Last week, Reason received a tip from someone working in the social media
department of the Los Angeles comedy club, The Laugh Factory, claiming:
We put up a video of our comedians talking about Hillary (Clinton) the other night. Lo and behold, a person from her camp contacted us to take it down. I think this is outrageous. Political correctness is infringing on nearly every facet of our daily lives. The comedy stage is a sanctuary for freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment no matter WHO is offended. This isn't Soviet Russia.
This is a serious allegation, which if true would demonstrate both a chilling disregard for free speech and a shocking clumsiness on the part of the Clinton campaign.
I reached out to Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada (who according to his bio has won the NAACP Freedom Award, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the ACLU Freedom of Speech Award) and asked who called him and what position did they claim to hold in the Clinton campaign.
Masada told me the caller's name was "John" and that he didn't remember the man's last name or what his role in the campaign was, but that "John" called the video "disgusting," asked "who put you up to this," and demanded that Masada remove it from Youtube. When asked how he could be sure this person was with the Clinton campaign, Masada said the man "sounded like a prominent person" and had asked for the contact info of all the comedians in the video. Masada says he refused and told "John" to "go fuck yourself," and hung up.
I tried repeatedly to reach the Clinton campaign for comment or clarification of the accusation, but received no response.
The Laugh Factory has been pushing this story to a number of outlets (Debbie Schlussel's blog printed the exact same email tip Reason received). On Twitter yesterday, T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner confirmed that the Laugh Factory had reached out him as well. Adams writes, "I tried to run this story down. He (Masada) won't say who reportedly contacted him and he won't say why."
But a number of sites (Mediaite, Hannity.com, Newsbusters, The Blaze, The Daily Mail, The Daily Caller, National Review) have run with the story and all of them appear to have avoided any actual reporting or attempted any independent verification, but instead have relied on a single Judicial Watch blog post, which reports that Masada "did not want to identify" the identity of the alleged caller.
Perhaps it's Judicial Watch's choice of phrasing that has caused some confusion, but Adams also says Masada wouldn't say who called him, and not wanting to identify the caller is different than not remembering his name, which is what Masada told me. I reached out to Judicial Watch for clarification and was told, "The story stands."
Slate's Michelle Goldberg also spoke with Masada, who essentially told her the exact same thing he told me:
Masada told me that on Nov. 11, he got a call from a man named John—he doesn't remember the last name—who sounded "distinguished, like an attorney." John said he represented the Clinton campaign. He asked Masada "who had put him up" to posting the video. In a menacing voice, he told Masada, "This is not good for your business." John then asked for the email or phone numbers of the five comedians who were featured in the video. "I told him, 'Eff you,' and I hung up," says Masada.
How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn't. "I'm glad I'm not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do," he says. "Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn't call back, that's all I can say." Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. "The way I understand it, it's because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people," he says.
To recap, 4 different people spoke with Masada, and he had at least 2 different explanations for why we don't know the identity of the caller. That doesn't mean the call didn't happen, and it also doesn't mean the call didn't come from someone with Clinton's campaign.
Goldberg lays out the probables pretty well here:
There are a few possibilities about what might have happened here. Maybe someone from Clinton's campaign really did think it was a good idea to call a major figure in the world of stand-up comedy and make empty threats over a short video. Maybe the caller was a random, overzealous Hillarybot. Maybe it was a practical joker. Or maybe it was a dirty trickster, who then took steps to send the story ricocheting through conservative media.
Again, this story may be true, though Goldberg writes that the Clinton campaign has denied the call came from them. But it could also be true that conservative writers and websites may just want to believe this story at all costs because it fits perfectly into the narrative of Clinton as a humorless scold.
However, if this exact story—single-sourced, unverified, lacking important details such as a last name or an official title—were published in a liberal or mainstream news outlet about say, Mitt Romney, it's safe to say there would be predictable howls from conservatives that basic journalistic standards went by the wayside in pursuit of a delicious story that fulfills the preferred narrative. A little healthy skepticism is never a bad thing.
(UPDATE: Hillary Clinton's campaign replied via email but offered no comment other than referring me to Goldberg's Slate article, which includes a denial by the campaign.)