Mike Pence says NYT story is 'categorically false,' but he hasn't requested a correction

Vice President Mike Pence has issued a blanket denial of a New York Times report outlining his under-the-radar positioning for a presidential run in 2020, but he hasn't taken issue with any of the claims in the article.

This weekend, The Times published a story by political reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns that described a "shadow campaign" being waged by Republican presidential hopefuls, including Pence, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska). Pence deployed strong language in his denial of the story the day after it published, calling it "categorically false" and "disgraceful and offensive." He added:

Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president’s agenda and see him re-elected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd.

Despite that fervent denial, he hasn't reached out to the newspaper to request a correction, New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told Poynter. In a follow-up story about Pence's denial, The New York Times stood by its reporting.

When a company or individual is serious about rebutting the specifics of an article, they typically issue a point-by-point rebuttal of the claims in question. There's Amazon's response to a scathing New York Times report about the company's unforgiving work culture, or drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma's riposte after a Los Angeles Times exposé of the addictive qualities of OxyContin.

The New York Times story has several factual assertions related to Pence's 2020 positioning that he could take issue with:

  • "Multiple advisers to Mr. Pence have already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not."
  • "In one June meeting, an aide to the vice president, Marty Obst, said Mr. Pence’s team wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020, according to a Republican briefed on the meeting."
  • "Nick Ayers, the vice president’s new chief of staff, has signaled to major Republican donors that Mr. Pence wants to be ready, the article reported."
  • "Mr. Pence has set up a political fund-raising organization, Great America Committee, and has hosted key figures at the vice president’s mansion, like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and representatives of Charles G. and David H. Koch, the billionaire conservative financiers. Last month, the vice president hosted Kelly and Joe Craft, coal barons from Kentucky."

Of course, it's possible that the assertions in The New York Times article are accurate and Pence isn't considering a bid — he hasn't issued a statement on the matter either way. But reading between the lines, it feels like Pence's response is a classic non-denial denial — a politically convenient rebuttal that leaves his options open come 2020.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Ben Sasse is a senator from Oklahoma. He is from Nebraska.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.


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