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A Beastly Attack on Ted Cruz

A Beastly Attack on Ted Cruz

By Tom Bevan - August 20, 2013

The mud is flying early this cycle.

It is three years and three months before the next presidential election, but all it took for Ted Cruz to have his good name smeared was to take a single trip to Iowa where he mentioned that some social conservatives have urged him to run for president.

For this provocation, the freshman senator from Texas -- and new Tea Party idol -- found himself portrayed in the media by classmates who haven’t spoken to him since he was a freshman in college as not merely a didactic and right-wing teenager, but as some kind of sexual deviant.

The story, which was the lead piece in The Daily Beast on Monday, featured Cruz’s freshman roommate -- who is clearly not a social conservative -- dishing a heavy dose of criticism and innuendo. That roommate, Craig Mazin, said he was “afraid” of the influence Cruz has achieved in life, while relating a salacious, if sketchy, story about Cruz menacing female students at Princeton by wearing a paisley bathrobe in their wing of the coed dorm.

In this instance, the supporting evidence used to impugn the character of a yet another conservative was so thin that the Daily Beast’s hatchet job might be easily dismissed -- except for two factors. First, it was touted all day long on various liberal websites. Second, this was part of a disturbing pattern.

Over a year ago, The Washington Post went digging into Mitt Romney’s high school past to recount a “disturbing incident” in 1965 in which Romney led a group of boys who held down a student presumed to be gay (presumed, that is, by The Washington Post) and cut his hair. The piece, written by Jason Horowitz, was one of the most talked about stories of the spring.

Whatever you think of his politics, Mitt Romney is by any conventional standard a man of upright character. He doesn’t drink, smoke, or swear, let alone chase women. He’s such a square, in fact, that it almost certainly hurt him politically, making him the butt of a thousand election year jokes and because so few people could relate to living a life as cleanly as his.

And yet, based on 47-year-old recollections from a few high school classmates, the Post made Romney out to be a bully, a bigot and a homophobe.

There are similar examples of Republican-hunting by the press. In October 2011, The Washington Post attempted to tar Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a racist for visiting a hunting lodge once called “Niggerhead” Ranch. This historical oddity was, like the Romney prank story, bannered on Page One, despite a dearth of evidence that Perry had ever called the ranch by that name, much less discriminated against anyone.

Perhaps the most dubious story of this genre was a February 2008 front page piece in The New York Times basically asserting that John McCain had a sexual affair with a female lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. As it happens, there was no evidence that the two had ever been alone in a room together, and Iseman’s subsequent $27 million defamation was eventually settled quietly out of court a few months ago.

The Daily Beast story, then, follows a script, which is fitting enough because Craig Mazin, Cruz’s most vocal critic, has gone on to become a successful Hollywood scriptwriter.

Of the four individuals who were willing to speak to Daily Beast reporter Patricia Murphy on the record, two had very flattering things to say of Cruz, one had moderately negative recollections of Cruz being overly self-assured in his political views, and one (Mazin) was harshly critical of Cruz.

Yet the sharply negative view of Cruz is the one that dominates Murphy’s story, serving as both the lead and the conclusion:

Craig Mazin said he knew some people might be afraid to speak in the press about a senator, but added of Cruz, “We should be afraid that someone like that has power.”

And the idea that his freshman roommate could someday be the leader of the free world? “I would rather have anybody else be the president of the United States. Anyone,” Mazin said. “I would rather pick somebody from the phone book."

The Daily Beast story also uses anonymous quotes to bolster the negative image of Cruz as “creepy,” a description accompanied by the aforementioned highly suggestive anecdote:

In addition to Mazin and Leitch, several fellow classmates who asked that their names not be used described the young Cruz with words like “abrasive,” "intense," “strident,” “crank,” and “arrogant." Four independently offered the word “creepy,” with some pointing to Cruz’s habit of donning a paisley bathrobe and walking to the opposite end of their dorm’s hallway where the female students lived.

“I would end up fielding the [girls’] complaints: 'Could you please keep your roommate out of our hallway?'" Mazin says.

All of this was neatly packaged on The Daily Beast’s front page under the headline “Cruz’s ‘Creepy’ Years,” posing the question to its readers: “Can a master debater who used to stroll by the women’s wing of the dorm in a paisley bathrobe be the next president?”

The “master debater” double-entendre is the giveaway. This pun is more suitable for an episode of "Beavis and Butt-head" than a news organization that comprises the remnants of Newsweek.

But, unfortunately, this kind of story - unflattering, decades-old recollections from acquaintances dressed up as news - is becoming more and more prevalent. The Daily Beast's piece on Cruz represents a new low for the genre and for modern political journalism, but I'm sure it won't be long before someone, somewhere plumbs new depths. 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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