Tuesday was a busy day for Charles C. Johnson, the conservative journalist who first reported on allegations that Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) campaign bribed black voters in last week’s Republican primary in Mississippi.
The accusations, made by a black self-proclaimed minister who was paid for the story, were swiftly denied by a Cochran spokesperson, who suggested that the campaign may take legal action over the allegations.
The spokesperson also drew attention to a tweet written by Johnson last week in which he blamed Republican operatives for the suicide of of a tea party lawyer. The lawyer had been charged in an alleged conspiracy tied to a blogger, “Constitutional” Clayton Kelly, who is accused of entering a nursing home to take a photograph of Cochran’s wife.
It was the latest twist in the rancorous, messy feud enveloping the Mississippi GOP — and Johnson was right in the middle of it. He followed up the story, which was published on his own website, gotnews, with an avalanche of defiant tweets.
“You establishment hacks do know that I’ve been threatened with lawsuits, death threats before, right?” he wrote in one. “I planned on this.”
He took on former Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens, now a Cochran adviser, who mocked the bribery allegations and referred to Johnson as a “fringe” blogger. Johnson said Stevens had “praised” him in the past and threatened to publish private direct messages between the two.
All the while, Johnson engaged in relentless self-promotion. He bragged that his story had been picked up by the likes of Fox News, Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh (although he lamented that Sean Hannity didn’t cite him by name.) And he used the spotlight to give attention to his efforts to raise money for his “awesome projects.”
“Oh I know this annoys people but send me some research money. Because I am kicking ass,” Johnson wrote in another tweet, providing a link to his page at gofundme.com where supporters can donate money to his cause.
If that tweet didn’t make it obvious, Johnson doesn’t lack confidence. On his fundraising page, Johnson touts his “ability to take over the news cycle” and highlights some of his proudest stories.
Remember that audio clip of a 1998 speech in which Barack Obama said he believes in “redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot”? You’d be forgiven if you didn’t. Matt Drudge got the initial “scoop” in September of 2012 — days after Mother Jones broke Romney’s “47 percent” comments — but Johnson landed the full audio. Republicans and conservatives breathlessly hyped the audio, but it mostly landed with a thud.
“I have a long history of winning the narrative,” Johnson writes on his fundraising page, right before noting that he’s “worked with Alan Dershowitz & Andrew Breitbart.”
Johnson does indeed have an interesting history. Take, for example, his most recent piece at The Daily Caller, the conservative website where Johnson has been a contributor. In the article, published in January, Johnson reported that New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, the author of an exhaustive story on the Benghazi attack, was arrested for “lewd conduct” in 1989. Kirkpatrick, wrote Johnson, was photographed streaking on the campus of Princeton University and posed for Playgirl.
There was just one problem. Johnson’s evidence came from satirical stories in a spoof issue of the Princeton newspaper. Slate’s Dave Weigel dismantled the story and even received a mea culpa of sorts from Johnson, who admitted that he got it wrong and apologized to Kirkpatrick. He told Weigel in an email that he’s “rather notorious for not understanding sarcasm or satire” and said he was “embarrassed by the whole article.”
The Daily Caller removed the erroneous reporting and added this note to the piece: “An earlier version of this article reported claims made in a Princeton student newspaper article that appears to have been fabricated. Kirkpatrick denies the reporting from the Daily Princetonian and The Daily Caller has not been able to confirm it independently.”
On Tuesday, amid his flurry of Twitter activity, Johnson for some reason decided to dredge up the issue.
“Weigel posted this story he did on how my autism caused me to miss humor in a parody issue,” Johnson tweeted. “He leaves out apology.”
Johnson hasn’t written for The Daily Caller since.
Tucker Carlson, the editor-in-chief at The Daily Caller, declined to say much when asked why Johnson hasn’t written for the site in months.
“I mean, he wanted to go and do stuff,” Carlson told TPM in a phone interview Wednesday, “and there’s no way I’m ever going to say a bad word about anyone who ever worked for me. Ever.”
Carlson said he hadn’t seen Johnson’s latest story or the new website.
The Kirkpatrick pratfall wasn’t the first time he got a story seriously wrong.
A little more than two months before that, Johnson collaborated with conservative filmmaker on a story that alleged that Cory Booker, then a candidate for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, never actually lived in Newark, N.J. Buzzfeed’s Ruby Cramer easily proved the article to be false and, in a subsequent piece, she and her colleague, Rosie Gray, revealed that Johnson had done work for an anti-Booker super PAC, which he hadn’t disclosed in his reporting.
When TPM reached out to Johnson for comment on Wednesday morning, he initially said that he would respond to questions by email. TPM still has not received a response.
This post has been updated.