Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Journolist, Andrew Sullivam & Karma

"Corrupt" journolist members had more sense regarding Trig Palin "story" than Sullivan

Sometimes Andrew Sullivan gets things right.

In his book, The Conservative Soul, Sullivan was absolutely right when he posited that a healthy level of uncertainty should be considered central to conservatism -- a socratic breed of uncertainy that leads conservatives to question themselves on what they know and what they do not. This breeds a sense of humility seldom found in the ideological opponents of conservatism. (It's also too seldom found in conservative ideologues.)

Sullivan has very seldom been right outside the pages of his book.

He was right about something far more recently when described participants in Ezra Klein's Journolist message board as "corrupt".

"What's depressing is the way in which liberal journalists are not responding to events in order to find out the truth, but playing strategic games to cover or not cover events and controversies in order to win a media/political war," Sullivan wrote.

But the story has since turned even on Sullivan, as it can't help but rub his nose in the most devestating self-humiliation of his career.

The matter pertains to the story that Sullivan bought hook, line and sinker -- to the extent that he continues to occasionally harp on it even today. That story, is the bizarre conspiracy theory suggesting that Sarah Palin is not the real mother of Trig Palin.

The story was brought to the attention of Journolist by Business Week's Ryan Donmoyer.

Dylan Matthews -- the blogger known as Minipundit -- quickly responded to the story by declaring it to be non grata in terms of political strategy:
"Obama absolutely cannot touch this. Even if it’s true.

I think the press would justify covering it on the issue of trust, but for me it’s offensive that she would refuse to allow her daughter the choice. She has no business deciding what to make of that pregnancy. If her daughter wanted an abortion, it speaks very ill of Palin’s character to deny her the option.
Matthews gave the matter just enough consideration to consider that it may actually be true. Some Journolisters seemed prepared to believe the story. But Donmoyer himself was not. He later wrote:
"This is one hell of a whacky conspiracy theory and I too agree it’s probably best left alone. I do wonder, however, whether at least one authoritative piece ought to be done to try to put the issue to rest — not as a hit job on Palin so much as to counter something that has already rapidly and viciously spread on the Internet and will only go more viral. As long as it’s in the rumor stage it rivals the disinformation disseminated about Obama — and neither is useful for the
public discourse.
This healthy skepticism on Donmoyer's part unfortunately seems not to have lasted. He would continue in the thread to compile a list of reasons he thought it was more likely that Trig Palin was actually Bristol's son -- resting his case on his belief that it's more likely that a 17-year-old girl would give birth to a child with Down's syndrome than a 43-year-old woman conceiving without medical help.

Much more eager to embrace the conspiracy theory was Health Beat's Maggie Mahar. Dylan Matthews also seemed to have bought the sorry tale.

Perhaps the most disgusting response came from Mark Kleiman, of the website Reality-Based Community. "I see no upside for our side here," he wrote. "There’s plenty of other stuff to work on that won’t get her any sympathy at all and won’t risk damage to her innocent children/grandchild."

To Kleiman, the only reason not to report on the conspiracy theory was that it would provoke sympathy for Palin. One can easily posit that Kleiman's use of "children/grandchild" suggested that he may have believed the story -- or was at least prepared to.

These examples -- with the exception of Donmoyer's initial skepticism -- are actually outliers amongst the Journolist cabal. The bast majority of them either expressed outright disbelief in the story, or simply ignored it.

With the exception of the noted outliers -- as well as a few others -- the "corrupt" Journolist crowd, who even when addressing this issue seemed far more interested in harming Sarah Palin than in reporting a factual story, were able to figure out very quickly that promoting the Trig Palin conspiracy theory was a fool's errand.

But not Andrew Sullivan. Still not Andrew Sullivan. Scarcely a week passes on his Daily Dish blog where Sullivan doesn't dredge it up again.

One should consider it the karmic end of the Journolist scandal: that even as Andrew Sullivan scorns the Journolist participants, they demonstrate judgement far superior to his own.


  1. How about, before aspiring to Socratic uncertainty, learning to read? If you're going to quote from private correspondence, the least you could do is to try to quote accurately. The speculation about the circumstances of Trig Palin's birth damaged Sarah Palin's child, Bristol, and her grandchild, Trig. That seemed to me a good reason to leave the story alone.

    "Assholery" is seems like a good label. Having achieved self-knowledge, try next for self-improvement.

  2. It seems to me, judging from your comments, that it appeared to be the only reason you left this story alone.

    It seems to me, judging from your comments, that if you could have convinced yourself that Sarah Palin would be the only one hurt by this story, you would have rather gleefully ran with it -- seing as how one of the discriminating factors you cited was whether or not this story would provoke sympathy for her.

    I mean, let's face it, buddy: these are your words, not mine.


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