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How the New York Times laundered right-wing propaganda in a piece about Glenn Youngkin
The report featured a "Hillary-Biden" voter who's gone Republican. But some key context was missing.
A New York Times report published Sunday describes the “palpable” energy among supporters of Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin with an anecdote from a man who is presented as encapsulating the rightward shift Virginia is experiencing. But his anecdote actually ended up illustrating how propaganda can be laundered into news reports.
Youngkin has surged in the polls in his race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe as he’s focused his campaign on the culture war in general and in particular on purported liberal overreach in schools. The Virginia contest, which is regarded as a toss up hours before polls close, is widely seen as a bellwether for 2022, and Youngkin’s focus on issues like school curriculum and trans-inclusive policies are regarded by some as a roadmap for how Republicans can take back control of at least one chamber of Congress.
That Youngkin has such a good chance of winning a state President Biden carried by a comfortable 10 points last year indicates some Biden voters are now supporting a Republican. And in the Times’s report from Youngkin and McAuliffe rallies that took place over the weekend, a self-described “Hillary-Biden” voter named Glenn Miller offers an explanation for why he and other voters are breaking away from Democrats.
The article, by Jeremy Peters and Matthew Cullen, quotes Miller, identified as a lawyer from McLean, as saying he decided to support Youngkin because of the exact school-related concerns that Youngkin describes as the defining issue of his campaign.
There’s just one problem — a few minutes of vetting revealed that Miller is actually an activist who mostly supports Republicans and has a history of publicly opposing critical race theory (CRT). But none of that gets mentioned in the piece.
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From the initial version of the article:
“I’m a Hillary-Biden voter,” said Glenn Miller, a lawyer from McLean, as he walked into a Youngkin rally in southern Fairfax County on Saturday night that drew more than 1,000 people. He explained his tipping point: Working from home and hearing his teenage daughter’s teacher make a comment during a virtual lesson about white men as modern-day slaveholders.
“There are a lot of people like me who are annoyed,” he said, adding that he was able to vote for Mr. Youngkin because he did not associate him as a Trump Republican. “My problem with Trump was I thought he was embarrassing. I just don’t think Youngkin is going to embarrass me or the state.”
If true, Miller’s story makes for a compelling anecdote, as well as a troubling one for Democrats not just in Virginia but perhaps around the country as well. Here’s someone who voted for the two most recent Democratic presidential candidates saying they’re now voting Republican in large part because they’ve sided against Democrats in the culture war.
Indeed, National Journal columnist Josh Kraushaar tweeted out a screengrab of Miller’s quotes in the Times to make the point that “concerns over school curriculum in Virginia aren’t just a right-wing issue.”
But it didn’t take long for people to figure out that this Miller fellow might have more of an axe to grind than the Times let on.
In response to Kraushaar’s tweet, Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall pulled campaign finance records indicating that a Glenn Miller from McLean donated largely to Republicans, especially during the 2020 election cycle and in the run up to the Georgia Senate elections early this year.
Author Jonathan Katz followed that up with a thread revealing that Miller wrote an article before the 2020 election railing against critical race theory (CRT) for a right-wing publication called Quillette — not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from a Democratic voter.
“K-12 students across the United States have had their curricula diluted by the injection of materials promoting concepts such as white privilege, systemic racism, structural inequity, and white supremacy,” Miller’s Quillette piece reads, even though CRT is not generally taught in K-12 schools.
Miller, who was also interviewed at a “pro-meritocracy” school demonstration before the 2020 election, even has his own tag on the Fairfax County Republican Party’s website.
Katz noted that none of this proves Miller lied when he said he voted for Biden and Hillary, but “it does suggest that he is not your typical voter who needed special convincing to vote for a Republican against Terry McAuliffe.”
Peters, one of the authors of the Times piece, responded defensively to criticism.
“If you’re a political independent who works for a nonprofit that helps vulnerable women, voted for Biden and say you think Trump is embarrassing, Twitter will still call you a rightwing nut who dupes gullible journalists. What a place,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, a day after the Times story was initially published online, language was added to provide more context about Miller.
An editors’ note added to the bottom of the piece now says “an earlier version of this article referred incompletely to Glenn Miller. A frequent donor to both parties, he has been active in Virginia in local efforts opposing the elimination of race-blind admissions tests in schools and has spoken out against critical race theory.”
Political operatives posing as normal parents and being platformed as such has happened numerous times on Fox News, including more than once in recent coverage of the Virginia gubernatorial race. You might expect more from a reputable publication with vast resources like the Times, however.
But the Times actually has a history of publishing Republican talking points under the guise of quoting everyday people. An October 2020 piece by Elaina Plott about Atlanta-area voters who were “sticking with Trump” portrayed two people quoted in the piece as normal voters, when in fact they were Republican operatives. A lengthy correction explaining the errors was appended to the piece after people pointed out that the sources in question had basically used the piece to advance Republican propaganda about why voting for Trump was a defensible choice.
The Youngkin piece isn’t even the first time these sorts of questions have been raised about Peters’s reporting. In 2018, Peters wrote a piece headlined, “As Critics Assail Trump, His Supporters Dig In Deeper” that led with anti-anti-Trump quotes from a woman named Gina Anders who is portrayed as a typical Republican. It turned out, however, that Anders was actually the chair of an ultra-conservative PAC.
To be clear, the tightness of the Youngkin-McAuliffe race indicates that some Biden voters are indeed supporting Youngkin. But the personal anecdote the Times published to explain this phenomenon lacks important context.
Youngkin is closing the race with lies about CRT, which is not taught in Virginia schools, and by whipping up hysteria about purported liberal overreach harming children. The Times gave him a hand by publishing a misleading mini-profile of the exact sort of voter who might propel him to victory. Assuming the error was made in good faith, the episode highlights the importance of vetting sources before their quotes are published.