WASHINGTON – We say clarification, Rep. Chris Collins says retraction.
But he sure doesn't want to call the whole thing off. Instead, the Republican lawmaker from Clarence is turning a late-May clarification in The Buffalo News into a push against the mainstream media – and a campaign fundraising opportunity.
Collins' crusade continued Tuesday, as he went on CNN and held forth on what he called a retraction.
"I actually had The Buffalo News have to retract a story," Collins told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "You know that happens about once every 100 years. The story was not an exaggeration, it was not a distortion, it was outright fabrication."
Except it wasn't a fabrication and there was no retraction. The main point of the story was true, echoing a Daily Beast story that said Collins owned more health care stock than any other member of Congress who voted for the Republican bill to replace Obamacare.
One point in The News' story was off, and The News said so, in a clarification on May 27. The clarification stated:
"The Buffalo News reported Thursday about Rep. Chris Collins' health care stock holdings and the American Health Care Act. Collins' office says he will not personally benefit by voting for the act. While not disputing that Collins holds the most stock in health care companies of any other Republican voting for the bill, his office said that he would not benefit because the companies – ZeptoMetrix and Audubon Machinery – do not produce equipment. 'As a result, neither company pays the Obama medical device tax and will not benefit from the tax repeal, which is part of the American Health Care Act recently passed by the House of Representatives,' spokesman Michael A. Kracker said."
Collins' office never made such a disclaimer when asked for comment as News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy was reporting the story, which was published May 25.
Collins is correct about retractions being rare. Newspapers almost never have to totally disavow the stories they publish.
But newspaper reporters are human, and sometimes mistakes or imprecise statements make their way into print. When they do, The News – along with most other newspapers – runs corrections or clarifications to set the record straight.
On CNN, Collins turned that News clarification into much more than it was, citing it as evidence that the mainstream media are out to get conservatives such as Trump and himself.
"It is based on a lot of fake news, and there are distortions and exaggerations left and right," Collins said. "I've been in the middle of it myself."
CNN's Cuomo pressed him on the matter, saying one example from The Buffalo News "can't certainly serve as proof that of all media coverage being inappropriate and wildly wrong and based on fake news."
Collins replied: "We know the press tends to lean in a particular direction and when things are reported, whether it's true or not or hearsay or not, it gets reported as if it is true. We could agree to disagree but I believe and I know that many of the Trump supporters in my district would agree that the press has certainly exaggerated the negative and has not talked about some of the positives."
Collins political aide Chris Grant made the most of the negative in a May 25 email to the congressman's supporters.
"This morning's Buffalo News story about Chris’ involvement in two companies – ZeptoMetrix and Audubon Machinery – is simply the latest effort by anti-Trump leftists and their allies in the press to manufacture a story that is simply not true," Grant's email said.
The email detailed what would be in The Buffalo News clarification two days later. The email then went on to note that the Collins companies in question created or saved more than 200 jobs locally.
The point of the email may have come in the subject line, which said: "The Liberal Media is Lying: Chip In $2 to get out the truth."
The email raised a few thousand dollars for Collins' 2018 re-election effort, said Grant, who noted the lawmaker has to raise money aggressively because Democrats are targeting him.
The anti-News email was more successful than most such appeals, Grant added, proving that Collins supporters are clearly responsive to a fundraising appeal knocking the mainstream media.
Collins' investments have been the subject of numerous news stories in recent months. In May, The News reported that the Office of Congressional Ethics is probing his investment in an obscure Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics.
Grant said the Collins campaign never pushed back against the original Daily Beast story that implied that the congressman's companies' could benefit from the Republican health care bill.
Asked why not, Grant offered The Buffalo News a backhanded compliment.
"We push back on respected journalists," he said.