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Reporter misrepresents Trump official in 'bad faith hit job,' forcing official to resign

'The new standard isn't the truth'

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Bloomberg reporter Ben Penn ignited controversy Tuesday after publishing an exposé on Leif Olson, a senior policy adviser in the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, claiming Olson made anti-Semitic comments on Facebook three years ago.

After contacting the Department of Labor about the alleged anti-Semitism, Olson tendered his resignation.

Penn reported:

Olson, an unsuccessful GOP candidate in 2012 for a Texas district court judgeship, fired off a series of late-night posts on his personal Facebook page three years ago that started as a sarcastic quip about former House Speaker Paul Ryan's blowout primary victory. They then devolved into an exchange referencing two anti-Semitic tropes: that Jews control the media and that they look out for members of their own faith.

However, upon closer examination, the Facebook post in question — made in response to then-Rep. Paul Ryan's blowout win against challenger Paul Nehlen in 2016 — actually communicated intelligible criticism of the "alt-right," not Jews.

"It was sarcastic criticism of the alt-right's conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions," Olsen told the reporter.

What was the response?

Penn was excoriated over the story.

As Kyle Smith noted at National Review, Penn's "bad faith hit job" both got basic facts wrong and "provided none of the historical or tonal context" necessary for accurately portraying Olson's Facebook comment.

"The new standard isn't the truth. Ideological activists working at putatively 'neutral' news outlets now use of standard of miscontrual. If any of your remarks can be read in bad faith, if any of them can be misconstrued, it is the duty of the reporter to misconstrue them for the public. This standard is fatal to real journalism," Smith said.

Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner also lambasted Penn, calling his story "one of the most shameful, egregious media failures of the year."

"What's particularly amazing is that Penn, the reporter on the story, is showing no remorse, defending his article as merely having asked questions to the department about it," Klein wrote. "This is a shameful episode in media bias, no doubt."

Scores of Twitter responses also called for Penn to resign his role as senior reporter at Bloomberg or for the news outlet to fire him.

One last thing…
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