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Monday, June 26, 2006

An apology


Steve Gilliard claims that he did not write the email I attributed to him in this post. After doing some further investigating, I'm afraid to say that he is correct. He did not write that email. I apologize to Gilliard for not checking with him before publishing my post, and I regret the error.

Here's how the error happened: A source forwarded The New Republic three emails purportedly written by members of the "Townhouse" list--Glenn Greenwald, Mike Stark, and Steve Gilliard--expressing concern about the Armstrong-SEC story. The emails lacked timestamps and headers, so TNR checked the emails with two other sources who belonged to "Townhouse." Both of these sources vouched for the authenticity of all three emails (and two of the emails, Greenwald's and Stark's, are indisputably authentic). After returning to these two sources this weekend, TNR learned that when initially shown the three emails, both sources immediately recognized the 181-word Greenwald email and the 389-word Stark email; having determined that those two emails were authentic, the sources just assumed the 22-word Gilliard email was authentic, as well. We now know it wasn't. These were clearly honest mistakes on the parts of the second and third sources; and TNR has been unable to determine why the first source--who has not responded to messages--included this one piece of incorrect information along with the accurate information the source sent us. Therefore, I won't abide by Glenn Greenwald's demand to disclose the identities of these sources. If Greenwald thinks that makes me, as he's hyperventilated, "a new Stephen Glass," then he can take that up with my editor Frank Foer, who knows the identities of the sources and has reviewed all the relevant materials they provided.

I believe that this error is of a relatively minor nature--I did not, as Matt Stoller has maliciously alleged, "fabricate" anything--but any error is of course unacceptable. I sincerely regret not checking with Gilliard before quoting his purported words, not only because this was unfair to Gilliard--who has behaved more responsibly than anyone involved in this particular matter, myself included--but because the mistake that resulted from this failure has allowed Greenwald and others to try to use this minor error to distract people from much larger issues. Those issues are: Armstrong's troubles with the SEC; Armstrong's relationship with Moulitsas and Moulitsas's pattern of supporting politicians who hire Armstrong as a consultant; Moulitsas's attempts to silence liberal bloggers from commenting on these matters; the seeming acquiescence of so many of these liberal bloggers (including Greenwald) to Moulitsas's demands; and now, strangely, stuff like this.

--Jason Zengerle

I don't think Zengerle has handled this well, and this grudging article tries to minimize the gross error he has committed.

I don't think this is a minor error, nor does Frank Foer. Zengerle attributed to me words I have no record writing and is still protecting a source who sent him an e-mail which cannot be verified. He admits that he doesn't have have the headers to the e-mails he was sent from the list and then gracelessly raises the same issues for which he has relied upon on at least
one unverifivable e-mail for.

What I would have liked to see is an admission that his refusal to actually consult with anyone he quoted was a fundamental mistake. His first reply to me snottily suggested that I didn't know anything about journalism for wondering why he quoted my words to a private e-mail list.

Well, I stayed awake when my journalism advisor discussed these things at my college paper and in class. I paid attention to the idea that you confirmed quotes when you didn't hear them personally. I also learned that fairness was an objective goal. So before quoting me, it would have served us all well to make sure those were my words.

Matt Stoller may be wrong in accusing you of making up my words, but you are still protecting a source who clearly sent you a doctored e-mail. So until that person is revealed, he can, like Zengerle, assume facts not in evidence.

Glenn Greenwald isn't the only one demanding that you reveal your source for my e-mail. As I have said in private comunications with the TNR editors, I want the chance to compare that e-mail to any I may have written. I fully expect that unreliable and probably dishonest source be revealed, expediciously .

I do not do this lightly. I was taught as a teenager that one protected sources at all cost, even going to jail. Myron Farber was a collegue of many of my professors, so this was taken seriously, even in class. Sources need to be protected, as I do and many other bloggers do. But not dishonest and mailicious ones.

But until the person who lied to the the New Republic is exposed,this apology is hollow. This person thought they were defaming me by using words I have no record of writing. They refuse to answer questions from Zengerle, and now I expect, Frank Foer. This clearly reeks of malice to imply, falsely, that I said something I didn't. To continue to protect this source serves as an ongoing wrong to me.

And I'm sorry, I don't think this is minor or a disraction. I find it unseemly to attempt to defend yourself after commiting a major breach of journalistic ethics by repeating the unproven charges which landed us here in the first place. This stoppped being about Kos the minute TNR published an e-mail which they cannot confirm coming to me.

Then it became about their ethics and practices.

All of the questions Zengerle has are legitimate, but he should do some reporting and talk to people about them, not just sit back and draw conclusions from purloined and now unverifiable e-mails.

Do I agree with TNR? No. I don't even agree with all the conclusiuons in Frank Foer's soccer book, which I liked. But I have tried to treat them fairly in all this, because that is the way to handle such matters.

Again, and I will be e-mailing Foer with the same request: I fully expect TNR to reveal the source of the e-mail I was quoted from and in a timely manner.

posted by Steve @ 3:45:00 AM

3:45:00 AM

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