MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — The Huffington Post hasn’t apologized for the brazen error, but the left-wing outlet’s Sabrina Siddiqui struck former Sen. Scott Brown with an inaccurate story on Thursday night that her editors have since drastically scaled back. The hit piece was based entirely on a fallacy that a co-moderator of the final debate has since admitted he got wrong; he actually appeared on statewide live television to apologize to Brown and voters for the inaccuracy.
Within minutes of the conclusion of the final debate between Brown and incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Siddiqui blared a headline across the Huffington Post: “Scott Brown Can’t Get His New Hampshire Geography Straight.”
To make her case, Siddiqui–who was not in attendance for the debate–relied on flawed questioning from local reporter and debate co-moderator James Pindell.
“Usually when we talk about jobs and the economy, it’s a big picture conversation,” Pindell asked Brown. “But I want to drill down to Main Street here in New Hampshire. You both live on the Seacoast, so let’s go to the western part of the state and let’s talk about Sullivan County. Sen. Brown, what do you see going right in the economy in Sullivan County, and what’s going wrong? And please be specific.”
“You’re absolutely right–geography plays a role,” Brown responded. “Along the southern border, we have more jobs, more opportunities. Infrastructure and other opportunities up north are difficult. One of the biggest opportunities is tourism, one of the biggest opportunities are ski areas and trails for snowmobiles and I support those efforts. I know Sen. Shaheen references a tourist bill.
“The biggest wet blanket right now on the economy in that area is Obamacare, it’s also those notices people are getting, 50 to 100 percent increases on their electric rates. Rates are not going down. In addition to that, you have a situation where getting from point A to point B and inspiring businesses to stay there is problematic because what are they looking at? The highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world.”
“We’re talking about Sullivan County, and I think you were talking about the North Country. So what do you see is going well in Sullivan County or not?” Pindell interjected.
“We’re talking about any place past Concord, really, and the challenges of our state,” Brown fired back. “So I’m referring to the challenges including the high corporate rate, Obamacare coming in after the election, and we also have the challenges of high electric costs. If you go to any business in any county in our state, those are the very real challenges.”
“Sullivan County is west of Concord, it’s not north of Concord, Sen. Brown,” Pindell interrupted again. “So what do you see going well and what’s not going well there?”
Siddiqui used that to write her headline and a scathing piece that argued Brown’s “efforts to cast himself as a New Hampshire native went awry.”
But if Siddiqui had actually looked at a map of New Hampshire before attacking Brown, which is obtainable by Google or other search engines–and if Pindell had as well–they would see that while all of Sullivan County is in fact west of Concord, most of the county is north of Concord geographically, as well–meaning Brown was right.
After the debate, Pindell tweeted that he was wrong and Brown was right–saying that if Brown “was referring to Mt. Sunapee, which he recently visited, yes, it is in Sullivan Co. & NW of Concord.” That means Pindell handled his mistake honorably, manned up, and admitted it. The Huffington Post and Siddiqui would do no such thing; they went to extra lengths to cover up their inaccuracy.
Pindell’s tweet was published at 8:39 p.m. ET, which was before Siddiqui and the Huffington Post editors posted her article that the Pindell tweet debunked. But they printed her inflammatory and false headline and article anyway 13 minutes later at 8:52 p.m. ET, according to a timestamp on the website.
When asked by this reporter via Twitter why she went ahead with the false article, Siddiqui acknowledged it had inaccuracies and said her “story is being updated w/clarification from Brown’s campaign” by her editors.
Siddiqui’s article was updated multiple times throughout the night by Huffington Post editors. First, the Huffington Post added the evidence that debunked Siddiqui’s original article premise–the tweet from Pindell.
It was added into Siddiqui’s article at the end as an “UPDATE” at 9:30 p.m. Siddiqui and her editors framed it as Brown’s campaign somehow having “clarified” a still alleged-to-be-inaccurate response.
“Brown’s campaign clarified that his point about the ski industry was a reference to Mt. Sunapee, a ski resort in Sullivan County he recently visited,” the update read, and before the Pindell tweet was embedded, it said: “Pindell seemed to acknowledge that in a tweet.”
That “updated” article–which completely undercut her original story–still had the same headline: “Scott Brown Can’t Get His New Hampshire Geography Straight.”
After this reporter pointed out to Siddiqui that her headline was inaccurate, the Huffington Post changed the headline–therefore altering the entire focus of the article–to “Scott Brown Tackles New Hampshire Geography In Final Debate.”
The new headline and article still includes some of the originally inaccurate claims, like calling Brown’s correct comments a “snafu” and saying Brown “seemed confused about the location of the county in question.” Neither one of those statements is true, obviously, nor is the claim that Brown’s efforts to cast himself as from New Hampshire “went awry.” That’s also still in the article as of 11:57 p.m.
The latest version of the article as of 11:57 p.m. ET on Thursday does not inform readers that the entire focus of the piece has changed and that Siddiqui and her editors got several basic facts wrong. It also doesn’t apologize for the erroneous reporting.
If Siddiqui had done original reporting on location from New Hampshire–rather than filing from Washington, D.C., as her article’s dateline indicates–she would have learned in the spin room post-debate that Brown was in fact correct. Brown was the only candidate to come address reporters and take questions, as Shaheen–officials from St. Anselm’s College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics confirmed–took off post-debate refusing to discuss her performance, which was widely considered sub-par among those in attendance. Refusing to speak in a spin room post-debate, especially when the other candidate does, is many times a sign a candidate believes he or she lost.
Reporters there included this reporter, NH1’s Paul Steinhauser, the National Review’s Benny Johnson, Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and more.
Steinhauser asked Brown about the Sullivan County issue during the debate in the spin room.
“No, of course not, it is north,” Brown said when asked if he felt like he got it wrong. “I went to Mt. Sunapee there two weeks ago. It’s northwest, so I guess I should have been a little bit more specific, but what I was referring to was I went to a ski area there and the issue is real. As you know, she said ski season was shortened. Not last year–they had to close early because of Obamacare. So obviously it is north of Concord. I’ve visited every county and I’m going to continue to take that message of independence to every county and every person in the county.”
The Huffington Post continues refusing to apologize for its mistakes–or inform its readers Siddiqui and the outlet’s editors made mistakes with the original story and they’ve since corrected them. Sam Stein, the left-wing outlet’s political editor, has not responded to an emailed request for comment.
As a contrast, Pindell went even further in his apology than just the tweet admitting he was wrong.
On a broadcast post-debate on WMUR, Anchor Josh McElveen had Pindell on the air–and he apologized to Brown, Shaheen and the voters of New Hampshire for his mistake, all on live television. “A lot of people are taking note of an exchange you had with Scott Brown,” McElveen asked Pindell on air.
“That’s right. We were talking about the location of Sullivan County,” Pindell said in his apology. “I said that Sullivan County was west of Concord, not north of Concord. The truth is: it’s both. So on this point, Scott Brown was right. I was wrong. I apologize to Scott Brown and both campaigns.”
UPDATE: An update to the Huffington Post article after 1 a.m. ET early Friday contains significant changes and a notification to readers. The article still has many of the same claims that Brown screwed up but now includes Pindell’s apology and a notification to readers that the headline was changed.
“This article has been updated to include Pindell’s apology and comments from the Brown campaign clarifying Brown’s remarks during the debate,” the editors of the Huffington Post wrote. “The original headline has been modified to reflect those comments.”
The liberal outlet still has not apologized, as Pindell has, for getting the facts wrong.