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Saturday, June 24, 2006

About e-mails.

Time to fight boys

In the ongoing pigfight between the blogs and the New Republic, Glenn Greenwald wrote the following post

Does The New Republic have a new Stephen Glass in Jason Zengerle?

Over the last few days, Jason Zengerle of The New Republic has been engaged in a bizarre crusade to depict "liberal bloggers" as a bunch of mindless, obedient zombies who take orders about what to write from Markos Moulitsas, all in order to ensure that they can continue to enjoy the great financial wealth lavished upon them by virtue of their participation in the "Advertise Liberally" network, which Markos founded but does not operate. To prove this "point," Zengerle published what he purported to be various e-mails regarding recent accusations against Jerome Armstrong, which Zengerle claimed were sent to the "Townhouse" Google group -- comprised of 300 or so journalists, political operatives, bloggers, advocacy organizations, and others designed to facilitate communication between these usually isolated groups. To the extent the "substance" of Zengerle's accusations are worth responding to, Ezra Klein and Max Sawicky (among many) have done so quite thoroughly, respectively here and here.

But in spinning his laughable conspiracy, Zengerle published -- based on what Zengerle said was "three sources" -- what appears to be a completely fabricated e-mail, which Zengerle falsely claimed was sent to the "Townhouse" list by blogger Steve Gilliard. Yesterday, Zengerle wrote:

At the risk of engendering more charges that I'm violating the off-the-record nature of "Townhouse" (which, by the way, I'm not, since I am not a member of "Townhouse" and therefore am not bound by any off-the-record agreements, in the same way that any reporter who's leaked "confidential" documents is not bound to protect their confidentiality), let me reprint some of the e-mails that were going to the "Townhouse" list, according to three sources, before Kos sent out the e-mail I quoted in my original post on this topic. . . .

Also on the same day [June 18], the blogger Steve Gilliard wrote to the "Townhouse" list:

I dont see how this can be ignored. We should all write in defense of this once we know the facts. Jerome?

That e-mail is completely fictitious. Gilliard never sent any such thing to the Townhouse list, nor did anyone else do so. Nor, according to Gilliard, did he ever write any such e-mail at all, to Townhouse or anyone else. Zengerle caused The New Republic to print a completely fabricated e-mail and then falsely attribute it as one Gilliard sent to the Townhouse list. How and why did that happen?

Only problem: I have no record of sending such an e-mail to the Townhouse list, Kos, Armstrong, who did not participate in any of the discussions, or anyone else. I didn't send any e-mail with that phrase at all. There's a similar phrase sent to Hubris Sonic a month before on an entirely different topic, and the Greenwald e-mail

To be fair, I told Glenn I disagreed with the characterization of it being false, because I may have express some kind of sentiment close to that. The issue to me is not that Zengerle created it out of whole cloth, but if he got it from a source that he was too lazy and sloppy to confirm it with me. Let me be clear, I didn't deny writing the e-mail. I said that I had no record of writing such an e-mail with that phrase, to the list on that day.

I told Zengerle the same thing and that he needs to provide the provenance of the e-mail so I can confirm or deny it. If it turns out I didn't write those words, I'm going to write Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic and demand a retraction and an apology.

I write thousands of words a day between e-mails, IM, posts and comments. It is easy to lose a phrase or e-mail in that, which I why I can't call it a fabrication. It may be taken from another e-mail, or a post, but I cannot find those words in my mailbox

This means he needs to provide me with the entire e-mail in context.

Now, I could have claimed to have not written it, and then say I forgot if it came up, but I'm not going to play that way. I was taught journalistic ethics at NYU, and I still practice them. I told Zengerle I couldn't find the words, and that Greenwald had a piece up, because I'm not going to sandbag anyone, I'm not going to make shit up and I'm not going to leave anyone unable to respond. Greenwald is unable to post now, so I may not hear from him until tomorrow

Why? Because unlike the New Republic, I'm not going to take cheap shots. I can treat them fairly, ethically and responsibly because that's what I have always done.

Zengerle sent me a list of questions, which I will answer publicly when this is resolved. After all, with a massive breach of journalism ethics in the air, I need a resolution before answering any of his questions.

But even if Greenwald goes farther than I would, the question remains why didn't Zengerle do any interviews for his pieces. Why didn't he extend the basic journalism courtesy of asking if these were my words and if they were sending to the Townhouse list? I mean that's basic shit, Reporting I stuff.

The whole TNR jihad has bordered on reckless. Accusations based on e-mails and assumptions, not even the courtesy of an interview or even an e-mail, all to prove that the left blogs are Kos's slaves.

I don't think anyone at TNR has met Kos. Because if they did, they would probably like him. Yeah, he has his politics, but on a personal level, he's a really sweet, considerate guy. He was at the DMI benefit being honored last night, which Jen and I and a bunch of other bloggers attended. We were filled with booze and tiny bits of food. But Kos was gracious, funny, and especially nice to Jen.

If you wanted someone to give orders, he's not the guy. He's much quieter than Matt Stoller, Big Media Matt, Tom Mazzie, Chris Bowers or a bunch of other people I've met. He can make a case, but he's not bullying anyone. And the traditional media makes a massive mistake in trying to turn him into some kind of villain. He's a freaking vegan, I mean, that's a pretty hefty set of ethics to live by. The idea of him being on the make is a joke, a cheap attack.

Now, some people may wonder why I didn't hammer Zengerle up and down the blog and call him a bald faced liar.

Let me explain something: presenting something false as something real and attributed to a person is a firing offense. This is not a game, if he was misled by a source; he deserves the chance to prove it. If he just pulled it out of his ass, I expect Frank Foer to fire him

Because this would be the third major breach of ethics for TNR. Before I lead a charge to ruin a life, I need evidence I was done a wrong, and I can't say that exists yet. It may not. It may.

But as of now, I can't say either way.

That doesn't mean I am not appalled at the sloppy, underhanded and unprofessional way this was handled. If you are going to accuse people of being corrupt, they need a chance to respond. If you're going to quote me, and imply something, you need to ask me what I meant. This all could and should have been done.

And it wasn't.

posted by Steve @ 5:03:00 AM

5:03:00 AM

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