thus, ‘The bill, which was part of a two-bill package that closed a $650 million deficit in FY09, did three things: roll over $100 million in university funding; roll over $300 million in K-12 funding; and cut $250 million from K-12, but backfill the cuts with an equal amount of federal stimulus money. Additionally, budget documents from JLBC show the career and technical education funding levels are unchanged from FY09 at about $11.5 million.’

Hunter Stuart has yet to amend his original report on the Huffington Post, and some blogs like Mediaite only explore half the story, correctly reporting that Huppenthal returned but failing to address that his “embarrassing” reaction was due in part to Wagner’s inelegant reference to the bill in question.

UPDATE: After outlets including the Daily Caller pointed out that Huppenthal did come back to the room to finish the interview, the Huffington Post posted an update to their original story, clarifying that the state senator did return.