After Inlander reporter Daniel Walters wrote a story about Rep. Jenny Graham sharing Facebook posts linking to conspiracy theory websites, the Republican lawmaker left Walters an explicit and threatening minute-and-a-half voicemail, posted profanity toward Walters on Facebook and shared another site connected to conspiracy theories.
Shortly after publishing his story Aug. 27, Walters missed a call from Graham. He called back immediately, as Graham was leaving him a voicemail. When Graham answered, Walters asked whether there was anything factually incorrect in his story. “I wanted to get it corrected as quickly as possible,” Walters told The Spokesman-Review.
Graham did not point to anything specific. Then, the line disconnected, Walters wrote in a piece for the Inlander.
He checked his voicemail and found an angry message from Graham.
“You’ve done it,” she said in the voicemail. “You have started it. Don’t ever call me again. Do you understand? Don’t you ever – and you tell your buddies not to call me either. It’s on. If you think for one minute you’re going to pull this crap and you’re going to walk away from it, you’re nuts.”
Walters tried to call her back to have a conversation about what was wrong. He said he left her a voicemail and sent her a text message asking for a discussion, off the record if she wanted. His editor also tried calling her.
The Inlander still had not heard back as of Tuesday afternoon. Graham did not respond to The Spokesman-Review’s requests for comment Tuesday.
The original story about Graham’s sharing of conspiracy sites did not make any specific accusations that she was actively promoting conspiracies, Walters said. Graham told Walters she isn’t telling people to believe one way or the other, but that she does care about the issues from the articles she shared, such as vaccines and human trafficking.
In an 80-minute interview with Walters for his Aug. 27 story, Graham said she was unaware of the ties to conspiracy theories on those sites.
Graham shared several articles on Facebook from websites that published false information and promoted conspiracies from QAnon, a baseless far-right theory that President Donald Trump is secretly battling a network of powerful Satanic cannibal sex traffickers.
Walters told The Spokesman-Review there wasn’t anything he could tell was factually wrong. He said he double-checked all of his reporting, including screenshots from Graham’s Facebook page that link to stories tied to conspiracy theories.
In Walters’ story Monday, he included screenshots from Facebook posts and the voicemail, as well as a nearly 80-minute recording of his interview with Graham for the August story.
He said he’s trying to put all of his evidence out there so people can make decisions for themselves.
A Washington State Democrats press release that called the Republican Party under Trump the “Party of QAnon” mentioned Graham as an example, citing posts she has made regarding vaccines and the supposed ineffectiveness of masks.
In June, Graham shared a post that included a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci and featured conflicting statements about the previously used experimental coronavirus treatment drug hydroxychloroquine and a vaccine. The post was initially shared by a Facebook user in Alabama who has also shared articles from far-right news website Breitbart and memes critical of Democrats.
Facebook also flagged a post by Graham as “untrue” as it falsely claimed Fauci supported the use of the vaccine before clinical trials.
At the time, Graham said she only shared the post because she was concerned about vaccine promotion happening too quickly.
For the weeks that followed her phone call, Graham posted multiple times on Facebook about Walters, calling him “disgusting,” “hateful”, “sleazy” and a “lying piece of dung.”
The president has also been a vocal critic of the media. Since before he took office, he’s tweeted about “the fake news,” whose purported ranks he has also called “the enemy of the people.”
Graham’s opponent in the November election, Democrat Tom McGarry, said as an elected official, you are required to tell the truth.
These conspiracy theories are more than a distraction, McGarry said, especially during a pandemic.
“We don’t need people spinning wild and baselessly false conspiracy theories,” he said.
McGarry called Graham’s response to Walters “extremely troubling,” but he said he wasn’t surprised as the theories are consistent with Graham’s positions.
“Honestly, to use that type of language is unacceptable for anybody, but especially for an individual who is elected to office,” he said.
Graham also posted on Facebook that she was suing the Inlander for libel and slander.
Before Walters’ Aug. 27 story, he said his relationship with Graham was positive. She was a source he checked in with regularly. Minutes before the phone call, Walters said Graham was offering to help him find sources for another story.
“This was definitely a dramatic change,” he said.
Walters said the reason he felt Graham’s phone call was so newsworthy was the combination of profanity, threats and accusations that he lied.
Moving forward, he doesn’t know what their relationship will be. He has had experiences with other sources who have disliked a story he wrote, but they were able to have a conversation about it and move on.
Walters said his job is to continue to report the news no matter what.
“It’s not the job of a reporter to hold personal grudges,” he said. “It’s our job to continue to report without whitewashing anything of the past.”