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Latest Tuberville ‘gaffe’ wasn’t one at all

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

Last week, Twitter blew up with the news of yet another embarrassing misstatement from Alabama’s newly installed U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

This time, based on an interview with Birmingham’s CBS42, Tuberville was said to have wanted to postpone the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden for several months until the pandemic has calmed down.

“We probably could have had the swearing-in and inauguration a little later on after we got this virus behind us a little bit,” Tuberville said, according to the article.

What a buffoon, many in media scoffed, either he doesn’t know that the inauguration date is set by the U.S. Constitution or he is calling for an unconstitutional extension of President Donald Trump’s term!

The predictable mockery fit a narrative of gaffe proneness, most of which has been created by Tuberville himself. Reporters and commentators love when that happens because it makes our jobs easier.

The only problem is, in this case, that didn’t happen at all.

What Tuberville actually said was this:

“We probably could have had the swearing-in and done an inauguration a little later on after we got this virus behind us a little bit.”

A clearheaded look of the video of Tuberville’s comments shows that he meant Biden could be sworn in on Inauguration Day and then we could delay the pomp, circumstance and crowds that accompany the inauguration to a later date when the COVID coast is clearer.

Those are pretty sensible sentiments, really. Watch for yourself here:

Those two words – and done – change the entire meaning of what he said. The station eventually updated the article to reflect Tuberville’s actual words and sentiment, but trust this writer and publisher when I say far fewer people see the correction than do the original mistake. They were wrong to publish a story that misled readers as to the senator’s intent.

I’m familiar with the craziness of a story that goes viral, and with this particular subject. My “In the Weeds” interview with Tuberville was shared by more than 100 national outlets and by thousands of reporters and commentators (you may remember the sudden spike in traffic crashed our website). The reason why? Tuberville misspoke about the three branches of government, raising campaign money in a government building and which ideology allied forces were fighting in World War II.

As I mentioned, the former coach mostly earned the criticism. When I was doing the interview, I cringed a little when I heard him talk about the prospect of raising money in Dirksen Senate Office Building and how we liberated Paris from socialists. You may be interested to know I didn’t have the same reaction to the “three branches of government” line because in the context of our conversation I knew what he was talking about.

My question was about whether he could work with Democrats given that the majorities in the House and Senate would be so thin. He shouldn’t have used the word “branches,” but I knew what he meant: that the three elected governing entities, the House, Senate and presidency, were set up to work together regardless of political party. Again, a pretty sensible sentiment. Had I really thought he was unaware of the Supreme Court, I’d have led the news with it.

My point is this: media must be better. Last week, I spent 1,800 words imploring our delegation, including Tuberville, to be more honest with themselves and their constituents. But every time media distorts the words and intentions of our officials, they have less incentive to play by the rules themselves. Perhaps more importantly, it sows even more distrust toward legitimate news outlets and sends readers eagerly into the arms of sites that will tell them what they want to hear.

Let’s do better.

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