If a Democratic senator was attacked by a conservative neighbor with relatively fanatical ideas and online sharing habits about politics, the New York Times reporting would look very different from its Rand Paul assault coverage. Frankly, the incident provides a case study on mainstream press bias.
On Friday, Nov. 3, Sen. Paul had just stepped off his riding mower at his Bowling Green, Ky., residence. Rene Boucher, whose home sits on an adjoining lot, suddenly tackled the senator from his blind side with enough force to break several ribs and cause a pleural effusion, which is a buildup of fluid around the lungs.
Boucher admitted to going onto the senator’s property and tackling him, according to his arrest warrant.
The Washington Post reported on Nov. 5 a former city commissioner’s description of Boucher as a socialist. His Facebook page, now blocked from public view, “included links to articles and memes critical of President Trump and a news article about a Montana Republican congressional candidate who attacked a reporter the day before winning his seat.”
These are details that Times reporters Nicholas Fandos, Noah Weiland, and Jonathan Martin apparently deemed unfit to print in their Nov. 6 article, “Is Landscaping Drama at the Root of Rand Paul’s Assault?" While the article notes that Paul and his neighbor were known to have “divergent political views,” the clear focus is on the narrative that the incident stems from the libertarian senator’s allegedly libertine approach to yard maintenance.
“Mr. Paul, 54, has long stood out in the well-to-do gated neighborhood south of Bowling Green, Ky.,” they write, adding: “The senator grows pumpkins on his property, composts, and has shown little interest for neighborhood regulations. ... Competing explanations of the origins of the drama cited stray yard clippings, newly planted saplings and unraked leaves.”
But this theory is increasingly looking like so much detritus. Maybe a better description is "fake news." For one thing, the Times article cites only a single named source for the supposition that the men had an ongoing landscaping feud: Jim Skaggs, a neighbor who also developed the subdivision. Skaggs said the men “just couldn’t get along,” that the incident “had very little to do with Democratic or Republican politics” and that they had “different [opinions] about what property rights mean.”
“Asked about long-leveled allegations that Mr. Paul had disregarded neighborhood regulations,” the article reads, “Mr. Skaggs, who is also a former leader of the county Republican Party, said the senator ‘certainly believes in stronger property rights than exist in America.’”
But here's the thing: Skaggs has subsequently told the Louisville Courier Journal that he didn’t witness the assault and has heard of “other theories” for the attack. And no fewer than seven neighbors have told the Washington Examiner that press reports about a landscaping dispute are rubbish. The Paul family keeps a nice yard and are great neighbors, they say.
There was ample reason to be skeptical of Skaggs’s vague and non-specific story from the start. Indeed, the only specific “problem” he’s cited concerns a disagreement from 17 years ago between the senator and the homeowners' association concerning association control over home design plans back when the Pauls built their house.
In any case, imagine that a Democratic senator was assaulted in his yard by a Republican whose social media activities evinced a strong dislike for Hilary Clinton. I suspect the Times reporters would be working harder to check for a political motivation. The reporting surely wouldn’t be so flip.
New York Times reporters’ tweets on the issue are also worth a look. For example, Jason Horowitz, whom Sen. Paul and his wife Kelly invited into their home in connection with a 2013 story Horowitz wrote for Vogue, tweeted a snippet of a transcript of his interview wherein Kelly and her husband discuss how they use fish emulsion (a common fertilizer sold at Home Depot) to grow pumpkins. Apparently this is proof to Horowitz that the criminal assault isn’t political. “I called this one,” he proclaims. “I’m guessing pumpkin vine, squirrels or sequoia as motive”.
Again, you wouldn’t see such fun and frivolity from Times’ reporters if a liberal Congressman was attacked by a Republican. It’s unprofessional. Perhaps a better description is liberal compost.
Ken Sondik is a practicing attorney in Zionsville, Ind.
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