Administration

Conservatives dispute New York Times story about Perry

Greg Nash

Conservatives are pushing back on a New York Times report that Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Energy secretary, didn’t understand the job’s responsibilities, lashing out at the media for propagating “fake news” about the former Texas governor.

Reporters on social media and rival news outlets quickly spread the Wednesday night Times story, which reported that Perry didn’t realize until after accepting the nomination that much of the Energy Department’s resources are spent on maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The story fueled jokes about Perry’s intellect, which have hounded the former governor ever since he suffered a brain freeze at a Republican presidential primary debate in 2011.

But conservative media outlets are disputing the Times, which appeared to hang its story on a single on-the-record quote from an energy lobbyist who advised Perry in his most recent presidential run. Now the energy lobbyist says the Times misinterpreted his quote, while the story’s detractors say that past Perry statements and actions as governor prove he knew about Energy’s role with nuclear weapons.

{mosads}“The New York Times proved again Wednesday evening that it doesn’t take a whole lot for a newsroom to create and spread a false narrative from thin air,” the Washington Examiner’s T. Beckett Adams wrote.

The incident has rallied top conservative figures in the media behind Perry, who they view as the victim of a liberal media hit job meant to drive home the idea that he’s in over his head.

The Times story hinges on a now-disputed quote from Michael McKenna, the energy lobbyist and former Perry presidential campaign adviser.

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’ ” McKenna told the paper. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

McKenna has since told the Daily Caller that his words were taken out of context. The headline and top of the story “don’t really reflect what I said,” McKenna told the conservative outlet. McKenna insisted that “of course” Perry knew what he was getting into. 

Perry supporters also point to the presence of an Energy Department nuclear weapons facility in Texas and Perry’s role in pushing for a private nuclear waste storage plant in his state as evidence that Perry already knew about the Energy Department’s nuclear responsibilities.

But the Times isn’t backing away from its reporting, claiming that McKenna was not its only source for the story.

“We stand by our story, which accurately reflected what multiple, high-level sources told our reporters,” the paper said in a statement.

Many in the media seized on the story, which played into the notion that Perry is not very bright, while also seeming to confirm long-held suspicions that Trump’s unconventional Cabinet picks know little about the agencies they’ll be in charge of running.

Some in the media have since backed away from their initial support for the Times, saying that it now appears the paper may have erred in its report. While conservative outlets have led the debunking charge against the Times story, New York Magazine ran its own story saying the Times “may have launched a false rumor” about Perry. 

The story has gained more momentum because Perry, who was testifying at his Senate confirmation hearing as the Times controversy erupted on social media, is a controversial pick to lead the Department of Energy.

At the 2011 primary debate, Perry said he’d eliminate three federal agencies and then named two of them. He forgot the third — the Department of Energy — in the infamous “oops” moment that effectively sunk his presidential hopes.

“My past statements, made over five years ago, about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said Thursday.

Perry’s backers point to the statement he released upon being chosen for Energy secretary as evidence he knew what he was getting into. In it, the former Texas governor said he looks forward to “safeguarding our nuclear arsenal.”

Still, politicians rarely write their own press releases. And Perry’s critics have hit back, saying he effectively admitted that he had a lot to learn about the Energy post in opening remarks made on Thursday.

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