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ProPublica’s Pulitzer For Its Blatantly False Clarence Thomas Smear Should Be Revoked

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The misleading story turned out to be fundamentally incorrect, but that didn’t stop ProPublica from continuing its journalistic malpractice.

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The left-wing activists at ProPublica are standing by their mendacious smears of Justice Clarence Thomas.

The most recent attack on the justice began with an infamous April 2023 hit piece, which contends the Supreme Court justice broke federal law by failing to disclose vacations he took with longtime friend Harlan Crow.

The misleading story turned out to be fundamentally incorrect. Yet that didn’t stop ProPublica from continuing its journalistic malpractice, publishing a string of concocted stories about Thomas’ alleged unethical behavior. This sloppy, inaccurate, and malicious work eagerly spread by corporate media earned ProPublica a Pulitzer Prize.

It should be revoked.

First, ProPublica completely ignored a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Judicial Conference, a body composed of federal judges responsible under federal law for administering the ethics laws for the judiciary, that determined Justice Thomas had violated no laws with respect to his disclosure practices regarding vacations.

The ruling destroys ProPublica’s entire storyline. Instead of fessing up, the publication cited left-wing-funded “legal ethics experts” to support its narrative that Thomas broke the law. He didn’t. Later, ProPublica published a story seeking to discredit this 2012 ruling rather than concede its validity and admit its attack on Thomas was factually incorrect.

ProPublica published a story in August 2023 accusing Justice Thomas of having taken “a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas” with his friend Tony Novelly. He didn’t do that, either. The trip never happened — and based on ProPublica’s wording, it appears the publication knew it never took place. The ProPublica story, for instance, never even references the year the yacht trip supposedly happened.

One of ProPublica’s alleged “sources,” a captain of the yacht who supposedly saw Thomas, could not provide a year this imaginary trip took place. Moreover, every statement in this ProPublica paragraph from its story about Justice Thomas visiting Novelly’s yacht in the Bahamas is false:

Three of Novelly’s former yacht workers, including a captain, told ProPublica they recall Thomas coming on board the vessels multiple times in recent years. Novelly’s local chauffeur in the Bahamas said his company once picked Thomas up from the billionaire’s private jet and drove him to the marina where one of the yachts, Le Montrachet, frequently docks. A fifth witness, a dock attendant at the marina, recalled seeing Thomas on board one of the Novelly yachts.

In reality, Thomas was last in the Bahamas in the 1980s, long before he met Tony Novelly in the early 2000s. Justice Thomas never sailed on any Novelly yacht, including the yacht specifically named in the article, La Montrachet. In fact, he has never even laid eyes on this boat.  

Every single one of ProPublica’s five witnesses is either lying or shockingly mistaken, or ProPublica has changed or altered their stories. No Novelly chauffeur ever picked up Thomas in the Bahamas. Not a single Novelly yacht worker, or a captain, ever saw Justice Thomas go aboard a Novelly boat in the Bahamas. And no dock attendant saw Thomas board the yacht in a marina in the Bahamas. Did ProPublica put words in their mouths or lead them to believe something happened that never did?

Thomas did step on a boat co-owned by Novelly and David Sokol, called the Daybreak. But that boat was anchored at Sokol’s dock at his home in Fort Lauderdale in 2018 when Thomas walked onto the boat, visited the engine room, and left within 30 minutes. That is the only time he set foot on a Novelly boat — in Fort Lauderdale for less than 30 minutes. 

I called out ProPublica after it published this false story, but it did nothing for months. After Novelly’s lawyer sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee confirming this yacht trip around the Bahamas never happened, ProPublica quietly updated its story this January but chose not to disclose the letter’s damning refutation. ProPublica dishonestly said that Novelly’s lawyer “appeared to deny that he had hosted the justice in the Bahamas.”

In fact, Novelly’s attorney wrote that “[a]ny claims made by what your letter characterized as ‘investigative reporting’ sources regarding the presence of Justice Thomas on a yacht owned by Mr. Novelly traveling in the Bahamas are false.”

To this day, ProPublica still leads its updated story with the claim that Thomas sailed on a yacht around the Bahamas and kept in the story the numerous photos of La Montrachet, a yacht Justice Thomas has never seen. ProPublica falsely added that it had identified “vacations” that Thomas had taken in the Bahamas with Novelly. There are no such vacations.

This week, in another story questioning the accuracy of the Bahamas trip, ProPublica issued a statement standing by its reporting. Instead of fessing up to its lies, it doubled down.

ProPublica knows its story is false yet won’t take accountability. The Pulitzer board should know better and ought to immediately open a review into the false and dishonest ProPublica reporting that was central to its investigative series being given this award. ProPublica should identify the five witnesses who claim Thomas was in the Bahamas with Novelly. This massive breach of journalistic ethics calls into question all of ProPublica’s reporting on Justice Thomas and the Supreme Court.

It’s outrageous that the Pulitzer board would award its prize to a left-wing-funded activist group that is more interested in partisan, dishonest hit jobs than real journalism. But like the Pulitzer Prizes awarded to New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, a Stalinist apologist in the 1930s who covered up the dictator’s massive crimes, or the Pulitzer awarded to The Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke, who fabricated an eight-year-old heroin addict named “Jimmy” out of thin air, history will prove ProPublica to have written a fraudulent and dishonest attack on our greatest living American.

Disclosure: The author has been on some of the trips referenced in this piece.


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