The normally staid USA Today opinion section appears to have a message for its much-maligned counterpart at The New York Times: Hold my beer.
On Wednesday, the paper published an op-ed arguing in favor of arming teachers and staff to help prevent school shootings. Try to put aside what you think about this idea for a moment, and the fact that this particular column cited neither any of its myriad costs and liabilities, nor a single statistic backing it up.
Instead, focus on how America’s highest-circulating paper published the Washington bureau chief of Alex Jones’ InfoWars without even realizing it at first.
USA Today initially identified author Jerome R. Corsi in the op-ed’s tagline as an “investigative journalist” and “author of Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump.” The news organization later updated the piece to add this crucial bit of context: “He heads the Washington bureau of Alex Jones’ InfoWars.”
Media reporters and anyone else masochistic enough to watch InfoWars will recognize Corsi’s face. They will perhaps even know his previous work at WorldNetDaily, an equally disreputable site. But for the uninitiated, just check out Corsi’s Wikipedia page, which describes him as a conspiracy theorist in its first line. Or stroll through Corsi’s author credits, which reveal that he literally wrote the book on the racist birther lie about Barack Obama: Where’s the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible To Be President. Or look at his YouTube content, which the site began flagging after the Parkland massacre because he kept pushing “crisis actor” conspiracy theories. Or glance at his Twitter feed, a mix of Gateway Pundit links, far-right memes, and yet more quackery:
All of which leaves us with three possibilities behind USA Today’s decision: A giant national newspaper doesn’t really know who it’s publishing in its op-ed pages; it doesn’t care enough to conduct a cursory Google search; or it doesn’t believe that working with a conspiratorial media outlet should be disqualifying. When I emailed USA Today Editorial Page Editor Bill Sternberg, his response suggested that all three may be at least partly true. Corsi’s InfoWars affiliation was added to the piece, published in the opinion section’s “Opposing View” series, only after Sternberg learned of it.
And what if Sternberg had realized the connection beforehand? He continued (emphasis mine):
We certainly would have had a discussion about him and possible alternatives. Our basic standard is that the Opposing View be accurate (the authors are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts), and that the piece can’t incite violence or spew racist sentiments. Beyond that, it’s largely case by case.
Corsi certainly has an opinion. But why even publish it when USA Today’s editorial board described the position the very same day with words like “absurd” and “insanity”? There doesn’t seem to be much room for honest debate under such terms. Still, Sternberg justified publishing the viewpoint with a statement also shared with other news outlets:
USA TODAY’s Opposing View shows readers more than one point of view on an issue. Our signature debate format reinforces our reputation for fairness, which is one of our core values. Today’s Opposing View issue and author have caused much debate and feedback. The Opposing View on arming teachers has been updated with more information about author Jerome R. Corsi.
By USA Today’s view of the world, then, fairness is defined as “performative deference toward an admittedly ‘absurd’ idea, poorly argued by a bad-faith actor.” Just hook it to my veins.