I Reported Facts from Trump’s Address to Congress. People Who Didn’t Like Those Facts Called It ‘Fake News’

Authenticity and truth are the lifeblood of any news website.

While it’s true that I often search for interesting and entertaining ways to tell a story, those stories are always based on facts. People yearn for truth in the media these days. Readers are hungry for it.

I’ve worked hard to build the trust of our readers. As a guy who tries to be in the right place at the right time, I attempt to show you a glimpse of America’s elites in their natural environment — which many do not typically get to see. Above all, I search for the original story no one else is reporting.

So it was on Tuesday night, when President Trump addressed a joint session of Congress. This was not my first time reporting on a president’s address to Congress. I have covered the circus-like antics surrounding such speeches for years.

My approach to coverage of these events goes like this:

1. Ask America’s most powerful “Who are you wearing?” and get amusing responses.

2. Interview important people to whom I would typically have difficulty getting access.

3. Tweet silly things members of Congress are doing while all cameras are focusing on the President’s speech.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s no secret that each party plays the standing game when a president speaks. If the Commander In Chief makes a point you agree with, you stand and applaud. If the president says something on partisan lines that you disagree with, stay seated and frown. A president can certainly get cross party applause for certain lines of a speech. I watched Bernie Sanders stand and applaud Donald Trump a number of times on Tuesday. I tweeted as much.

For years, I’ve reported these antics accurately, regardless of whether the president was Republican or Democrat. However, there is a limitation which is widely unknown to the public, which makes this night of reporting particularly difficult. Neither the House nor Senate press galleries allow reporters to use photography. This rule is strictly, brutally enforced. I have been told by gallery staff once that I would be “taken out and shot” if I were caught taking a photo. Therefore, journalists in the gallery are forced by necessity to report facts without the aid of visual proof.

Many things are happening very quickly on any night the president addresses Congress, so you better bring your ‘A game.’

On Tuesday night, I did my utmost to score interviews, compile funny moments and tweet what members were doing as Trump spoke. My vantage point was atop the press gallery, directly behind where the president was speaking.

There I am, literally tweeting:

Image Credit: MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images

Watching Congress, I was particularly struck by former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and current DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, side by side, staying adamantly seated for many of Trump’s more bipartisan applause lines.

When Trump honored police, Wasserman Schultz and Ellison did not stand.

When Trump honored a young lady who had escaped poverty and was on her way to a masters degree, they still remained seated.

When Trump recognized Black History Month, condemned Jewish cemetery vandalism, or discussed defeating ISIS, Wasserman Schultz and Ellison sat.

Others reporters in the gallery around me remarked how Wasserman Schultz would lean into Ellison and ask “Should we stand for this one?” during Trump’s applause lines.

I personally witnessed this happen. 

Then came the most emotional part of the night, the honoring of Carryn Owens, the widow of fallen Navy SEAL, Ryan Owens. There were two standing ovations for the widow. The first was upon Trump’s initial introduction of the widow, where DWS and Ellison, along with the whole of the room, stood. The second was a deeply emotional, two minute standing ovation, when Trump memorialized her husband, saying his legacy was “etched into eternity.”

Image Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images Image Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Owens stood and sobbed, showing bravery in the midst of pain many of us could not even fathom. In this moment, while the sobbing widow pointed to the heavens and mouthed the words, “I love you,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Keith Ellison remained seated.

They did not stand at any point in the two minute, emotional second standing ovation, period.

Getty Images/Brendan Smialowski

They were certainly not the only ones to be seated at the time. Some other Democrats in the room could be seen in their seats, but you cannot tweet every detail of those moments and I decided to focus on the two members who are widely considered to be the future of the Democratic party.

I tweeted this and it went viral. It struck a nerve. That’s because many users instantly grasped the symbolic importance of the politicians’ actions.

I also sought to further clarify that I was speaking about the second ovation and tweeted this so no one could take my reporting out of context:

Unfortunately, The nuance was lost on virtually everyone.

Many began scrambling to find anything to latch onto to prevent the facts from becoming a narrative.

Since I seemed to be the only reporter in the room noticing such things, everyone began to reference my tweets in their stories. First, some conservative sites ran with irresponsible headlines about the standing ovation. To say they never stood is not true. This lead to left-leaning fact checker sites such as Politifact and Snopes to fact check my reporting as ‘FALSE’ without reaching out for comment or clarifying that there were two ovations. Almost immediately I began to get pushback from left-wing Twitter:

Wasserman Schultz herself went on CNN and said this in response to the observation that she did not stand during the second ovation:

“They generate and perpetuate fake news. They don’t tell the truth. They lie, they distort, they intentionally put out false information so that they can try to control the news cycle. I don’t need an apology, I need them to start telling the truth.

They could pick up the phone and call my office, call me and ask me if it was true. How about check the WhiteHouse.gov tape in their own office building to see if it’s true, because that’s how it was actually proven false as you just demonstrated on the screen. But these people are not truthful; that’s why I don’t trust them. Most of the American people don’t trust them and that’s why this President has been so wholly unpopular up to this point.”

I was getting outreach from media and political reporters from multiple sites asking if I stood by my reporting. The wagons were circling. A false narrative was being created. I knew Wasserman Schultz did not stand for many, many parts of the president’s address and certainly did not stand for the second ovation of the Gold Star widow.

It was time to prove it. Here is how I did it: Facts.

1. I established that my original reporting was correct:

2. I went through the footage myself and found visual evidence to support my facts. There they were, firmly seated:

3. I encouraged anyone who thought I was wrong to look for themselves.

4. People looked for themselves and found that I was right:

5. Other publications found my reporting to be accurate:

6. I politely asked for a retraction:

7. I got an official retraction:

This point is not lost on any reputable news source: Facts are important!

While this entire process was painful and laid bare the knee-jerk partisan instincts of many journalists these days, there was a much more important lesson to remember: No matter what unfair things happen to an editor or writer online, or whatever identity crisis Ellison, Schultz and the entirety of the DNC is going through currently, none of it, NONE OF IT, can ever, ever compare to the pain being suffered by Carryn Owens.

No party politics should take away from the honor and respect we, as a country, owe her. Pick your battles on virtually any other issue, but give the widow of an American hero the respect she deserves.

If politicians don’t stand and applaud a military serviceman’s grieving widow, it is not the fault of this journalist for letting the American people know about it. That’s my job as a reporter.

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