Today, I defended the New York Times for an opinion piece that is the basis for a defamation lawsuit by the Trump campaign. Raising such free speech protections can be challenging when you disagree with the author (as I did). It is particularly difficult when you are also the subject of a false representation in a column, as I was this week. Unlike the New York Times column, a representation of Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post was demonstrably false as a factual matter.
Rubin states that Democratic counsel Norm Eisen was able to extract concessions during the impeachment hearing despite the fact that he only asked me one question about a line that I had just published in the Wall Street Journal. Thus, my “concessions” appear to be repeating a line that I had just made in one of my own columns in anticipation of the impeachment hearings. I had been making this point repeatedly. Where is the concession? It was a point that I included in my written and oral testimony and was instructed to only answer “yes or no.” That was the only question asked of me at the hearing by Eisen. Indeed, I believe that that was the only question asked of me by the Democrats in the entire hearing.
I have asked for a correction from both Rubin and the Post and will update this column with any developments. However, given that this column has been running for days, I wanted to set the record straight.
I rarely call out writers or academics for criticism of my writings or positions. Such erroneous criticisms goes with the territory. Yet, I have rarely encountered a more demonstrably (and almost comically) false statement as the one that appeared in Rubin’s column.
This week the Post ran a column by Rubin entitled “An Unassuming Mover In Impeachment Departs The House.” I was delighted to see a column on my friend Norm Eisen, but I was surprised when I started receiving calls from people about one line that is clearly untrue. The column states that “[Eisen] managed to extract concessions from the Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, that were later used by House managers in the trial.”
As a columnist, including writing for the Washington Post, I understand that such assertions can be highly subjective but on this occasion it is not just false but would have taken little to confirm that it was false. The reason is simple: I was only asked one trivial question by Eisen and the Democrats in the entire hearing. There was no new information, let alone a concession. Rather I repeated what I had just stated.
The sole question that I was asked by Eisen was actually the subject of audible laughs when I was instructed to solely answer “yes or no” to his reading of a line that I had just written in a column in the Wall Street Journal. Here is the entire exchange with Eisen from the coverage:
“And Professor Turley, you recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, and I quote, ‘There is much that is worthy of investigation in the Ukraine scandal, and it is true that impeachment doesn’t require a crime.'”
“That’s true, but I also added an important caveat,” Turley attempted to interject.
“Sir, it was a yes or a no question,” Eisen continued. “Did you write in the Wall Street Journal, “There is much that is worthy of investigation in the Ukraine scandal, and it is true that impeachment doesn’t require a crime?’ Is that an accurate quote, sir?”
“You’ve read it well,” responded a smiling Turley.
If you watch the hearing, you will hear laughter in the background because the exercise of having me confirm a line I just wrote was a bit bizarre — as was the incidence that I not say a word beyond “yes or no.”
As I explained to the Post, I fail to see how confirming a line that I wrote a week or so earlier in a national publication is a concession of any kind, let alone multiple concessions. I had just stated this position without any prompting from the Democrats. Indeed, the Republicans knew that that was my position going into the hearing. I had written numerous columns saying that the Ukrainian matter was worthy of investigation and that impeachment does not require a criminal act. This is akin to saying that I “conceded” that I testified in the Clinton impeachment. I had just said that I testified in the Clinton impeachment. These are less concessions than repetitions of earlier stated points.
Moreover, I know of nothing in the oral testimony that was different from what I stated in my lengthy written testimony or my oral statement. I stated that previously identified four articles of impeachment, including bribery, were flawed and should be rejected. I stated that two articles could be legitimate but would have to be proven. The Committee rejected those four articles and went forward with the two that I said could be rejected. I previously maintained that position and continue to maintain that position. I also testified that you did not require a crime – a position that I had stated in my testimony, in my prior academic writings, and in my testimony in the Clinton impeachment over 20 years ago. I do not know of any “concession,” let alone multiple concessions, that I made in my oral testimony. Indeed, the coverage of various newspapers noted that I was not asked anything by the Democrats of substance in the entire hearing. I received only the request to confirm a line that I had just written and the result of laughter. When Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler ended the hearing, he quoted my previously stated position that abuse of Congress, a non-crime, could be an impeachable offense. I came to the hearing with that position, which I have held for decades as an academic in both scholarship and testimony.
As made clear in my written and my oral testimony, some of my views would support the Democrats while some would support the President. The Republicans were aware of that when they first called me but still asked me to testify. The Wall Street Journal piece restated my long-standing position going back decades. It is not clear (and not stated by Rubin) what my concession, let alone “concessions,” were in the hearing when asked about something I had just said and had just written.
That would make this something of an “immaculate concession” devoid of any statement other than the repetition of a prior statement.
Thus far, my request for a correction has not been granted and column still contains a representation that is demonstrably untrue. Even if Rubin was told this by Eisen or someone else, she does not claim that it is a statement from a third party but a fact. She also did not seek to confirm such concessions or state what those concessions might be.
What is concerning is what seems like an utter lack of concern for the factual record. There is widespread distrust of the bias and accuracy of the media, particularly in coverage of the Trump Administration and impeachment.
Rubin is a self-described conservative columnist for the Washington Post and is also a MSNBC contributor. She has previously been criticized by conservatives, Fox News, and President Trump as one of the Post’s designated conservative voices. Past controversies include calls to “shun” and “shame” Trump officials and to “burn down the Republican party.” Such criticism, however, can go with the job as a columnist and Rubin is can certainly be anti-Trump and a Republican.
I have a long and valued relationship with the Washington Post, which has generously published many of my columns. I have often defended the Post against attacks by President Trump and others. However, my continuing respect for the Post and our past relationship should not be a deterrent for calling out errors when they occur. This should never have been put into the column and would have been shown to be untrue with minimal fact checking.