Speaking a few days ago with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in defense of President Trump’s widely-derided immigration ban, senior advisor to the president Kellyanne Conway had the following to say: “I bet it’s brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.” Conway’s commentary was bizarre and undeniably misleading – largely because neither of its key points were true.
The two Iraqi men to which Conway referred, Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, were arrested in 2011 in Bowling Green, Kentucky as part of an FBI sting operation on charges related to supporting terrorist groups (specifically, Al Qaeda). The pair was subsequently convicted of attempts to smuggle weaponry and money to overseas Al Qaeda bases, as well as aiding Al Qaeda members in attacking US troops in Iraq. Neither man was ever charged with even planning a domestic terrorist attack, and the alleged “Bowling Green Massacre” was a complete fabrication. To make matters more troubling for Conway, Obama’s supposed ban on Iraqi refugees never happened either. Certainly, as a direct response to the arrests, stricter vetting process were imposed on Iraqi citizens still in Iraq undergoing the process of visa and refugee applications, and refugees already processed within the US were re-vetted. However, this vetting process sanctioned by the Obama administration was by no means comparable to President Trump’s travel ban (or “Muslim ban”) as it made no attempt to prevent Iraqis with green cards and valid visas from entering the country.
Conway’s use of the term “Bowing Green massacre” was also not solely adopted in her interview with Chris Matthews. Four days earlier, Cosmopolitan’s Kristen Mascia had made note of the term in her interview transcript with Conway – and while it was not published at the time, the quote was released following the mass circulation of the MSNBC blunder. Mascia discussed the release of the quote on her Facebook by stating, “it didn’t surprise me that the comment was premeditated and that she’d tried it on multiple writers (who knows who else she auditioned it with, frankly). But others out there may not know this about her and they should. We must call out the WH for stuff like this because it’s egregious and totally unacceptable.”
Following the eruption of this story, Ms. Conway claimed that she misspoke and intended to say “Bowling Green terrorists” rather than “massacre”. However, with the revelation of Mascia’s prior interview with Conway, the claims from the senior advisor that the reference to the “Bowling Green Massacre” was simply an “honest mistake” as she subsequently announced on Twitter, appears increasingly unlikely. Perhaps Conway was simply exercising her right to express “alternative facts”. While Conway’s fiction has spurred widespread media criticism as well as ridicule across the Twittersphere (including a moment of silence held for the non-existent victims), this disaster embodies an emerging characteristic of the Trump administration’s relationship with the media that is profoundly disturbing: the unapologetic circulation of manipulative and dangerous untruths. With Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway at the helm, the White House is playing a dangerous game with the media that is rapidly exacerbating divisions in public opinion and generating an atmosphere of confusion and fear.
Following the Bowling Green incident, CNN has reportedly declined an offer from the White House for Conway to appear on its Sunday shows (partly due to the fact that she was offered in lieu of Vice President Mike Pence), but this decision was also apparently made as a result of “serious questions about her credibility”. However, Conway quickly took to Twitter to discredit this report by stating, “False. I could do no live Sunday shows this week BC [sic] of family. Plus, I was invited onto CNN today & tomorrow.” The New York Post also took to criticizing CNN for this reported rebuff of Conway by suggesting that her defense of Trump was “largely sound” and that this was perhaps “why CNN nixed her?” However, if the refusal to distribute interviews with Conway is the stance that the network is choosing to take, they are hardly alone in this approach. New York University professor, Jay Rosen took to Twitter earlier this week to discuss precisely why the media should decline interviews with the advisor, saying “One reason to have her on is because she represents Donald Trump. But she doesn’t. It is common for her to say, “you’ll have to ask him… Point is: if @KellyannePolls cannot reliably represent the views of Donald Trump, that evaporates as justification for having her on TV.” And that “the most striking quality of her on-air performance is that when @KellyannePolls is done talking you know less than when you started”.
While it is possible that CNN’s decision will only serve to widen the rift between left and right-winged media as well as aggravating increasing accusations of the network as a “fake news” source, it appears that this slight against Conway could simply represent a refusal on the part of the media to publish White House commentary devoid of truth or value. This decision could well define the next four years of political press in terms of journalistic integrity and the reliability of entire publications. As for how we should receive this week’s blunder from Conway, Cosmopolitan’s Kristen Mascia has advised that it presents an ominous reminder for the public to stay vigilant, “I can’t begin to tell you why Conway used this phraseology. Was she lying outright, or simply woefully underprepared or misinformed about what went on in Bowling Green? We can’t say. What we can say, though, is that Conway’s comments were sloppy and, worse, dangerous. The WH [sic] shouldn’t be allowed to spread BS like this and get away with it.”