Media Played "Smear the Messenger" After Katie Hill Scandal, With Zero Fact Checks

 

Growing up we all either heard or chanted the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” They’re just words, right? From those playground days we learn that not everyone will like us, but the right ones will. When we enter the work world those basic truths don’t change. As an adult I’ve subscribed to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s philosophy:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

That’s all well and good until lies, repeated over and over, damage one’s reputation.

Last fall, dozens of hit pieces disguised as journalism were printed about me after I published a series of articles regarding former Rep. Katie Hill’s inappropriate relationships with staff members. In these articles I was described as a “hardened political operative” and accused of participating in a conspiracy to destroy a political rival, using my position as a journalist as cover, and of printing “revenge porn.” One particular writer, who was later revealed as Hill’s then-boyfriend (Alex Thomas of Playboy), contacted my colleagues for comment, listing numerous “facts” about me that he planned to reveal in an article, including an entirely false assertion that my former business partner was “arrested for trafficking child pornography.” He even called my former business partner, recorded their phone conversation without permission, and posted snippets of it on Twitter, never revealing that he was dating Hill at the time.

Hill herself leveled many of the same accusations. In her resignation speech from Congress she accused me of being part of a blackmail conspiracy and threatening to publish “hundreds more photos and text messages…bit by bit until [I] broke [her] down to nothing.” Her accusation is 100 percent false.

At the time these pieces were published I decided not to comment. My main reason for not commenting was that I knew the allegations were false and knew that my friends, family, and associates knew they were, too. In addition, as a result of the publicity the hit pieces received my family and I had received numerous private and public threats. I was also concerned about my youngest child’s well-being at school since several teachers had gone public with their negative feelings about me personally, and one of my adult children was being harassed at work by one of Hill’s top volunteers simply because of their relationship to me. I was more concerned with ensuring we were safe (installing new security equipment, etc.) and that my children were okay emotionally than with debunking fake news about me.

Six months later, I’ve seen the unfortunate result of not standing up to protect my reputation. Another wave of articles, including profiles of Hill in the New York Times and the New Yorker, were published last winter describing Hill as a victim of blackmail and a cyber exploitation campaign designed to shame her out of office as if those are accepted facts and not simply accusations posited by local Democrat activists. During a press tour accompanying the launch of HerTime PAC (which used the $1 million-plus left in Hill’s campaign account as seed money) Hill repeatedly referenced being a victim of cyber exploitation and blackmail. The PAC’s website claims:

“Hill resigned from Congress in 2019 after a coordinated cyber-attack by Republican political operatives and right-wing media outlets were launched against her.”

The time has come to clear the record.

In hindsight I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the smear campaign launched against me. After all, I’d been warned by a local Democrat and (then) friend, Stephen Daniels, after my first story about Hill that I should be “careful” about what I “post now on RedState” in the future because “this could potentially get super nasty” – just before he asked me if there was anything else coming.

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When asked what he meant Daniels replied, “Oh geez, I hope you didn’t read that as a subtle threat or anything it wasn’t.” Whether it was a threat or not, it was absolute foreshadowing.

Over the next week Daniels and his friend (and entertainment journalist) Anthony Breznican, also a major Hill supporter/volunteer, grilled me on the Facebook group “25th Congressional District Election Watch,” of which I was the token conservative moderator. Both directly and indirectly they accused me of the same sorts of allegations that ended up appearing in multiple publications, using the same “examples” to attempt to prove their point.

Here are the allegations, paraphrased, that have been published about me in various publications over the past six months, followed by the facts.

Allegation:
Van Laar is not a journalist; she’s a hardened political operative carrying out a vendetta against Hill, as evidenced by her work for Hill’s opponents, multiple op-ed pieces supporting Steve Knight in 2018, and “endorsements” of Republican candidates for Hill’s seat after Hill’s resignation.

Fact:
I worked on former Rep. Steve Knight’s first congressional campaign (2014) and while I endorsed his future campaigns I did not work on them. The op-ed I wrote supporting Knight in 2018 for the Proclaimer was written at the request of the publisher, Stephen Daniels. That was the only piece I wrote supporting Knight for re-election in any cycle. After that op-ed was published Daniels offered me a slot as a conservative columnist at the Proclaimer. I accepted but only wrote one column, in January 2019.

Allegation:
Van Laar was working, or had worked, as campaign manager for an opponent of Hill’s (or former opponent, depending upon the publication), Suzette Valladares, as evidenced by an email sent to Stephen Daniels, which Daniels provided to multiple outlets, in which she said she was “coming on as campaign manager.”

Fact:
I never had a contract with, nor have I ever been paid by, Valladares’ congressional campaign. I was a volunteer from the time she announced in April 2019 until she decided to run for Assembly instead in late August 2019. At the time the email was written the plan was for me to come on as campaign manager when funding allowed, but that plan became moot when Valladares switched races. Daniels was the only person I “publicly” (if you can call it that) told I was going to be coming on as campaign manager. Valladares’ actual campaign manager told multiple outlets and Anthony Breznican that I was never employed by the campaign. After being accused of reporting on Hill while working for an opponent (before any hit pieces were published) I had this conversation with Daniels:

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Allegation:

Van Laar has been accused of making baseless sexual harassment allegations against former Assemblyman Dante Acosta after he didn’t hire her to run his campaign, and the California State Assembly found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Fact:

The accusation I made against Dante Acosta was one of retaliation, not of sexual harassment. As noted in a contemporaneous Santa Clarita Valley Signal article, I never went public with allegations about Acosta; an email I’d written to party officials months earlier informing them of Acosta’s behavior toward me was leaked to the press. When that article was published I was smeared in the press and blackballed in state politics by Acosta and the local GOP. I filed a defamation suit against Acosta and, eventually, a retaliation complaint to the Rules Committee of the California State Assembly. I dropped the defamation suit in March 2017 when my father was diagnosed with advanced leukemia.

Obviously, that is the abridged version. For those who want the whole story, I wrote about the retaliation at RedState in October 2017 without naming Acosta. I recorded an hour-long interview with Daniels on his Talk of Santa Clarita podcast in January 2018 and shared all of the details about the investigation at Daniels’ news site in January 2019. These stories, in addition to the defamation complaint I filed against Acosta and others, were publicly available to any journalist covering the story.

Allegation:

Van Laar conspired with local and national GOP operatives (namely, Joe Messina and George Papadopoulos) and even the NRCC to publish this story.

Fact:

That allegation is completely false. Local political activists on both sides of the aisle, including Hill, Daniels, and Breznican, know that any suggestion that I collaborated with Joe Messina on the story is ludicrous. Messina was the head of the local GOP at the time the Acosta issue arose in 2016 and led the retaliation against me. In my January 2018 podcast with Daniels, Daniels said that “people in the GOP” replied to the Acosta issue by saying I was “difficult to work with,” “socially awkward,” and that I had misinterpreted Acosta’s friendliness for a sexual proposition, and later told me that the person who said those things was Messina. In addition, I never had contact with Papadopoulos, the NRCC, or anyone associated with them about this story.

Allegation:

Van Laar and other members of this coordinated and politically motivated attack blackmailed Hill by threatening to release photos and texts until she was out of office.

Fact:

My factual reporting on Katie Hill’s inappropriate relationships with her staffers was not an attack, and it was my sole work. Any claim of an attempt to blackmail Hill or threaten to release photos and texts to “break her down” is wholly and completely false.

Many of these publications were told by my colleagues or by me that the stories they were about to publish contained false information. They were told where to find documents or other sources that would corroborate what we told them. They knew that their sources were personally involved and politically motivated. They published the stories anyway.

The truth didn’t fit their desired outcome, so they didn’t want to hear it – and they sure as hell weren’t going to publish it. So I published the truth for them.