Man Without Qualities

Friday, January 24, 2003

Ghostbusters VII: Jefferson Davis Haunts The White House

So often I find myself asking ... "Is this true? ... Or did I just read it in TIME?"

The TIME retraction of its ludicrous report of Jefferson Davis' ghost haunting the White House is at least admirably thorough. The magazine pretty much admits that it got every material fact completely wrong:

[T]he elder president Bush did not, as TIME reported, end the decades-old practice of the White House delivering a wreath to the Confederate Memorial; he changed the date on which the wreath is delivered from the day that some southern heritage groups commemorate Jefferson Davis's birthday to the federal Memorial Day holiday. Second, according to documents provided by the White House this week, the practice of delivering a wreath to the Confederate Memorial on Memorial Day continued under Bill Clinton as it does under George W. Bush.

But TIME does not address the big question: Why does TIME keep running these howling anti-Bush errors? What atmosphere of intellectual and journalistic corruption at TIME leads a reporter to write a completely false, high profile story that could have been checked out with a mere telephone call to Arlington Cemetery, should have included (but didn't) for-attribution interviews with knowledgeable representatives of both the George H.W. Bush and Clinton Administrations, and nevertheless passed both TIME's editorial and fact-checker reviews? Until these questions are thoroughly answered and remedial measures taken, it is clear that nobody should take TIME's reporting on national affairs seriously - especially stories that purport to embarrass the Administration. And nobody should think that such TIME stories have, in themselves, adequate credibility to serve as the basis of even a blog post, never mind a national column.

One might also ask what level of partisan frenzy must exist at other components of the liberal media blob - the New York Times, for example - that no effort was made to investigate this incorrect TIME story even though it was republished by Maureen Dowd.

TIME and some other parts of the liberal media establishment positively vied with each other to play Professor Venkman in this episode - an unfunny Ghostbusters VII pretending to be journalism.

And what is one to make of the inexplicably popular and often dishonest and sloppy Brad DeLong, who pompously accepted the TIME account without question while savaging Andrew Sullivan exactly for questioning it's consistency with the Republican agenda and beliefs (although falling for TIME's accuracy himself)? On his website the Good Professor intones "The peculiar thing, of course, is that it is Andrew Sullivan who spends his time hanging around Republican High Politicians, political operatives, and intellectuals. He ought to have much better insight into why they do the things they do than the rest of us." Yes, Professor, to you what Mr. Sullivan finds inexplicable is an "of course." But his website contains no caveat from him, even now, after days of much public doubt about the TIME story. The story is better than true - it advances Professor DeLong's agenda! I cannot locate the Sullivan piece, "AFTER THE LOTT DEBACLE," on his website - so perhaps it has been deleted. But neither do I find a correction of it, which is a major mistake on Mr. Sullivan's part - as was his originally accepting the TIME story at face value (a mistake Tom Maguire, for example, didn't make).

At least Josh Marshall has informed his readers that the story is fake - although Mr. Marshall had also merely embraced it. So has Atrios, although his naive question, "I'm not sure why some people have accused me of lacking credibility for daring to link to a Time story," is just sad, especially in light of TIME's treatment (by Michael Elliott) of Sandy Berger's discredited al Qaeda reprisal fairy tale . Atrios says he will continue to swallow whole pretty much anything TIME serves up as long as Michael Weisskopf didn't write it. As noted above, the questions here go way beyond Mr. Weisskopf - but at least Atrios has the integrity to tell his readers he will continue to play TIME's fool.

Is it a coincidence that both Atrios and Mr. Sullivan, who each played major roles in the prior Trent Lott mess, went rather badly off the rails on this one? Atrios, of course, is generally a major venue for the spread of all kinds of nutty left-wing fantasies - but his conjunction with Mr. Sullivan here is perhaps interesting.

UPDATE: Mr. Sullivan has now posted a correction - and also points out that he placed corrections earlier in the day in the Sun and Washington Times, and unlike Big Mo, he never asserted the truth of the TIME piece. He wondered out loud how it could be true. Mr. Sullivan's instincts on this matter were sound. He is a blogger and has the resources of a blogger - not a newspaper or a television network. He was clearly horrified by what he saw and just as clearly recognized how inconsistent the TIME piece was with Republican principles and practice.

LATE AFTERNOON UPDATE: Professor DeLong has, late in the afternoon on January 23, finally posted a correction: Looks like the original story wasn't true. I deserve it for relying on Andrew Sullivan for facts. Isn't that nice? None of that express admission of error and "Sorry to link to something that wasn't true" stuff that Mr. Sullivan wrote in his correction - even though he relied on TIME, too.

I particularly like the way the Good Professor constructs his "addendum" (His word - let us not say "correction." Professor DeLong never actually admits that he wrote anything that needs correction. A true Clinton Administration functionary! ) so that he can argue that it was a joke to blame Mr. Sullivan - even though he really is blaming Mr. Sullivan. But the Good Professor is a big boy - he relied on TIME, not Mr. Sullivan, and much more unquestioningly than did Mr. Sullivan.

Yes, indeed, Professor Krugman must be giving Professor DeLong style tips - they're now like two peas in a pod.

The "Addendum" post doesn't give its time.

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