No, Elizabeth Warren wasn’t blocked from reading the Coretta Scott King letter

Reports from Washington, D.C., last week sparked outrage across the nation.

According to press accounts, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was banned from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., on the Senate floor. The GOP-led Senate, according to reports, used an archaic rule to stop Warren from reading the letter during her remarks in opposition to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. The story spread through the news like wildfire, and left-wing activists went bananas.

New York Magazine’s headline read, “Here’s the Powerful Letter Senate Republicans Kept Elizabeth Warren From Reading.” CBS reported, “Warren had been forced into silence Tuesday when she attempted to read from the letter.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran the headline, “Reading of Coretta Scott King’s letter forbidden by U.S. Senate”.

The outrage is plentiful. But this story is false.

Warren was not prohibited from reading King’s letter. She read every single word of it on the Senate floor.

You can watch the whole thing on video from C-SPAN.

Still, some press outlets continue to spread the false story that she was blocked from reading the letter.

CNN has a story up with the headline that invites us to view “The Coretta Scott King letter Elizabeth Warren was trying to read.” Time Magazine’s website falsely reports, “Democratic senators on Wednesday picked up where Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was forced to leave off Tuesday night, reading the letter that Coretta Scott King wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions in 1986.”

People Magazine‘s website claims, “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to recite the Coretta Scott King letter his colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren was banned from reading.”

There’s even an online petition started by a progressive activist in Maine that claims Warren was silenced “as she attempted to read into the record Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter.” The petition already has more than 27,000 signatures.

But let me repeat: Warren was not prohibited from reading King’s letter on the Senate floor.

Here’s exactly what happened:

Sen. Warren was about halfway through her reading of the King letter when GOP Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the presiding officer at the time, chimed in to remind her of Senate Rule 19, which prohibits members of the Senate from insulting each other on the floor.

Daines explained the King letter was not at issue, but rather previous comments Warren made, quoting the late Sen. Ted Kennedy calling Sessions “a disgrace.”

Warren then asked, “So can I continue with the Coretta Scott King letter?”

Daines answered, “The senator can continue.”

And, contrary to what many in the media reported, Warren resumed her reading of the letter, uninterrupted.

Afterward, she continued her speech. Roughly 10 minutes later, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally motioned to cut her off when she continued to hurl personal invective at Sessions, gratuitously violating a longstanding Senate rule that prohibits members from insulting each other on the floor.

But by the time the story reached the general public, it had been twisted into an affront to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. The story became a rallying point for claims of Republican sexism, when Sanders and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, both males, were allowed to read the letter on the floor, though allegedly Warren was not. The left-wing website Vox asked the question, “Elizabeth Warren couldn’t read this letter on the Senate floor. Why did Jeff Merkley get to?”

High-pitched furor, stoked by false reporting.

The hysterical reaction to this false story is just the latest example of how out-of-control our political news environment has become. We’d all be well-served to take a breath before grabbing the pitchforks next time. On both the right and left, the rush toward indignation has gotten ridiculous.

But more importantly, in this era where elected officials are getting more and more brazen about lying to the public, the press needs to double down on its efforts to report accurately. Warren and her Democratic colleagues were able to take advantage of this false reporting to gin up public anger over something that didn’t happen. They used it as a bludgeon on their political rivals and as a fundraising tool. The press should be horrified by this.

There’s no excuse for this false reporting, and members of the press should understand how much damage this kind of inaccuracy does to their credibility in the eyes of the American people.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.