Was High School Journalist Keith Wagner Used by Democrats as a Viral Pawn?


It was really easy to get excited about the young journalist Keith Wagner completely embarrassing a local Arizona politician in a YouTube video. Salon politics blogger Glenn Greenwald tweeted that Wagner “illustrates what ‘journalism’ is” and it’s hard to disagree. The kid came prepared with research and questions, grilling John Huppenthal, the Republican candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, about specific policy issues. Anyone who saw the video knew it was obviously edited, but a comment on yesterday’s post indicated that the video was “doctored” in a dishonest way, exposed as a dirty trick. And even Wagner agrees his work was misrepresented. If so, it’s a huge bummer, but doesn’t fully discount Wagner’s work or erase Huppenthal’s embarrassment.

According to local conservative blog Sonoran Alliance, in a post from earlier this week, the video was a hack job:

The student journalist who interviewed State Senator John Huppenthal about vocational education funding in a video that is now making the rounds told our reporter this morning the edited version that was posted by Democratic Diva blogger Donna Gratehouse does not accurately portray what happened in his meeting with the senator. Huppenthal did leave, Keith Wagner said, but he didn’t disappear and abandon the interview, as the video posted on Gratehouse’s blog purports. (Huppenthal defeated the Dem blogger in the 2006 election for LD20 Senate.)

Though the video indicates the Huppenthal bailed on the interview when he realized Wagner was for real, according to the teen journalist, “[Huppenthal] did come back and he was very polite.” The student, now graduated from high school, also “said he was irked that some are using the video, which was a class project, to score political points.” Slimy, indeed.

On the blog, the above is quoted from the Arizona Capitol Times, which is unfortunately behind a paywall, but a search reveals a teaser for a piece with different wording, but the same general idea: the video “did not reflect what actually happened.

In the comments section of Sonoran Alliance, a local Democrat blogger apologizes for posting the piece:

Because accuracy and truth are imperative to me, I have issued a retraction on Democratic Diva in light of the information presented by Mr. Wagner and the legislative/budget record. I have also taken the original post down. I blogged in haste and didn’t do due diligence in finding out what happened.

Another local paper ran down the saga, as well, and in more detail, noting that while Wagner agreed the video was misleading, “he believes the senator was unprepared for his questions and confused about some of the facts related to his vote.”

I, too, posted the video in haste, thrilled by Wagner’s poise and precociousness, but without even Googling to find the rest of the story. I made a mistake. I’ve also reached out to Wagner for more from his side of the story, but have yet to hear back.

Still, the kid’s style and moxie are commendable. He did his job and, wouldn’t you know, some adults twisted his work, leaving an opening for ideological critics to disavow the interviewer’s job well done. Hopefully Wagner has learned something, namely: stay away from the internet.