EXCLUSIVE: Salena Zito Denies Accusations Of Fabrication And Mischaracterization In Her Reporting

"I am a journalist who keeps tabs on every place I visited in 2016 (and before, and after) and audio record most of my interviews, I keep a count on everything I do."

“I do my job thoroughly and diligently and that’s why my work is widely read and respected – and no Twitter troll will dissuade me from doing my job.” — Salena Zito

Over the past few days, a number of Twitter sleuths have highlighted a large number of supposed far-fetched scenarios, too-perfect quotes and instances of apparent deception featured in the reporting by New York Post columnist and Washington Examiner politics reporter Salena Zito. You may know Zito, who is also a CNN contributor, as the blue-collar whisperer who told us that the president’s supporters “take him seriously, but not literally” and has been hyped since the election as having the ear of the white working class that powered Trump to victory.

Digging into her past articles and recent book, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, a handful of pseudonymous Twitter accounts tossed out a bunch of passages that when taken together raise a whole lot of alarm bells. Brandt, a Salon Conservative Twitter account with over 15,000 followers, seemed to really kick things off by noticing similarities between a recent Zito NY Post column and a piece she wrote last year about Hillary Clinton.

That resulted in a Twitter thread in which Brandt highlighted other situations in which Zito appeared to be attributing her own language to quotes by Trump voters she purportedly interviewed.

This caused a similar Twitter account — Kilgore Trout, which has over 46,000 followers — to take the baton and link to a bunch of instances he and others had noticed in the past of Zito, which included her habit of treating Republican Party operatives and politicians as lifelong Democrats and a tendency to run into Trump voters at gas stations.

But it wasn’t done there, folks. Not by a long shot. Another Twitter account that has been tracking Zito’s reporting for a while now also provided a thread of his favorites from Zito’s columns and articles. One notable example is below:

The proverbial shit really seemed to hit the fan, however, when someone created a new Twitter account to highlight Zito’s reporting, especially when it comes to her book. We are providing all of the tweets in sequence here:

In a phone call and subsequent emails to Contemptor, Zito pushed back against the allegations that she purposely misrepresented and omitted the Republican affiliations of six people she described as Democrats or Obama voters in her book. Regarding Dave Rubbico, who is currently a GOP committee member, Zito notes that he was only elected as a Republican in the last year and after he was interviewed for her book. She also said it was true that Rubbico was a “long time Democrat who liked Obama.”

As for Dawn Martin, the secretary of the Lake County GOP and a Republican candidate for office, Zito stands by her characterization that Martin’s vote was up for grabs.

“Like many Republican or Republican-leaning women she struggled with Trump’s comportment,” she told Contemptor. “In the end she voted for him and this year (one year after I interviewed her) she decided to run for office for the very first time.”

As for Neil Shafer, she notes that in her book she described him as a “solid, rock-ribbed conservative” who had long been involved in Republican politics and that the chapter he’s featured in goes into detail about how he had a disconnect with the state party. As a devout Christian, Mr. Shaffer supported other Republicans in the nomination process and struggled deeply with his general election vote,” Zito explained.

Zito felt that it was a “wee bit sexist” to point out that Cynthia Sacco’s husband was a GOP delegate as “spouses split their votes all of the time.” She also highlighted that Sacco was a union member who was raised in a Democratic family and that she stands by her characterization of Ms. Sacco as a blue-collar ticket-splitting voter, adding that the upcoming midterms seem to be bearing that out as suburban women are “at the center of the electoral combat between the two parties.”

Regarding Patti Bloomstine, she explained that in the book Bloomstine did donate money to Kathy Dahlkemper, a moderate Democrat who was also Bloomstine’s neighbor, when Dahlkemper ran for Congress in 2006. Zito stated that it was Bloomstine’s souring on Dahlkemper that moved her from Democrat to Republican and that she feels it was appropriate to highlight Bloomstine in the book because Trump won Pennsylvania by “holding just enough people like Patti Bloomstine in his camp.”

She did not address Michael Martin — the “grandson of a late Democratic mayor” who donated a lot of money to Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey — in our conversations and emails, but she did go in on a few other tweets that Inanimate Carbon Rod sent in his thread.

Regarding her failure to identify Jill Gilmore as a Republican politician in an Examiner article, Zito said that the premise of the piece was that conservative Christian evangelical voters were sticking with Trump “so of course she is a Republican.” And in response to the Twitter account’s mocking dismissal of Zito’s “oddly specific” detailing of her travels and interviews, she told us the following:

“I am a journalist who keeps tabs on every place I visited in 2016 (and before, and after) and audio record most of my interviews, I keep a count on everything I do. The anonymous Twitter account’s notion that half of 4,913 people interviewed are elected Republicans is once again a bloated lie.”

She reiterated in our phone conversation that she has all of her interviews transcribed and that she normally has either an audio or video recording of those interviews. When it comes to some of her articles not providing full names of her interview subjects, she told Contemptor that this was because many of these people don’t want to be publicly outed due to potential harassment, using a recent interview with a restaurant owner as a prime example.

At the same time, she said she wasn’t going to release her recording or transcripts but stated that her editors “have seen all of it.” Furthermore, when asked point-blank if she stood behind all of her reporting and that the quotes are accurate, Zito responded: “Oh my gosh, absolutely.”

“I have the least glamorous job,” she added. “My 14-year-old Jeep Liberty that I just had to get rid of — it had over 400,000 miles on it. I never fly. I only take backroads. The only time I fly is when I have to do an event, which I hate.”

Zito concluded her call by telling Contemptor that she works her “ass off” and that this isn’t a “shtick.”

“I think shticks are supposed to be fun,” she exclaimed. “This is honestly hard work.”

We have reached out to her editors at both the New York Post and Washington Examiner for comment, asking them if they were aware of any possible fabrication or embellishment of quotes or sources in her articles, whether they had any concerns over her reporting and if they would be looking into the allegations brought up in the multiple threads.

We did not hear back from either outlet at the time of publication but will update this article if we receive additional comment.

In the end, are we to believe Zito when she says she has not purposely mischaracterized Trump voters in her reporting nor made up any quotes or voters? Is all of this attention online really just a case of, as she described to us, malicious lies “concocted by people who don’t know the facts and seek only to harass me online which they have done for two years”?

This feels like a story that hasn’t yet reached its last chapter.

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Media

Justin Baragona is the founder and publisher of Contemptor. He was previously the Cable News Correspondent for Mediaite and prior to starting Contemptor, he worked on the editorial staff of PoliticusUSA. During that time, he had his work quoted by USA Today and BBC News, among others. Justin began his published career as a political writer for 411Mania. He resides in St. Louis, MO with his wife and pets.
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  • Take Salena Zito neither seriously nor literally when it comes to Trump voters. – AskTran.com HOME |
    30 August 2018 at 12:35 am

    […] Instead, the following afternoon, Zito sent me an email — apparently similar to the one she sent to the website Contemptor — with her literary agent cc’d. In it she attempted to refute a selection of the tweets. Her […]

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  • The Salena Zito controversy, explained | iNewHub
    5 September 2018 at 12:36 pm

    […] by Zito, and the most damning claims against her, by far, have involved allegations that she fabricates quotes in stories. Zito has said she records “many” of her interviews, which would make verifying more contested […]

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