A perfect example of why the media needs to do a better job vetting candidates


One of the first questions that many of us asked when New York Congressman George Santos’s resume turned out to be almost entirely a work of fiction was how nobody had managed to figure that out before the election. Of particular interest was his claim to have college degrees from two schools where he was never awarded any sort of degree.

We should offer a tip of the hat to USA Today, where they decided to take a deep dive into the incoming freshman classes of new Senators and House members to see if anyone else had been similarly embellishing their educational records. They checked the claims of 93 new members and found that nearly all of them were accurate, with only a couple of relatively minor exceptions. But they also discovered that reporters have largely stopped verifying educational records. 

The investigation did turn up a couple of discrepancies, though none came close to the type of lies Santos told. Democratic Congressman Troy Carter of Louisiana claimed to have received a Master of Business Administration from Holy Cross. The school told USA Today that Carter had actually earned a Master of Science in Management. That’s a fairly serious misstatement since an MBA is generally seen to be more prestigious and takes longer to complete than other Masters degrees.

Congresswoman Mary Sattler Peltola (D) of Alaska claimed on her resume that she attended the University of Northern Colorado from 1991 to 1994. The school said that she had attended from 1991 to 1993. Peltola never claimed to have graduated or received a degree from the school and returned to Alaska to work on a political campaign rather than finishing her fourth year. That’s hardly much of an exaggeration and might have even been a typo. Her spokesperson said that they are looking into why some websites say 94 instead of 93 and they will work to get the errant information corrected.

Returning to the question of how nobody figured out that Santos had lied about his education, the University of Northern Colorado provided a significant clue. They told USA Today’s researcher that “our records reflect that no entity has requested this information except for you, today.”

And NCU was far from the only school to say that. Of the 139 schools that were contacted, “dozens” told the USA Today researcher that they were the only reporter to contact them about the educational bona fides of the elected official in question. So why didn’t we find out about all of this sooner? As it turns out, it appears that almost nobody bothered to check.

But in Santos’ case, there actually was opposition research done, and his opponent, Democrat Robert Zimmerman, received an 87-page document from the DCCC with “red flags” about Santos. Zimmerman said that by the time he secured his party’s nomination, he only had a little more than ten weeks before the election. He was running low on both time and money to get the word out and the press wasn’t paying all that much attention to his race.

So most, though not all of the information about the dubious nature of many of Santos’ claims was out there in the wild. But it never drew much attention and most of the voters who supported him almost certainly had no idea. The media clearly needs to do a better job when vetting candidates. But if nothing else, all of this news about Santos may discourage other candidates from trying to pull similar stunts in the future.

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