According to leading conservative columnists, Twitter has hired Nick Pacilio, a former staffer for Sen. Kamala Harris, to decide which of President Trump’s tweets deserve to be fact-checked and which should be labeled for the public as “potentially misleading.” That’s news to Pacilio.
To be clear, Pacilio has worked at Twitter for nearly six years; only his duties have nothing to do with fact-checking the president, or anyone else, according to Twitter, where Pacilio works as a top spokesman.
Lies about Pacilio’s fake job responsibilities, which have gone viral online thanks to conservative writers at the Daily Caller and the National Review, are pretty easy to debunk. His LinkedIn page shows clearly that he was not recently hired by Twitter at all, but started there after he left Harris’ employ in November 2014. He’s risen steadily at Twitter since then, promoted twice in four years.
But for whatever reason—and I’m going to go with professional negligence—a senior writer at the Review and an associate editor at the Caller didn’t bother to check Pacilio’s bona fides before running highly inaccurate accounts of his work history. One has to wonder why.
Last week, Caller editor Virginia Kruta published a story titled, “Former Press Sec For Sen. Kamala Harris Has Joined The Twitter Communications Team.” The dubious right-wing site singled out Pacilio because it was he who announced on Twitter last week the Trump campaign had violated Twitter’s rules against misinformation. The campaign’s account was locked until it deleted the offending tweet.
Specifically, the Trump campaign had pushed out a video clip of a Fox News interview in which the president falsely claimed that children are “almost immune” to covid-19. (According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, child cases nearly doubled between July and August. As Gizmodo recently reported, hundreds of kids who attended a summer camp in Georgia tested positive for the coronavirus, including 51 percent of kids ages six to 11.) The tweet was deleted, and the account, @TeamTrump, resumed its regularly scheduled activities.
The August 6 Daily Caller article—the lede paragraph of which claimed Pacilio “has joined Twitter’s communications team”—cited as its only source Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist, another conservative news site (widely mocked for refusing to disclose the sources of its funding).
The Caller’s editor wrote:
The Federalist’s Sean Davis pointed out that prior to working for Twitter, Pacilio had most recently worked as press secretary for Harris — who has repeatedly called for Trump to be banned from the platform altogether. Pacilio’s Twitter bio lists his current occupation as “communications at Twitter.”
Citing Davis, the Caller links Pacilio to Harris, whom it reports has repeatedly called for Twitter to ban Trump. What the Caller failed to mention, though, is that Pacilio left Harris’ employ two years before Trump won the White House. Finding that information, again, doesn’t require a veteran investigator’s chops; just someone who’s passingly familiar with how to use a search engine.
Why the Caller neglected its due diligence on this (non)story is really anybody’s guess. On Wednesday, nearly a week after publication, the site issued a correction.
Enter the National Review. In a three-paragraph blog published on the Review’s website Wednesday, Senior
Reporter Writer David Harsanyi sought to advance the erroneous claims about Pacilio’s job further, falsely reporting that Pacilio is “in charge of deciding what the president of the United States can and can’t say on Twitter to his 85 million followers.” (He isn’t.)
Like the Caller, Harsanyi cited Federalist co-founder Sean Davis as his primary source. (People should probably stop doing that.) And just like the Caller, Harsanyi made no attempt to contact Twitter beforehand to ask what Pacilio’s job entails. These are, of course, mandatory steps in the reporting process, as Harsanyi, a writer who holds seniority at the Review, very well knows.
In response to Review’s bullshit article, Twitter’s communications team apparently got the go-ahead to openly refute it online. Several employees tweeted this afternoon that the Harsanyi’s statements about Pacilio are “100% inaccurate.” Reached by Gizmodo, Twitter said its employees’ tweets do count as its official response.
While being castigated online by Twitter staff and fellow reporters alike, Harsanyi decided that he’d try to salvage his story—the social headline of which is: “Kamala Harris’s Former Press Secretary Is Twitter’s Top Censor”—by editing just a single word. Instead of “deciding” what Trump “can and can’t say on Twitter,” according to Harsanyi, Pacilio is now supposedly responsible for “announcing” what Trump “can and can’t say on Twitter.”
Harsanyi’s story remains—at least at the time of writing—mostly inaccurate. To wit, the article claims Sean Davis “point[ed] out” something that he did not point out. It still links readers to Davis’ original tweet, which has been shared over 10,000 times and in plain English states that Twitter specifically hired Pacilio to “decide” what Trump is “allowed to say.” (Again, nope.)
Even as Harsanyi scrambled to amend his article with a note saying he “should have been more careful” and that his headline (which remains uncorrected, as of publication) is entirely false, Davis decided to double down himself, pushing out another story written by one of his own writers, Tristan Justice, that attempts to paint Pacilio’s employment at Twitter as somehow retroactively immoral, now that Harris is the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee. The Federalist headline once again pushes the claim invented by Davis that Pacilio is “Twitter’s top censor,” a phrase the Federalist cribbed directly from Harsanyi, even though Harsanyi had already admitted that his reporting was wrong.
Ironically, the Federalist piece goes on to contradict its own cofounder’s claims about Pacilio in print. Davis had tweeted that “Twitter hired Kamala Harris’s press secretary to decide what the President of the United States is allowed to say on Twitter.” The Federalist’s article, meanwhile, specifically notes Pacilio was hired long before Trump was even nominated for the presidency.
While the Federalist quotes Twitter saying that Pacilio has no authority over its enforcement decisions involving the president’s tweets, it goes on to say the company’s statement “reduced his role to that of merely a spokesperson,” as if Twitter had something to hide. In fact, Pacilio is a spokesperson. That’s literally his whole job. With nowhere else to go, the Federalist then shifts gears to suggest the real controversy is the “optics” of the whole thing:
“The optics however, remain dubious given Twitter’s already high-profile episodes of undue censorship in this year’s election combined with Harris’ futile crusade to kick Trump off the website altogether just less than a year ago. It is also public that just two years ago, Twitter had shadow-banned prominent Republicans including several vocal members of Congress and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.”
What the Federalist completely ignores in its reference to “prominent Republicans” being “shadow-banned” on Twitter, is that said shadow-banning was actually the result of a bug, which Twitter acknowledged publicly and promptly fixed. In the end, the Federalist’s piece does nothing more than imply that it’s kinda weird that Twitter hired some guy six years ago and that his former boss is now a vice presidential nominee.
Had Pacilio only had the foresight to know in 2014 that Donald Trump was going to become president, and that Joe Biden was going to win the 2020 Democratic primary, and that in the midst of a global pandemic, Biden was going to pick his boss, Kamala Harris, to be his running mate.
If only he’d known that, then maybe Pacilio, that shady son-of-bitch, would have chosen a different job entirely, maybe doing something a little less interesting at a company no one gives a shit about.
Correction: A previous version of this blog said David Harsanyi’s job title is “senior reporter.” It’s “senior writer.” Thanks to David for correcting this error.
Update, 8/13: A full day after Harsanyi issued his half-assed correction — as opposed to retracting his article in full — Breitbart News reporter Lucas Nolan joined in on the harassment of Nick Pacilio, publishing his own 100% percent inaccurate story. Citing Harsanyi directly, Nolan reports: “Nick Pacilio, the former press secretary to Kamala Harris, recently chosen as former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, has reportedly secured a communications role at Twitter where he could be part of the decision-making process when censoring tweets by President Donald Trump.”
Gizmodo has reached out to Nolan and asked if he intends to retract his story. We’re not holding our breath.