Backfire: NY Times’ Hit on Rick Perry's Energy Dept. Ignorance Sputters Out

January 19th, 2017 3:00 PM

New York Times reporters Coral Davenport and David Sanger went to enormous (and utterly unsubstantiated) lengths to portray former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a oil-man rube over his head as the potential Energy Secretary, in “Perry Seeks Cabinet Job He Initially Misconstrued.” The text box: “A focus on nuclear energy, not oil and gas evangelism.”

Mollie Hemingway wrote in The Federalist that the story “claimed, without any sourcing or substantiation, that Rick Perry thought the secretary of Energy job he was about to take was as ‘a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry’ but then he “discovered that he would be no such thing.’ The reporters claimed, again with zero evidence to substantiate their claims, that he only then learned ‘he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.’”

But Roll Call quoted Perry after Trump’s transition team made its announcement, proving Perry did know about the nuclear aspect of the job.

Picking up the NYT story at paragraph three:

Two-thirds of the agency’s annual $30 billion budget is devoted to maintaining, refurbishing and keeping safe the nation’s nuclear stockpile; thwarting nuclear proliferation; cleaning up and rebuilding an aging constellation of nuclear production facilities; and overseeing national laboratories that are considered the crown jewels of government science.

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who advised Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked on the Trump transition’s Energy Department team in its early days. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

But Hemingway pointed out that the sole source for the claim (energy lobbyist Michael McKenna who served on Trump’s energy and environmental transition staff) left the position November 18, nearly a month before Perry was even named, in mid-December. McKenna told the Daily Caller that “the Times misinterpreted him and Perry ‘of course’ understood that a key role of the Department of Energy is caring for the nation’s nuclear arsenal.”

Again, the Times compared dumb Perry to the geniuses who came before him.

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

And only the Times would consider the Iran nuclear deal a plus on a resume:

Mr. Moniz had such deep experience with nuclear weapons that in 2015, President Obama made him a co-negotiator, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, of the Iran nuclear deal.

Davenport and Sanger downplayed Perry’s actual nuclear expertise.

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While even Mr. Perry’s supporters concede that he has no experience making high-level decisions on nuclear weapons policy, he has had some dealings with the problem of nuclear waste, which also falls under the purview of the Energy Department.


Mr. Perry’s backers also note that Texas is home to Pantex, an Energy Department plant where nuclear weapons are assembled. But as governor, he had no role in running the facility.


He would not be the first nonexpert to run the Energy Department. Bill Richardson took the job under President Bill Clinton after serving as ambassador to the United Nations, and later became the governor of New Mexico.

But Mr. Perry’s qualifications to oversee a muscular renovation, or expansion, of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex are expected to be among the chief topics of questioning at his confirmation hearing. Mr. Trump’s transition team declined a request to interview Mr. Perry.

“Rick Perry was pitch-perfect for Texas politics,” said Calvin Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “He has very close ties to the oil industry. He is about ‘the Texas way’ -- low taxes, low regulation. But none of that gives him the depth of knowledge needed for running the Energy Department.”

Mr. Perry is attuned to that vulnerability. The Energy Department was on the list of agencies he said he wanted to eliminate when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 — though he famously forgot its name during a debate. Despite what he called his “oops” moment, he stood by his call to dismantle the department, saying, “They’ve never created one bit of energy, the best I can tell.”

Not even MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was convinced by the Times hit job, tweeting: “either they have source(s) they're not naming (which happens) or it's *way* oversold based on the quotes.”

And lastly, Roll Call quoted Perry after Trump’s transition team made its announcement, proving Perry did know about the nuclear aspect of the job: “I look forward to engaging in a conversation about the development, stewardship and regulation of our energy resources, safeguarding our nuclear arsenal, and promoting an American energy policy that creates jobs and puts America first."