On Tuesday the Washington Post’s fact-checkers wrote a “response to readers” piece in which they doubled down on their “three Pinocchio” ruling on Carly Fiorina’s biography. The piece responds directly to an argument made by this reporter, saying:
Some readers, such as John Sexton of Breitbart, pointed to a line in a biography that “perhaps Fiorina’s first taste of business came when she worked for real estate broker Marcus & Millichap for a few months that year” as a sign that the secretary’s job is really the start of her career. But even if one accepts that, it does not mitigate the other advantages she had.
The advantage that keeps cropping up in the fact checks is Fiorina’s Stanford education. Elsewhere in the piece, Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee write, “We also were swayed by the fact that the Stanford degree opened doors for her at the real estate broker where she worked briefly as a receptionist…”
The claim that Fiorina’s degree “opened doors for her” at the brokerage appears to be solely based on a quote from a biography by journalist and author Peter Burrows. In Backfire: Carly Fiorina’s High-Stakes Battle for the Soul of Hewlett-Packard, Burrows mentions that Fiorina was called “the Stanford student” in the brokerage office.
I contacted Burrows and asked if he could shed any additional light on the nickname. After checking the interview notes for his book he did find something. Bill Millichap told him that after Fiorina applied, his receptionist came running into his office to announce that a Stanford student wanted the receptionist job. Millichap himself also indicated that he knew her as “the Stanford student” during her time there. This certainly supports the idea that Fiorina’s education played a role in her getting the job and it helps explain where the nickname ‘the Stanford student” originated.
However, that’s decidedly not the end of the story any more than the first page is the end of a novel. Yesterday I also spoke to Marcus & Millichap, the brokerage firm where Fiorina worked in the 70s and where she was given that nickname. A spokesperson for the firm described herself as “puzzled” by the Post‘s summary of events. The spokesperson told Breitbart News, “While Carly Fiorina may have been referred to as ‘the Stanford student’ by some of her colleagues at Marcus & Millichap, according to George Marcus & Bill Millichap, it was her job performance that opened doors for her at the firm.”
To back up this claim the spokesperson sent a prepared statement by George Marcus and Bill Millichap which leaves no doubt they believe Fiorina’s performance is what mattered. Here is the full statement:
Carly Fiorina joined Marcus & Millichap’s Palo Alto office as a secretary/receptionist in the late 1970s. She quickly added value beyond her assigned roles by making suggestions on how to refine the marketing packages for real estate investment properties that we had listed. Additionally she learned to review and improve the financial analysis section of our property marketing brochures. We became aware of her ‘value added’ contributions by the brokers and management of the Palo Alto office. We were impressed with her ability to understand our business and, without prompting, make suggestions on how to improve our work product. Based on her talent and initiative, she was encouraged to pursue a career as an investment real estate agent with our company. She ultimately went back to school and her career took a different path but our experience with her was very positive.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because the part at the end which is not in bold was quoted by the Post in its initial fact check. But look what the fact-checkers left out. Everything about Fiorina’s work, her “value added contributions,” her “ability to understand our business,” her “talent and initiative”–all of that wound up on the cutting room floor. The Post side-stepped the bulk of the statement, indeed the point of the statement, to reach a different conclusion.
The evidence from Burrows notes certainly backs the idea that Stanford helped Fiorina get the job, but the fact-checkers didn’t have that detail at the time. What Kessler and Ye Hee Lee did apparently have was a lengthy testimonial to Fiorina’s value as an employee, something she demonstrated to the “brokers and management of the Palo Alto office” who worked with her.
The fact-checkers claim that Stanford “opened doors” for Fiorina at her Brokerage job is true so far as getting the job is concerned. It did open that very first door. But it is also true that “talent and initiative” opened the doors beyond that. The Post should not hidden the statement that said so from their readers.