Jack Hunter: Stories of Rand Paul’s assault show how “fake news” spreads

Family gatherings often lead to political talk, particularly for people who write about politics for a living. Right now, particularly for libertarians who often write about Rand Paul for a living or that used to work for him.

Like me.

Thanksgiving was no exception. Instead of Donald Trump banter, the question most asked time and again by friends and family was, “What happened with Rand Paul?,” referring to his recent assault.

In each response, I spent most of the time talking about what didn’t happen with Rand. I told each inquirer to forget everything they had read about composting, lawn clippings, pumpkin patches and political disputes, stories many people thought were legitimately the reason for the altercation. I told them the coverage was mostly wild speculation based on questionable sources, half-truths or no truth at all.

Here’s what we actually know:

On Nov. 3, Sen. Rand Paul was brutally blindside tackled in his own yard by an assailant, his neighbor has been charged in the assault, and the person who attacked him could be mentally disturbed.

That’s it.

It’s a bizarre story, for sure. Searching for a motive is what any responsible journalist would do, and wondering what could have led to this act of violence is understandably titillating for readers.

But writing stories that are far more fabrication than fact is not responsible. Simply acknowledging that sometimes crazy people do crazy and harmful things would have been more honest reporting than half the garbage that was published about the incident.

Rand Paul said as much in his first comment after the attack. “From my perspective, I’m not really too concerned about what someone’s motive is,” Paul said 10 days after he was assaulted. “I’m just concerned that I was attacked from the back and somebody broke six of my ribs and gave me a damaged lung where at least for now I have trouble speaking and breathing and now I’ve hurt for 10 days.”

On the day before Thanksgiving, the senator’s wife Kelley Paul called out the media in a CNN op-ed (emphasis added):

“It is incredibly hurtful that some news outlets have victimized Rand a second time as he struggles to recover, delighting in hateful headlines like ‘Not A Perfect Neighbor,’ and concocting theories about an ‘ongoing dispute,’ based on nothing more than speculation from an attention-seeking person with no knowledge of anything to do with us.

“The fact is, neither Rand nor I have spoken to the attacker in 10 years … Nobody in our family has, nor have we communicated with anyone in his family. With Rand’s travel to D.C. in the last seven years, he has rarely seen this man at all.

“The only ‘dispute’ existed solely in the attacker’s troubled mind, until, on a beautiful autumn day, he ran down the hill on our property and slammed his body into Rand’s lower back as he stood facing away, wearing noise canceling headphones to protect his ears from the lawnmower.

“This has been a terrible experience, made worse by the media’s gleeful attempts to blame Rand for it, ridiculing him for everything from mowing his own lawn to composting,” Kelley Paul added.

I was traveling to my hometown of Charleston, S.C., for Thanksgiving when Kelley Paul’s op-ed was published on Wednesday. Reading it, I turned to my girlfriend and said, excitedly, “About damn time!” that someone who actually knew what they were talking about set the record straight. I would have the same opinion about any high profile person misrepresented in a similar fashion, but admittedly, the whole episode felt more personal because I know the person.

It was a good reminder about what “fake news” really is and how it spreads. This controversy was mostly covered by journalists and pundits eager to do a story, who, not having much to go on, instead imagined or inflated so many conceivable angles that they ultimately created a popular narrative that was far removed from reality. Most who asked me about Rand over the holiday had read more disinformation than facts.

On the week Charles Manson died, few looked back at his “motivations” for directing murders in 1969, knowing that they were horrible acts of random violence born of a warped mind. From what we know, any supposed motive on the part of Paul’s alleged attacker belongs in the same category, though obviously the violence committed against the senator pales in comparison.

And even if there was some dispute over lawns or anything else, that’s not typically the kind of problem sane people would assault someone over. The act alone was nuts.

A crazy person attacked a senator out of the blue. Period. A more responsible and honest media would have never tried to make it anything more than that.

Hunter is politics editor for Rare.us. He co-authored the 2011 book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington” with Sen. Rand Paul.

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