Remember when Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., was the victim of a bogus news cycle alleging he once played footsie with white supremacists?
That debunked story from 2014 was resurrected very briefly Wednesday morning not long after it was reported that Scalise, who serves now as the House majority whip, and others were shot in Alexandria, Va., as they practiced for the upcoming congressional baseball game.
News of the shooting dominated headlines and newsrooms all morning as members of Congress halted everything to comment and grieve on the matter.
Here's how Politico's John Bresnahan described one particular moment in Congress: "Members surrounding [House Speaker Paul Ryan] on the floor, including [Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.], who helped Scalise out when he had problems over racial issues."
Ah, no. The supposed issue to which Bresnahan referred is not what it sounds like. That is, he made it sound a lot worse than it really is.
For the unfamiliar, "racial issues" is an irresponsibly vague reference to a moment in 2014 when Scalise was accused of having once delivered an address as an "honored guest" to a conference of white supremacists.
The rumor originated with a blogger named Lamar White, whose main source was a comment thread at a neo-Nazi website. The story soon spread to major newsrooms, including The Washington Post and Politico.
Here's what happened though, as explained in the Daily Caller by political consultant Ellen Carmichael:
In 2002, Scalise was invited to participate in a meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association — the parish's largest neighborhood group – at a Best Western hotel, organized by former David Duke aide Kenny Knight. According to Knight – who was chairman of the civic association — and others present, Scalise was asked to speak on his efforts to fight a slush fund being debated in the state legislature. Scalise … spoke for 10 or 15 minutes alongside representatives from the Red Cross and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Organization, who shared insights about emergency preparedness, CPR and crime.
Here's the key part: "Later that day, another room in that hotel was rented by Knight to accommodate out-of-town guests for the [European-American Rights Organization] conference, of which Scalise, the Red Cross and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Organization were not a part."
In short, Scalise talked about fiscal policy to a group of constituents at an event that was held separately from a meeting of white nationalists.
Knight told the Washington Post in 2014 that Scalise didn't address the white nationalists, and said the lawmaker's presentation came a full two and a half hours before the EURO conference even began. As there are no news reports or other press clippings from 2002 to dispute Knight's version of events, this is the best information available.
"I've known David for 40 years, so I did him a favor," Knight told the Post. "As part of that, I decided to ask Steve, our local representative, to come by and say a few words before the conference started. He agreed, believing it was going to be neighbors, friends, and family. He saw me not as David Duke's guy, but as the president of our civic association."
Along with not actually addressing the group, Scalise was also unaware of the fact that Duke, who was in Russia at the time, was involved in the day's events, Knight said. This is a far cry from the initial claim that the Louisiana lawmaker was an "honored guest" and speaker.
Scalise, for his part, seemed not to remember much of any of it, though he did recall speaking at that venue that day.
"I didn't know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous," he told the Times-Picayune.
He added, "I had one person that was working for me. When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go."
Scalise said later on Dec. 30, 2014, that he did indeed speak to a group "whose views I wholeheartedly condemn," but he didn't specifically name EURO.
"It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold," he said in a statement.
Amazingly enough, even after these details came out in 2015, newsrooms continued to push stories with headlines like "Republicans Try to Fix Damage Scalise's 2002 Speech Could Do in 2016" and "Louisiana's Long History of Racism: Why Steve Scalise Spoke to a White Nationalist Hate Group."
On Wednesday, with Bresnahan's tweet, it looks as if the story never really died.
Though Scalise wasn't killed in the attack Wednesday morning, he remains in critical condition at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in the nation's capital. A lobbyist, Matt Mika, also remains in critical condition after being shot in the chest.
Others were also injured, but they're in stable condition, according to officials.