The only thing worse than correcting a bogus news cycle is having to do it twice. But that’s what we’re here for, apparently.
John Feeley resigned on December 27th as U.S. ambassador to Panama.
In a statement published early Thursday afternoon, he cited “personal reasons” for his exit. On Thursday evening, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported President Trump had referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and some African nations as “shithole countries” while discussing immigrant protections with lawmakers.
Feeley’s resignation came before Trump’s reported remarks. They are two separate events. By Friday morning, however, you could be forgiven for thinking the two incidents were connected thanks to the way certain poorly informed journalists handled both stories.
“BREAKING: NBC confirms with the State Department that the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, has resigned because he no longer feels he can comfortably serve under [President Trump],” MSNBC’s Mary Emily O’Hara said in tweet that garnered more than 2,000 shares before she eventually deleted it.
She added, “Feeley is the first U.S. diplomat to resign over the president’s comments.”
MSNBC’s Ali Velshi tweeted, “BREAKING: John Feeley, U.S. ambassador to Panama, has resigned in protest of Donald Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments.”
“U.S. ambassador to Panama has written a letter to the State Department announcing his resignation saying he resigns on principle and can no longer serve the Trump administration,” wrote Sky News, citing a Reuters report.
“US ambassador to Panama publicly quits because of Trump, but is it the ‘shithole’ side of Trump that pushed him over the edge or the increasingly suspected money-laundering side,” said Quartz’s Caitlin Hu.
These takes are obviously wrong. Feeley didn’t resign because of what Trump said, because he had resigned before Trump said it. Emily O’Hara, who kicked off this cycle of misinformation, issued a hybrid defense-apology Friday afternoon that relied heavily on Feeley’s formal letter of resignation, which was obtained by Reuters.
“The use of the word ‘comments’ appears to have confused some people. Feeley's resignation letter … cites his resignation over the president's ‘policies,’” she tweeted.
She added, “Regardless, the news of Feeley's resignation broke today – which makes it ‘breaking.’"
Nope. He resigned last month, and it was announced publicly Thursday afternoon. Further, no one cared that she used "breaking." They cared that she reported incorrectly that Feeley was the first diplomat to resign over the "shithole" comments. Just take the “L” and go home.
If this bogus news cycle feels familiar, it’s because we’ve gone down this exact road before.
In June 2017, Shell Smith, the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, announced her resignation. It came shortly after President Trump's continued attacks on the country. Certain media pundits and politicos, including CNBC's John Harwood and actual former U.S. ambassador, were quick to suggest Smith had resigned in protest. There was nothing to back this.
Though her exit from the State Department did coincide with the president's disparaging remarks for Qatar (he accused it of aiding and abetting terrorists), her leaving had been planned well in advance of the commander in chief's harsh words. U.S. ambassadors serve an average of three years before being replaced, as Smith noted in her resignation letter.