Closing the barn door two years too late, the editor of The Hill this week announced that the publication is going to review all the dubious Ukraine conspiracy reporting John Solomon did while he worked there as an executive vice president. We “are reviewing, updating, annotating with any denials of witnesses, and when appropriate, correcting any [of Solomon’s] pieces referenced during the ongoing congressional inquiry,” announced Bob Cusack.
Solomon is a well-documented fabulist who essentially works for the Republican Party, helping it launder its smear campaigns in public. At The Hill, Solomon played a leading role in advancing debunked claims about Ukraine and the supposed corruption of Joe Biden’s son. For years, The Hill published the equivalent of a 9/11 Truther, but only now is the publication going to look back and see if something went wrong.
The Hill’s reckless debacle, as it purposefully contributed to partisan misinformation under the guise of investigative journalism and applied virtually no standards to Solomon’s work, tells us a lot about how the Beltway press functions in general, and that there seem to be no guidelines for handling right-wing falsehoods.
Indeed, Solomon’s work has been consistently wrong for going on more than a decade, stretching back to his days at the Associated Press and The Washington Post.
From Media Matters:
- Solomon falsely claimed Edwards “opposes” subprime lending (washingtonpost.com; 5/16/07)
- Solomon — whose “investigations” fuel right-wing attacks — suggested Clinton nonprofit is somehow corrupt (The Washington Post; 2/27/07)
- Wash. Post baselessly linked Abramoff to Democratic fundraisers (The Washington Post; 2/24/07)
- Solomon baselessly suggested Edwards broke campaign finance law (washingtonpost.com; 1/23/07)
- In follow-up article on Reid, Solomon continued pattern of distortion (The Associated Press; 6/01/06)
Yet Solomon has never had trouble finding work, as publications welcomed him onboard and let him spin wildly anti-Democratic conspiracies. For the Beltway media, being wrong about Democrats is often chalked up as being savvy, whereas being wrong about Republicans can damage your career.
Solomon arrived at The Hill in 2017 with a deeply checkered past. “In 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review concluded that Solomon ‘has a history of bending the truth to his story line’ and “’distorting facts and hyping petty stories.’ Among his claims to infamy is publishing the debunked Uranium One conspiracy,” Sidney Blumenthal recently noted.
In the Ukraine debacle, Rudy Giuliani basically dumped a lot of nonsense into Solomon’s lap saying that it was Democrats and not Republicans who colluded with a foreign power in the 2016 election, and that former Vice President Joe Biden worked hard to quash the prosecutor’s probe of his son Hunter’s involvement with Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Solomon dutifully typed it all up as blockbuster news—pure stenography. (According to The Daily Beast, Giuliani at one point obtained a full draft of an unpublished Ukraine story by Solomon prior to publication.)
Last March, Solomon began publishing Giuliani-fed stories—45 in six months—that then led to more than 70 appearances on Fox News, while Giuliani praised Solomon’s “reporting” as worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
Here’s a flavor of Solomon’s flimsy, untrustworthy work:
“This is a bombshell that unequivocally shows the real collusion was between the FBI and Donald Trump’s opposition — the DNC, Hillary and a Trump-hating British intel officer — to hijack the election, rather than some conspiracy between Putin and Trump,” a knowledgeable source told me.
A “knowledgeable source” in terms of Beltway reporting could be literally anybody. (Spoiler: It was likely Rudy.) Solomon couldn’t even get conspiracy theorists to go on the record with their wild claims.
Now, as the Trump impeachment proceedings progress, and scores of administration officials confirm the attempted bribery scheme that the Trump White House cooked up, The Hill is left to answer for its role in the scandal and the central role Solomon’s misinformation played in the scandal. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key player in the Ukraine story who has testified about his alarm over the White House’s attempts to lean on the country’s new leader, said of one of Solomon’s key stories, “I think all the key elements were false.” Pressed further, Vindman said, “I haven’t looked at the article in quite some time, but you know, his grammar might have been right.” Meanwhile, senior State Department official George Kent, in his deposition in the impeachment inquiry, described some of Solomon’s Ukraine work by saying, “If not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.”
Another telltale sign from The Hill scandal is the revelation that its owner, Jimmy Finkelstein, has deep ties to the Republican Party. “Beyond his relationship with Solomon, Trump, and Giuliani, Finkelstein was Solomon’s direct supervisor at The Hill and created the conditions which permitted Solomon to publish his conspiratorial stories without the traditional oversight implemented at news outlets,” CNN reported.
Democrats are justifiably incensed that a supposedly reputable longtime Capitol Hill publication was so willing to become a central player in a Trump-fueled smear campaign against Joe Biden. “I just find it reprehensible that any newspaper would just be willing to put that kind of crap out that is not — has no veracity whatsoever, and not check to see if it had any veracity,” Rep. Jackie Speier said to Scott Wong after he identified himself as a Hill reporter last week. “And then it becomes a talking point. And he becomes a nonpartisan commentator. It’s corrupt. It’s just corrupt.”
Note that nearly two years ago, staffers at The Hill were complaining about Solomon’s work, nervous that his reckless writing was harming the publication’s reputation. In fact, The Hill’s then-publisher warned the company’s president that Solomon was in danger of destroying the publication’s reputation. Six months later, the publisher was forced out of the company.
It wasn’t until May 2018, when Solomon announced that Sean Hannity deserved a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, that The Hill decided to label his work “opinion.” Instead, it should have shown Solomon the door.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.