Bari Weiss, James Bennet and the selective omission of relevant facts

I had a chance on Monday to listen to Brian Stelter’s CNN podcast with Bari Weiss, the semi-conservative journalist who left The New York Times over what she perceived as an overabundance of left-wing groupthink.

It was an interesting conversation. I agreed with some of what Weiss had to say and disagreed with some of it. But I was put off by the revisionist history she espoused about the resignation of James Bennet as editorial-page editor of The New York Times. Stelter didn’t push back. I will.

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Weiss offered up as fact the notion that Bennet was forced out of the Times in 2020 solely because he published an op-ed piece by Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, calling for military force to be used against Black Lives Matter protesters. She described a letter signed by Times staffers saying that Cotton’s op-ed put their lives in danger as “craziness.”

And yes, Bennet’s departure came shortly thereafter. But here are a few facts that neither Weiss nor Stelter brought up:

  • After Bennet defended Cotton’s op-ed, it was learned that he hadn’t even bothered to read it before it was published — an inexcusable dereliction of duty.
  • Shortly before the Times published Cotton’s op-ed, Cotton called for the government to give “no quarter” to looters. As The Bulwark, a conservative website pointed out, giving no quarter in military terms means to kill indiscriminately — a war crime. Cotton, a veteran, knows that. Unfortunately, neither Bennet nor any other Times editor asked Cotton to address that in his op-ed.
  • In late 2019, Times columnist Bret Stephens suggested that Ashkenazi Jews might be genetically more intelligent than other people. Bennet allowed him to clean it up unscathed, although Stephens did have to suffer the indignity of an Editor’s Note being appended to his column. As Politico media critic Jack Shafer wrote at the time, “The Times disavowal and re-edit (tellingly neither co-signed nor acknowledged by Stephens) was too little and too late — if you’re going to edit a piece, the smart move is to edit before it publishes.” That, ahem, would be Bennet’s job. Wonder if he read that one before it was published?
  • Sarah Palin has sued the Times for libel over a 2017 editorial in which Bennet personally added language suggesting that a map published by Palin’s PAC, festooned with crosshairs, incited the shooting that severely wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others. There is no evidence — none — that the mentally ill shooter ever even saw the map. The lawsuit is still pending.

In other words, the mishandled Tom Cotton op-ed was merely the last in a series of banana peels that Bennet stepped on. It’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did.

After leaving the Times, Weiss moved to Substack and started the newsletter Common Sense. She is currently in the process of hiring a team of opinion writers to create what she told Stelter will be “the op-ed page that I want to read.”

Well, if the selective omission of relevant facts is what she wants to read — and wants to publish — then  you can count me out.

Three quick thoughts about the Republican race

Flag of the Cayman Islands

Three quick observations about the state of the Republican presidential campaign:

• It’s been a very bad week for Mitt Romney. First came his peevish debate performance Monday night. Then came his admission that his tax rate is half that of ordinary Americans, followed by the revelation that he parks a great deal of his wealth in the Cayman Islands.

But one thing the media are unlikely to back down on is their insistence that he’s “two for two” going into Saturday’s South Carolina primary, even though we’ve known since Jan. 6 that Rick Santorum may have beaten him in the Iowa caucuses.

Now the Des Moines Register reports that the best numbers we’re ever going to get show Santorum ahead of Romney by 34 votes. Apparently the votes from eight precincts have been lost, so we’ll never know exactly who won.

Still, the media’s insistence that Romney had “won” Iowa by eight votes was never based on anything more than a provisional count that crumbled within hours. If it was all right to report that Romney won Iowa then, it’s certainly all right to say Santorum won Iowa now.

Does it matter? No. But it was the media that told us relentlessly and breathlessly for many months that it did matter. So surely it matters that Romney apparently came in a narrow second, eh?

• Will Fox News allow Sarah Palin to take part in its post-debate spin tonight now that she has essentially endorsed Newt Gingrich for president? Tune in and see.

• I thought it was crystal-clear that Gingrich was being racially provocative when he got into his food-stamp exchange with Juan Williams on Monday night, and I’m amazed by those who refuse to see it that way. So I was delighted to see this report from the road in today’s New York Times, which ends:

“I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place,’’ she said.

The audience burst into sustained applause.

Any questions? And don’t miss Charles Pierce: “What Newt Gingrich is doing down here is running a campaign that is pure George Corley Wallace, straight out of 1968 and 1972.”

Times lets Palin aide lie about gunsight map

The New York Times today fails to call a Sarah Palin spokeswoman on what has all the appearances of a flat-out lie.

In a story on the political fallout of the weekend carnage in Tucson that claimed the lives of six people and left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely injured, Times reporters Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg tell us that Palin adviser Rebecca Mansour denied that those were gunsights on Palin’s infamous map identifying House Democrats she had targeted for defeat. Zeleny and Rutenberg write of Mansour’s appearance on a conservative radio talk show:

Ms. Mansour said that the cross hairs, in fact, were not meant to be an allusion to guns, and agreed with her interviewer’s reference to them as “surveyors symbols.” Aides to Ms. Palin did not respond to interview requests on Sunday.

Yet we already knew otherwise on Sunday, as a Talking Points Memo reader dug up a tweet purportedly written by Palin herself referring to the map symbols in explicitly gun-oriented terms. Palin or her designated tweeter wrote:

Remember months ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)

And let’s not forget that those symbols turned red whenever one of the targeted Democrats went down — just like surveyors symbols, eh?

Few people are blaming Palin for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner, who has been charged with the Saturday shootings. Loughner appears to have been motivated by mental illness rather than politics. Still, Palin’s map was mind-blowingly irresponsible, as Giffords herself said some months ago. This should mark the end of Palin’s public career as anything other than a sideshow freak, much as Ann Coulter all but disappeared after she mocked 9/11 widows. Are the media really going to let Palin and her minions get away with this?

Traditional journalism is incredibly uncomfortable when given proof that someone is flat-out lying. But that’s no excuse for the Times’ ignoring the fact that there was already proof Mansour was lying — or, at best, was incredibly uninformed about her boss’ intentions.

Murder, politics and mental illness

Gabrielle Giffords

One day in 1993, when I was managing editor of the Boston Phoenix, I received a letter from a man named David Taber, who claimed that the CIA and his father had conspired to implant a computer chip in his brain so they could monitor his thoughts. Such letters are not as unusual as you might suppose; what made this one stand out was that it was well-written enough that it took me a couple of pages to realize the writer was mentally ill.

Not long after that, Taber showed up at the Phoenix, looking for me, in order to discuss when we might publish his letter. I couldn’t be found, and didn’t know about his visit until after a colleague had talked him into leaving.

And then, within a few weeks, Taber walked into an elementary school in the Southeastern Massachusetts town of Acushnet, took hostages and murdered the school nurse.* Unfortunately, I had discarded his letter.

It’s because of that experience — and, frankly, because of common sense — that I’m put off by those who are trying to politicize yesterday’s carnage in Arizona, which included the attempted murder of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Green.

The suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be very mentally ill. If you haven’t seen this video yet, take a look. I was especially struck by this Loughner statement: “I’m able to control every belief and religion by being the mind controller!” That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

Now, by no means do I want to let anyone off the hook. I was appalled to learn that Giffords’ district was among those targeted on Sarah Palin’s truly demented gunsight map. I hope yesterday will bring the whole Palin phenomenon to a long-overdue end. And I scarcely know where to begin with this piece of incendiary garbage.

As Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, careless rhetoric can have consequences. But that rhetoric did not create Jared Loughner. If he hadn’t gone after Congresswoman Giffords, he might have gunned down a school nurse instead.

*After posting this earlier today, I searched the Boston Globe’s archives and found a story published on April 17, 1993, that reported the details of Taber’s rampage in Acushnet. I’ve updated this post to include what I learned in that article.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Right complaint, wrong picture

palin_doll_20091119A number of critics, including Sarah Palin herself, are going after Newsweek for running a cover shot of her in a sexy running outfit. Palin calls it “sexist.”

I can’t get too worked up about it. Palin, after all, posed for the shot, which was originally intended for Runner’s World. (At Beat the Press, Ralph Ranalli writes that Newsweek may have violated Runner’s World’s exclusivity deal with the freelance photographer.)

But Palin and other critics have a legitimate complaint about Newsweek’s inside photos. I haven’t picked up a Newsweek in many months, but Media Matters has the pictures — a back-to image of Palin’s shapely legs, something she most definitely did not pose for; and a photo of what Media Matters accurately describes as a “Sarah Palin-as-a-slutty-schoolgirl doll.” The latter was used to illustrate a piece by Christopher Hitchens, who is almost as overexposed as Palin herself.

The treatment is further evidence of Newsweek’s plunge into irrelevance. The New York Times this week described the magazine as repositioning itself for a smaller, more intelligent news audience.

But with garbage like this, and with recent cover headlines like “Is Your Baby Racist?”, the only thing editor Jon Meacham seems to be repositioning his magazine for is rack space next to People and Us.

Sarah Palin quote of the day

From Sarah Palin’s Facebook page:

How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it’s about country.

Uh, huh. No doubt folks from the pro-American parts of the country will understand.

Another good day for Mitt Romney

Now that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s national ambitions are a thing of the past — left behind on the extreme southern stretch of the Appalachian Trail — it’s interesting to think about the number of up-and-coming Republican stars who’ve been taken off the board in the past year. Five (including Sanford) come quickly to mind.

Two — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — were damaged by their own party, pushed in front of the public long before they were ready. Hype-versus-reality questions aside, Palin and Jindal were routinely described as rising stars until, suddenly, they weren’t.

Jindal can certainly recover from his poor performance in delivering the Republican response to President Obama’s national address last February. All he has to do is not act like a dork the next time. But the arc of Palin’s post-running-mate political career has already been determined: hero to the right wing of her party; pariah to everyone else.

Sanford’s finished. So is Nevada Sen. John Ensign, although at least his sexual indiscretions do not include a secretive flight to Argentina. I must confess I’d barely heard of Ensign before learning that (1) he’d been unfaithful in his marriage and (2) he was a possible presidential candidate.

Finally, there is former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, chosen by Obama as his ambassador to China. Huntsman hasn’t been tainted (except possibly in the eyes of a few partisan Republicans), but he’s not going to challenge Obama in 2012.

As Rich Lowry observes at National Review (via Talking Points Memo), Mitt Romney may be the last candidate standing by the time the ’12 campaign rolls around in earnest.

William Ayers reconsidered

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the McCain-Palin campaign’s careless, ugly lies about Barack Obama and William Ayers did not merely smear Obama — they also smeared Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground movement in the 1960s.

There is no evidence that the Weather Underground ever killed or injured anyone other than themselves. For instance, despite what you may have heard, Katherine Ann Power and Susan Saxe, the radicals who were responsible for the 1970 death of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder, were not affiliated with the group.

Now, despite his McCarthyite tactics, John McCain has been welcomed back into polite society, while the Ayers family must content with death threats that Ayers himself says have only escalated since Election Day.

How the right went wrong

Brilliant essay in the Wall Street Journal on how conservatives squandered their authority by embracing know-nothing populism — culminating in their fatal embrace of Sarah Palin. Mark Lilla says of the right’s anti-intellectual intellectuals:

They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

You should definitely read the whole thing. (Via Hub Blog.)

Hoax doesn’t affect Palin story

A number of observers seem to misunderstand the meaning of the revelation that a man who claimed to be Carl Cameron’s source for some of his Sarah Palin dish has turned out to be a fraud.

Citing unnamed sources, Cameron reported on Fox News last week that Palin, among other things, didn’t know that Africa was a continent and couldn’t name the countries in NAFTA — or, for that matter, in North America.

Now I’m hearing that the exposure of the fake Martin Eisenstadt shows that Palin really isn’t that stupid. Except that this AP story, posted on the Fox News Web site, reports that Eisenstadt — or “Eisenstadt” — was not Cameron’s source, and that Fox is standing by Cameron’s story.

For what it’s worth, I never believed Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. But if you want to believe it, there’s no reason to stop now.