Reuters reporter deliberately withheld damaging info on Beto O'Rourke for a year
In the November, 2018 election, Rep. Beto O'Rourke came within 3 points of toppling GOP incumbent Senator Ted Cruz. O'Rourke used that near miss and the excitement his candidacy generated nationwide to launch a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last week.
But what if Cruz had slaughtered O'Rourke? It's a relevant question because a reporter for Reuters deliberately withheld damaging information that would almost certainly have made a lot of Texans who ended up voting for him think twice.
The story by Joseph Menn ran on Friday and detailed O'Rourke's membership in the notorious hacking group known as the Cult of the Dead Cow. While a member of the CDC, O'Rourke hacked online games and stole credit card numbers in order to make free long distance calls. That's not only a serious invasion of privacy, but it's also credit card fraud for which O'Rourke could have been prosecuted and sent to jail.
Menn defends his decision not to run the story during O'Rourke's Senate campaign because he was writing a book. He says he hadn't nailed down the information completely and no one at the CDC would go on record about Beto's membership in the group. Menn finally made a deal with sources in the CDC not to run the story until after the 2018 election.
Menn's book is about the CDC and he says he first learned of O'Rourke's involvement in late 2017.
Reuters explained in a “backstory” article late Friday that Menn held onto the story until after O’Rourke’s high-profile Senate race in exchange for an on-the-record interview. Menn says he was on leave from Reuters at the time in order to work on his book.
Menn had been looking into the CDC for years and “found out that they had a member who was sitting in Congress … and then I figured out which one it was.”
However, Menn said the CDC wouldn’t confirm that O’Rourke was the member in question unless the reporter agreed to hang on to the information “until after the November election” in 2018. After agreeing to the group’s terms, Menn approached O’Rourke for an interview with the promise that it would not be published until after his Senate race. O’Rourke agreed.
Why should it matter if the CDC confirmed O'Rourke's membership on or off the record? Menn had the dirt, he knew of O'Rourke's involvement, and rather than scoop himself during the Texas Senate campaign and probably hurt book sales by revealing the information, he sat on it.
I don't recall any reporter being so careful in covering the Brett Kavanaugh accusations, do you?
To be clear, I offered @BetoORourke an embargo because it was for a book I was on leave to write, not for my day job, and because no one else who knew would confirm the facts before the election.— Joseph Menn (@josephmenn) March 16, 2019
Menn conspired with O'Rourke to bury the story. But Menn's friends in the media defended him:
Reporters who are writing books sometimes hold back certain info til their book comes out. That's what the reporter says happened in this case. Book deal situations are definitely complicated. The Fox/Stormy situation didn't involve a book. What's your proposal -- no books?— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 17, 2019
As a matter of fact, Mr. Stelter, the answer to your question is yes - no books. If you want to write a book, quit your journalism job and write to your heart's content. But in a case that so clearly would have impacted the election if the information in Menn's possession had been published in the normal course of events, i.e., during the campaign, we are entitled to ask Menn and O'Rourke how this is not incredibly biased reporting?
If writing a book negatively affected Menn's ability to be a journalist, he should have been forced to choose. Instead, he helped launch the national career of a politician who should have gone to jail for credit card fraud.