False claim about Neil Gorsuch widely disseminated by hostile press

False claim about Neil Gorsuch widely disseminated by hostile press
Trump SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch (Image: YouTube screen grab via ABC News)

It’s depressing to see how ideological confirmation bias can make people believe obviously false claims, even when they have been debunked, and are contradicted by first-hand information and news reports.

A handful of mostly left-leaning journalists at publications like Salon and The Forward repeated a British tabloid’s wild claim that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch started a “fascism forever club” in high school. This bizarre smear of Gorsuch was debunked by Snopes.  It was also debunked by teachers at his school, as liberal-leaning America Magazine noted. And it was also debunked by a lawyer in the National Review.

Neil Gorsuch is a well-respected judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has been a judge for more than 10 years, without a hint of scandal.  He was unanimously confirmed to the Tenth Circuit by a bipartisan vote, even as other, controversial judges faced filibusters. Nothing in Gorsuch’s judicial opinions or writings is in any way radical, nor does he have a history of saying  radical things.  (Even lawyers like Radley Balko who detest President Trump think that Gorsuch is a well-qualified, judicious, and reasonable man who should be confirmed).

So there was no reason to believe this bizarre claim even before Snopes debunked it.

When something is debunked by Snopes, and was implausible to begin with, you should immediately correct what you have written. But The Forward and U.S. News, which repeated this false claim, delayed in correcting their error. The Forward did not fix its error until the afternoon of February 3 (after this blog post was originally published), after a Washington Post opinion writer contacted The Forward and said he would write about its false claim (see the update to this blog post below). US News did not fix the error until February 6.

For example, I emailed Helen Chernikoff of The Forward yesterday, in response to her erroneous February 2 article, “SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch Founded ‘Fascism Forever Club’ in High School.” I asked her:

Are you really in the habit of peddling falsehoods debunked by Snopes?

Your claim that Gorsuch founded a “Fascism Forever Club” was debunked by Snopes:

http://www.snopes.com/neil-gorsuchs-fascism-forever-club/

It was also debunked by teachers at his school:

http://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/02/02/no-neil-gorsuch-did-not-start-fascism-forever-club-his-jesuit-high

My hope was that they would promptly fix this false claim. If a publication delays long enough in correcting its false claim, the damage will be done, since few people read corrections, and internet rumors based on such claims tend to take on a life of their own.

Gorsuch’s reputation is already damaged, since countless people have read these false articles or tweets on twitter linking to them.

As Mark Twain noted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” That is true of this false attack on Neil Gorsuch.

UPDATE, Feb. 3, 12:24 p.m.:

After law professor Jonathan Adler wrote to The Forward and said he would write about this false claim at the Washington Post web site, The Forward added this correction:

Update: According to fact-checking website Snopes.com, the “Fascism Forever Club” mentioned on Neil Gorsuch’s yearbook page and cited by the Daily Mail in its article was a joke.

As the comment below of Martin Solomon shows, this correction wasn’t very speedy. About 20 minutes ago, he observed: “I see the Chernikoff post is still up without even a clarification. That’s The Forward for you.” But it has now finally been corrected.  I doubt The Forward wanted to risk being criticized in the Washington Post.

UPDATE, Feb. 6, 5:50 p.m.:

US News & World Report added the following correction:

Updated 2/6/17 at 2:30 p.m.: Catholic journal America Magazine reports the “Fascism Forever Club” was an in-yearbook joke, quoting the former student government adviser at Georgetown Prep during Neil Gorsuch’s later high school years as saying students would create fake clubs and activities.

“They were all inside jokes on their senior pages,” Steve Ochs said.

In an update, The Daily Mail notes that a reference to the club appears in more than one place in Gorsuch’s Georgetown Prep yearbook. But it also quotes a Gorsuch friend as saying the name of the club was a “self-deprecating joke” and that the organization never actually existed. A school spokesman also told Snopes.com that “no such club ever existed” there.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. Hans also writes for CNS News and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

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