By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Keeping the lie alive

Ramesh Ponnuru, writing for National Review Online, repeats a lie about Charles Pierce today. I’m calling it a lie because the essential untruth of this has long since been established, and because — something I didn’t know until today — Ponnuru had a hand, however slight, in creating this lie. [But wait! It wasn’t Ponnuru — it was Jonah Goldberg. See “Update and correction,” below.]

Anyway, the purported subject of Ponnuru’s item (at least I think it was Ponnuru; Jonah Goldberg’s name is slapped on this, too) is something Pierce wrote that established him as such a hopelessly out-of-touch liberal that he actually believed Ted Kennedy’s support for social problems more than negated his reprehensible behavior in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Imagine that. Only in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts! Here is Ponnuru’s item:

Ramesh: That reminds me of the winner of MRC’s wackiest comment award from 2004 (the year I was a presenter):

“Charles Pierce, Boston Globe Magazine:

” ‘If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.’ “

But hold on. The truth is that Pierce was employing irony in the service of a breathtakingly vicious putdown of Kennedy, in the midst of a profile that was far, far tougher than the Kennedys are accustomed to receiving in the Globe. Here is what I wrote at the time. As you will see, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, an honest conservative, accurately described what Pierce had written as a “paragraph of pure poison.” And a letter-writer to the Globe Magazine divined that Pierce had written “a savage attack” on Kennedy. (Fun fact: Mark Steyn didn’t get it. But of course.)

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center from completely misconstruing Pierce’s intent. Here is the MRC’s account of the award, complete with video I watched a little of before my computer choked (I’m not sure whether to attribute that to a bandwidth problem or good taste), in which Jonah Goldberg called Pierce’s line “one of the most metaphorically moronic observations ever penned by a journalist,” and joked about Pierce hanging out with Jim Morrison and Osama bin Laden.

From there it was a simple leap. Bernard Goldberg picked up the MRC’s award in his idiotic book “Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite.” (No, I haven’t read it, but I most definitely have read its predecessor, “Bias: A Media Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.” I am confident that “Arrogance” is more of the same.) And a lie was born — a lie that smears both Pierce and the Globe.

It lives on.

Update and correction: Anon. 5:04 has figured out what’s going on here, and my hat’s off to him (or her; and while I’m at it, I’m not wearing a hat). In the original National Review Online item, posted yesterday at 4:24 p.m., Jonah Goldberg was addressing Ramesh Ponnuru. So it was written by Goldberg, not Ponnuru. Then, at 5:27 p.m., Ponnuru wrote:

One of Lindgren’s commenters mentioned the Pierce quote, and another one responded that it had been taken out of context — and linked to this article by Pierce about the controversy. Not having read the original article, I’m inclined to take Pierce’s word on his intent.

So Ponnuru is blameless in this affair, and I’m sorry I doubted him, given that he’s struck me in the past as being pretty reasonable. For that matter, so has Goldberg (Jonah, that is; certainly not Bernie!). But Jonah’s way, way off on this, just as he was when he presented the “award” two years ago.

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  1. Steve

    In defense of Ponnuru (did I really just write that!?), he posts a later item, referencing Pierce’s article in TAP about this smear (and referencing Dan, bringing the loop full circle). Ponnuru’s conclusion: “Not having read the original article, I’m inclined to take Pierce’s word on his intent”, which I take as a conciliation of sorts.I won’t hold my breath waiting for Jonah to issue the same.

  2. Jerry

    Charlie’s only crime, if you can call it one, was to forget that irony – at which he is so good in his on-air appearances – often doesn’t work in print.

  3. Anonymous

    The post you quote is clearly posted by Jonah. The “Ramesh:” that somehow confused you is Jonah addressing Ramesh.Ramesh didn’t come clean. He tactfully corrected Jonah.You may to want to correct, or clairfy, or maybe even apologize.

  4. Anonymous

    Sounds like the truth is getting its boots on. But you can bet Goldberg & Goldberg & Bozell are half-way round the world, cashing checks as they go.

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