The real ‘fake news’ is Devin Nunes’ ad about The Bee

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, asks a question during a hearing on trade policy in this photo taken in March in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, asks a question during a hearing on trade policy in this photo taken in March in Washington, D.C. AP

You might be seeing or hearing an ad paid for by the campaign to re-elect Devin Nunes as congressman for the 22nd District. The Fresno Bee is the subject of his ad. Actually, his anger at The Bee is the real subject, but Nunes hides it behind wanting to protect what he calls a family owned winery and vineyard.

Any thoughtful viewer or listener knows from the get-go that political ads are not meant to be the truth, but rather, deliver a point of view. Such is the case with this one. Here’s the background:

Nunes is an investor in a Napa winery called Alpha Omega that is owned by a friend. In 2015 the winery owner auctioned off for charity a ride in the San Francisco Bay on the Alpha Omega yacht. A winery employee was on board to help serve the guests. According to a civil lawsuit she filed, rich men brought sex workers aboard, some of them appearing underage, and the men proceeded to have sex and do drugs in the open. The employee then sued on various grounds, including civil rights violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sexual harassment. She also sued for violation of fair employment laws, alleging that after the incident, Alpha Omega stopped assigning her shifts. The case concluded with a confidential settlement.

Here is some fact checking of the words heard in the ad:

Claim: “The Fresno Bee has worked closely with radical left-wing groups to promote fake news stories about me.”

Fact: The Bee has never done any such thing. Does Nunes identify those groups he refers to? No. And he can’t, because such a thing never happened. The Bee’s newsroom follows time-honored ethical standards of journalism, and did for this story. One of the tenets is to let all subjects in a story have their say. But since Nunes refused to be interviewed for this story, his side could not be reported. He made it one-sided by his own choosing.

By not talking to The Bee, then claiming the story to be “fake news,” Nunes reveals his strategy for dealing with Bee journalists. He also loves to combine the words “radical” and “left wing” to make a point to his conservative base.

alpha omega
A social media post about the Alpha Omega yacht. Fresno Bee file via Twitter

Claim: “...even when reporters went creeping around my neighbors’ and relatives’ homes.”

Fact: Nunes became national news when the House Intelligence Committee that he chairs began looking into whether the FBI had investigated the Trump campaign for collusion with Russian operatives. The Bee wanted to find out what Nunes’ hometown thought of their son of the San Joaquin Valley having such an important role. A reporter attempted to get comments from Nunes’ neighbors in Tulare, but could not because he lives in a gated community where no “creeping” is possible – our reporter was stopped by the gate! Our reporter did get comments of Tulare residents outside of Nunes’ neighborhood. The reporter clearly identified himself as being with The Bee, as is the paper’s routine practice.

As for homes where his relatives live, the same reporter went to the family dairy on that assignment and talked to several people. He clearly identified himself as a Bee reporter and left business cards.

The reporter in question in this criticism has known Nunes since the late 1990s and covered his very first election, that to the College of the Sequoias school board. The Bee’s reporter was hardly unknown, sneaky or “creeping.”

Claim: “In 2015 one of the purchasers of this auction item abused the use of the boat. The Bee has run numerous, false stories about this incident.”

Fact: The Bee’s reporting was based on allegations made in the civil lawsuit brought by the former employee. Our story noted that such allegations are one side of a dispute. When Nunes and the winery representative will not answer our questions, The Bee is left with reporting on the lawsuit. Given Nunes’ national stature and his investor status, The Bee believed the issue was newsworthy.

Claim: “The Fresno Bee cited false information stating the people aboard the boat were Alpha Omega investors. In fact, as we informed The Bee, those aboard the boat had no personal or business connection to the winery or its owners.”

Fact: Our story quoted the winery representative saying those on the boat had no connection to Alpha Omega or the investors.

Claim: “Furthermore, a Bee editorial claimed it’s unclear if Mr. Nunes was affiliated with the fund raiser for the boat. When in fact, we repeatedly told The Bee he had no affiliation with it whatsoever.”

Fact: You can go online to read the editorial. It does not make any such reference.

Claim: “The Fresno Bee also falsely reported that Alpha Omega sold wine to Russia while Mr. Nunes led an investigation of that country.”

Fact: The story reported that Alpha Omega sold wine to Russian clients in 2013. A Russian alcohol distributor called Luding lists Alpha Omega as one of its American suppliers. The discovery of that relationship came as Nunes and his committee looked into the suspected election meddling.

It should be noted that Alpha Omega tweeted it only did business in Russia in 2013. That involved a single transaction for 22 cases. But Luding still lists Alpha Omega on its website.

Claim: “We would appreciate it if The Fresno Bee would stop regurgitating false stories when it has the facts.”

Fact: Devin Nunes does not talk to The Bee. But he cannot have it both ways. Any coverage of him will, by his design, be without his voice and thus not the “facts” he wants reported.

Given Nunes’ antagonistic tone and message in the ad, a viewer or listener would think he and The Bee have been enemies for quite some time. In fact, far from being “radical, left wing,” The Bee has endorsed him in every election for Congress since he began in the House in 2003. The Bee plans to offer a recommendation to readers before the general election in November. But it seems doubtful that Nunes, today one of the most powerful men in Congress, will sit down with our editorial board for an interview, given his latest attack.