Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention was breathtakingly dishonest, even by the extremely loose standards of honesty practiced by our politicians. The Wisconsin Republican Congressman, hailed often as a "straight shooter" by the media because of his budget plan, lied about that plan and other significant matters to the assembled delegates and the millions watching on TV.
No lie was more brazen than the one he told about the GM auto plant that closed in his Janesville hometown.
Ryan said, "A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you ... this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day."
The plant closed in December 2008 while George W. Bush was president. President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, so he was in no position to do anything to save a plant whose closure was announced in June of the preceding year. One person who was in a position to do something to about it was Ryan, who has represented Janesville in Congress for 13 years.
Another lie Ryan told was about the Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
Ryan said of Obama, "He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing."
The Congressman was one of the 18 members of that commission. The Simpson-Bowles report proposed spending cuts and a U.S. tax code overhaul that would cut $4 trillion from federal budget deficits by 2020. The plan was a politically courageous effort with pain for both Republicans and Democrats that needed 14 yes votes to be officially recommended to Congress.
Ryan, who faulted Obama last night for ignoring that "urgent report," was one of seven who voted to kill it. He blamed Obama for taking no action on a deficit-reduction plan he helped fail.
Ryan's third lie was about Medicare, the health program for seniors that he wants to replace in the future with vouchers.
Ryan said, "And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. ... So they just took it all away from Medicare. $716 billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama."
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan incorporated the same $716 billion in Medicare cuts into two budgets he guided through the House. He used the money, which does not affect Medicare recipients directly, to achieve deficit reduction. Even better, if Ryan's voucher plan becomes law, it will cut far more from Medicare than the $716 billion in cuts he called the "coldest power play of all." If future retirees get a fixed payment and are forced to shop for health coverage among private insurance plans, any cost-of-care increases will be borne by those seniors instead of the federal government.
When he was selected as Mitt Romney's running mate, Ryan was perceived as a serious politician who had tackled hard issues with sober, tough proposals. His presence in the presidential race would elevate the tone, pundits anticipated.
Instead, he's setting a pathological new standard for falsehood that challenges the media's aversion to calling anything a lie.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said last night after Ryan's speech, "I marked at least seven or eight points I'm sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute."
Blitzer didn't identify any of those factually dubious points. "He delivered a powerful speech," Blitzer said. "A powerful speech."
I'm a big fan of Josh Marshall's political reporting at Talking Points Memo, but he makes a rookie mistake in a reader email he quotes this morning. MB, a regular correspondent on Wall Street matters, offers this bit of advice to Marshall:
I know you raised some money from Marc Andreesen. I would bet Marc's fund and Bain Capital have some investor overlap. I'm sure you've already made that call, but I bet that Marc has no love lost for Romney as Marc is truly in the "job creation" business whereas Romney is a "financial engineer/takeover artist." Also, the more recent Bain funds have not performed as well as they did when Romney was there (but are still successful). Bain charges some of the highest fees to investors in the industry (in part because of their track record of success under Romney). I wonder if you dug around you could find a disgruntled limited partner or two in the Bain funds who'd be willing to be your [source] on this issue or on the industry in general.
This seems like a pretty good suggestion. If more people at Bain would be privy to knowledge about Romney's taxes than just his accountants, the chances of finding one of them to confirm or deny Sen. Harry Reid's allegation are greater. Marshall's relationship with TPM investors gives him some phones to work in pursuit of the story.
But what happens in the next three months if Talking Points Memo breaks a huge scoop from an undisclosed source with inside knowledge of Bain?
Everyone's going to think it was Marc Andreesen -- or someone Andreesen told Marshall to call.
Marshall has managed to burn a source who didn't even tell him anything yet.
I love the smell of democratic governance in the morning.
I'm back in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and their aides as part of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Long Tail Fly-In. Around 50 web publishers have paid our own way to come to D.C. to explain how Google AdSense and other contextual ad networks power small businesses.
This is my third year attending the event. We spend one day talking shop about web publishing and learning about new web privacy legislation, then spend the next marching around the halls of Congress to explain that some of that legislation will kill our businesses and force us to return to a life of crime -- or whatever it was we did before the web came along.
(I was in the newspaper business. Don't make me go back there!)
When I was interviewed by AdWeek about the event, I tried basically the same approach on the reporter I'll be using on Rep. ToBeDetermined and Sen. NotSureYet. I've been publishing on the web since 1995 and ran sites before AdSense came along. Ads were completely untargeted, aggravated users because they didn't relate to their interests and didn't earn squat. Now, with ads that use anonymous cookies to learn some demographics about the audience, I've been able to publish the Drudge Retort for eight years.
I could not afford to do that without this ad model, given server hosting costs of around $7,400 a year on a site that gets two million hits a month. AdSense helped my blogging hobby get completely out of hand and turn into a small business. (Some of the Retort's conservative users believe that this experience in bidness will turn me Republican. I have thus far avoided that fate.)
I'll have more to say about the privacy concerns and the pending legislation this week, after I hear from the main policy wonk at the IAB. The biggest issue is likely to be the browser do-not-track header, which Microsoft is turning on by default in Internet Explorer 10.
There are over a million people using contextual ads to fund full- or part-time businesses. Google has paid $30 billion to AdSense publishers in the decade since the service began. Even during the worst of the 2008 economic crash, ad-supported online sites were a part of the economy that was growing.
As one of the only political bloggers who attends this event, I talk on Capitol Hill about the thousands of independent news sites and blogs that fund themselves through this model. You can publish a commercial news site or blog today and be beholden to no one.
I worry sometimes that the thought of getting rid of bloggers will be viewed as a plus by some members of Congress.
Last year, our efforts were unfortunately timed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up on the same day to address a joint session of Congress, and the members all decided to hear him speak instead of us. I did get to wave to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) as she left her office, but was unable to convey the importance of contextual advertising through a hand gesture.
Conservative media activist Andrew Breitbart died March 1 of "heart failure and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with focal coronary atherosclerosis," the Los Angeles Coroner's Office revealed Friday afternoon.
"No prescription or illicit drugs were detected," the office announced in a press release.
Breitbart had spent two hours that evening at the Brentwood Restaurant in LA's Brentwood district and had drunk some alcohol but "he wasn't drinking excessively," Arthur Sando, a marketing executive he met there for the first time that night, said in an account to Hollywood Reporter.
The coroner's office said Breitbart's blood alcohol content was .04 percent.
He was pronounced dead at UCLA Medical Center at 12:19 a.m. March 1 after being seen by witnesses collapsing on a public street. Media reports have conflicted about where Breitbart was when he was stricken.
After leaving the restaurant sometime around 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 29, Breitbart crossed the street and fell down in front of the Starbucks coffee shop in the vicinity of 148 S. Barrington Avenue.
Paul Huebl, a detective and former Chicago police officer, wrote on his crime news blog March 2 that he went to the scene and interviewed an eyewitness who had seen Breitbart collapse. The man, Christopher Lasseter, told him he was walking his dog after midnight when he saw Breitbart cross the street. Huebl wrote, "Once Breitbart stepped up on the curb, as Lasseter put it, 'He fell hard like a sack of potatoes.'"
Huebl wrote that he sold video of his interview with Lasseter to TMZ.Com. The photos he published on his blog match the location confirmed by the coroner's office as the place that Breitbart collapsed.
"I know Christopher was actually there because I asked him to describe Breitbart's clothing and he did so accurately down to his Converse tennis shoes," Huebl told me Friday in an email. "Christopher did not seem to know who Breitbart was other than that he was somebody who seemed important because of the media attention."
Though Huebl and others have speculated that Breitbart could have been murdered, the coroner's office dismissed the notion. "No significant trauma was present and foul play is not suspected," it stated in the press release.
A final coroner's report will be available within two weeks.
Thursday morning shortly after midnight, the conservative media provocateur Andrew Breitbart collapsed while walking his neighborhood in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. He could not be revived at a hospital and died, exactly one month after his 43rd birthday. My condolences go out to his wife Susie (the daughter of the actor Orson Bean), his four kids and the many friends he had in public and private life.
As publisher of the Drudge Retort, I've followed Breitbart's career going back to the days when he was doing half the work on the Drudge Report and getting none of the credit. Matt Drudge liked the mystique of the I-work-alone myth, and stories would be written that mentioned he had a collaborator without naming the guy. It was Breitbart, who had befriended Drudge and operated a legal defense fund for him after Clinton White House aide Sidney Blumenthal sued Drudge for libel.
When Breitbart was still working at the Drudge Report in May 2001, I caught the site fabricating a source. In a story slamming the New York Times for being slow to cover Blumenthal settling his suit, the following paragraph appeared:
"What the NEW YORK TIMES is doing with its sin of omission is no doubt a form of libel of its own, corporate news slander of the highest degree," said Professor Emeritus Andrew Breitbart of the Cashmere Institute of Media Studies.
That institute was fake. Cashmere was a reference to the street he lived on at the time. Breitbart had quoted himself in an article he reported.
Four years later, when he helped launch Huffington Post, I sent the site an email congratulating him on the launch and asking if he brought Drudge's siren with him.
Breitbart replied back, "No, I left it at the Cashmere Institute for Media Studies."
After watching him rise up from anonymous Drudge lackey to infamous journalism mogul, I could never figure out why Breitbart sounded so angry all the time. He operated in a constant state of rage that seemed bigger than politics. He was still bearing a grudge, as a middle-aged man, against a high school principal he believed had turned other kids against him, he told the New York Observer in 2009. He once ruined a date with his wife at a Santa Monica restaurant by flipping off a procession of anti-war protesters, only to learn later that they were actually protesting the conscription of child soldiers in Africa.
Breitbart cultivated liberal enemies all day long on Twitter, like he was afraid they might lose interest and start hating somebody else.
Today, a link was shared with me that provided some insight into his personality -- a Usenet post he made in 1995 to the online discussion group alt.support.attn-deficit:
Two weeks ago, I was clinically diagnosed with ADHD; the psychologist stated that the diagnosis was a "no-brainer" after just one meeting, one in which I rambled semi-coherently and excitedly about my life. MY FAVORITE SUBJECT!!!!!!!! ...
I feel my condition is well worse than those I read about. I do not take much joy from this distinction, but true concentation is simply not an option, ever. ...
Ironically, I am not depressed by my myriad of symptoms of ADHD. I love myself -- maybe too much. I love TV, radio, the news, books, movies, coffee, etc. The problem is -- jobs, occupation maintanence, and conforming to the work standards of others is a bit hard with my dependencies that obviously conflict with workplace norms.
Breitbart never had to worry about workplace norms. His plate-spinner personality was perfectly suited to this media age. Last year, I posted on Twitter that "Andrew Breitbart's baked expression on the cover of his new book explains a lot." He retweeted it within minutes.
As much as I hated what he was doing to politics and journalism, I would have liked much more time to make that case in the years to come. At the GOP presidential debate in Jacksonville I covered last month, two seats were reserved on my row at the media center for Breitbart.Com. I walked over a few times to see if he'd turn up in one of them, but unfortunately nobody showed. He was a nemesis I wanted to meet.
Credit: The photo was taken by Gage Skidmore and is available under a Creative Commons license.
I was granted media credentials by CNN to report on the GOP presidential debate last night in Jacksonville for the Drudge Retort, the first time I've had the opportunity to cover a debate. The University of North Florida squeezed around 400 journalists into a campus ballroom, putting online media together in one corner. I was sandwiched between the Huffington Post and The Guardian.
A misprint on a sign led the British journalist Toby Harnden to think that Matt Drudge had come up from Miami to attend. When Harnden came over looking for the international newsman of mystery, I had to break it to him that instead of Drudge, he'd found me. He did not mask his disappointment.
The debate began with the National Anthem, which inspired only one in four of the journalists around me to stand up, though some of them were foreigners and are thus excused. A woman down my row from the conservative American Spectator rocketed out of her seat with patriotic super-speed.
During the debate, the second-loudest laugh was when Newt Gingrich began answering Wolf Blitzer's praise-your-wife question by complimenting the other candidates' ladyfolk instead. "I think all three of the wives represented here would be terrific first ladies," he said. The guy can't help himself. He just likes wives.
The loudest laugh was in the final answer of the night, when Gingrich referred to Saul Alinsky. Journalists laughed so hard at the mention of the name you'd think a drinking game was going on.
After the debate, I walked one floor downstairs to the spin room, where each candidate sent spin doctors to explain how his guy just mopped the floor with those other no-hopers. The first to arrive was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, sporting an impeccably tailored suit and a Mitt Romney lapel button to identify his allegiance. The reporters crowded 20 deep around him, and I quickly found myself experiencing body contact that's a sin to Rick Santorum.
I retreated to the peaceful solitude around Ron Paul's spinmeister, his national press secretary Gary Howard. I asked him this: The University of Chicago asked 37 economists if it was a good idea to return to the gold standard. All 37 said no. If returning to the gold standard is such a good idea, why is it that no mainstream economists agree with Rep. Paul?
Howard challenged me to identify the economists. "I need to know who these economists are," he said. "They could all be Keynesians."
Another reporter asked Howard how Paul, the leading vote-getter among Republicans under 30 despite being the oldest candidate in the race, had so successfully targeted young voters.
"I think they targeted us," Howard replied.
After asking questions of Bill McCollum and J.C. Watts, I approached Fred Thompson but something he was asked by another journalist caused him to skeedaddle. A reporter for Mother Jones blogged, perhaps jokingly, "I asked Thompson to speak about Gingrich's stance on the regulation of reverse-mortgages. He didn't respond."
A lot of the media kept asking process questions -- "how'd your guy do?", "will he win Florida?", "will he drop out if he doesn't?", blah blah blah -- so I stuck to issues.
The crowd thinned around Pawlenty, so I asked him about Lynn Frazier, the Jacksonville woman who had lost her job and could not afford health benefits. I thought this was the best question in the debate and the least adequately answered. The Republicans running for the White House love to talk about repealing President Obama's health reform but aren't saying much about what they'd do afterward for the 1-in-6 Americans who are uninsured. Frazier explained her circumstances and asked the candidates, "What type of hope can you promise me and others in my position?" The responses she received didn't offer anything more concrete than getting a tax deduction on purchasing insurance for herself as an individual. Paul's answer was particularly bleak. "Well, it's a tragedy because this is a consequence of the government being involved in medicine since 1965." I guess the uninsured need a time machine.
When I asked Pawlenty if Frazier should be happy with the answers she received, he said yes because Romney will bring down the costs of health insurance as president. "We need to make health insurance more affordable," he said, mentioning the tax deduction again.
I followed up by asking about people who can't obtain insurance at any price because of pre-existing conditions, one of the main problems addressed by Obama.
He replied, "Mitt Romney will be making it so people aren't excluded by pre-existing conditions."
After this, I horned in on a conversation Bay Buchanan was having about Newt Gingrich's body language during the debate. The first time Romney took shots at Gingrich, he stared daggers at him and Gingrich wouldn't make eye contact. After watching Gingrich silently debate his own shoes while Romney scolded him, I thought it was going to be a long night for the Speaker.
"That was extremely weird," said Buchanan, who is way hotter than her brother Pat.
When around 45 minutes had passed, the last of the spin doctors all left, like people at a family gathering who realize if they stay any longer they'll be asked to help clean up.
A reader to National Review Online says that he became a conservative because of how his fellow college students at Kent State University responded to President Reagan's shooting:
I came back to my dorm to see the TV lounges filled with students fervently wishing for the president not to survive the surgery. The worst of will was being expressed toward "Ronnie Ray-gun," to use just one of the epithets.
Right then, I knew that, whatever side I belonged on, it wasn't the one where people were wishing for the death of the democratically elected president. For the first time, I started to pay real attention to American politics, and to investigate what American conservatism really was.
I don't comment often on right-wing sites, but I made an exception here because conversion stories like this one always seem a bit ridiculous to me. I was 13 when Reagan was shot in March 1981 and vividly recall following the news at my grandmother's house after Frank Reynolds of ABC broke in with a bulletin during One Life to Live . I deplore the sentiments of people who wanted the president to die.
But as I asked on NRO, does the reader not recognize the same irrational hatred directed at President Obama today on the right that was directed at Reagan back then on the left?
The nine responses I've received answer my question. None of them thinks Obama is hated today the way Reagan was hated back then. As one person stated, "Death wishes for political opponents is something that's almost entirely confined to the left."
I'm a save-the-abortion-rights-of-gay-whales liberal, but I would never make a statement as blinkered as that against conservatives. One of the most foolish things in politics is the belief that your side is reasonable and fair while the other side engages in all of the bad acts. There are numerous examples of Obama hatred today as rabid as the Reagan haters in college who converted the reader to conservatism. There will be plenty of jerks who wish death on the next elected president, too. These folks are easier to find today than in 1981 -- just read any newspaper's poorly policed comment section or the feedback on rabid political blogs.
Left vs. right isn't the only meaningful divide in our politics. There's also ragemonkeys vs. everybody else. If the formative moment in the establishment of your ideological beliefs is the time you heard repugnant things said about the current president, you're just as likely to have become a liberal as a conservative. It just depends on when you heard them.
1: If anyone knows what Brad Vernon told his sister Samantha about Asa Buchanan's late wife Olympia, let me know.
The New York Post is running a story today about Stacy Hessler, a 38-year-old Florida mom who's gone from her family while she takes part in the Occupy Wall Street protests at Zucotti Park. Hessler is raising four children at home with her husband in DeLand, Fl., but she came to New York City to join the protests on Oct. 9 and has no plans to leave:
I have no idea what the future holds, but I'm here indefinitely. Forever. ... Military people leave their families all the time, so why should I feel bad? I'm fighting for a better world.
The story makes it sound like she's just ditching her family, especially the nudge-nudge part about "keeping herself warm at night" in a tent with a male protester. The right winger Jonah Goldberg calls her mom of the year on National Review Online. When I read the Post story this morning, I used snap judgment skills honed in a decade of blogging to conclude that momma's getting her freak flag on.
But her Facebook wall tells a different story. She's extremely involved in her childrens' schools and sports and has posted hundreds of photos of the kids engaged in family outings. Hessler made this post when she decided to turn her week-long stay into something longer:
I have a plea for my friends. I need your help and support. I want to stay occupying wall st. I feel my presence is very important in the support of non-violent communication and sanitation(keeping the park clean) I am willing to work tirelessly on these efforts. I need help with getting my kids to activities and stepping up with the things I help lead, such as one small village, jr roller derby, bee-attitudes, 4H, for his glory co-op. Please respond if you are willing to help my kids so I can stay here and help this movement. I have a train ticket for tomorrow that I want to change but I need to know I have support from my community back home for my family in order to change the ticket.
No less than 12 of her friends are offering to help out. Sound like a bad mom to you? As Hessler's story is fed into the media sausage mill, I hope some reporters do a much better job telling it than Kevin Fasick and Bob Fredericks in the Post.
I've had a mixed history with author Joe McGinniss. His true-crime book Cruel Doubt was a laughably bad attempt to blame Dungeons & Dragons for a 1988 murder. His soccer book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro may be the best sports book I've ever read.
McGinniss has a biography of Sarah Palin coming out in the fall. I was looking forward to it, since his move-next-door stunt reminds me of funny things he did in Castel di Sangro. But I'm looking forward to it less after reading this paragraph from his Palin book, which he shared on his blog:
Sarah Palin practices politics as lap dance, and we're the suckers who pay the price. Members of our jaded national press corps eagerly stuff hundred dollar bills into her g-string, even as they wink at one another to show that they don't take her seriously.
That's a lot of sexist awfulness packed into 45 words.
In the din of voices casting judgment on Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) for having consensual extramarital cybersex with six women, none of whom have complained that they were harassed or offended, a few people in the media share my complete lack of outrage over his sex life.
For my part I couldn't care less what sort of pictures or messages Weiner has been sending around the Net, and it's an imposition to be required to care; to be unable to avoid the topic. I find that I have no interest in Congressman Anthony Weiner's sex life or virtual sex life whatsoever. And I've heard enough tearful on-camera contrition to last me the rest of my life. I don't want to hear Weiner's apology. It's got nothing to do with me, tells me nothing I want to know; the cable news media, conservative and liberal, would do the public a favor if they would agreed to a blanket tearful-apologies ban effective this instant.
There are few things more sickening -- or revealing -- to behold than a D.C. sex scandal. Huge numbers of people prance around flamboyantly condemning behavior in which they themselves routinely engage. Media stars contrive all sorts of high-minded justifications for luxuriating in every last dirty detail, when nothing is more obvious than that their only real interest is vicarious titillation.
On MSNBC, the cable-news "home page" of my political tribe, one commentator said that one of the things Weinergate shows is that powerful politicians assume they can get away with things that regular people can't. If they do assume that, they’re wrong. It would be more accurate to say that they can't get away with things that regular people can. Look around you. Consider your friends, your work colleagues, your relatives, maybe even yourself. It's likely that a nontrivial proportion of them have some sexual secret (at least they think it's a secret) in their lives.
As far as I can tell -- we've all got a depressingly big sample size -- a politician's sexual fidelity in marriage, or his sexual behavior generally, doesn't reliably tell us anything about the integrity he demonstrates when acting in his official capacity. Nor is our moral culture elevated when we focus on these scandals. It is degraded, both because a large amount of the interest is prurient, and because by focusing on the sexual behavior of egocentric alpha males who spend a lot of time traveling far from home (that is to say, politicians) we may even be fooling ourselves into thinking that sexual impropriety is more common than it is, and thereby normalizing it.
Megan McArdle, a commentator for The Atlantic, believes that it's the valid role of the media to dig into our private lives to see if we've kept our wedding vows:
I don't think that cheating on your wife, or lesser betrayals like sexting, are minor marital pecadillos, of no more public interest than whether you remembered to pay the gas bill or unload the dishwasher. I don't think it's the government's job to punish infidelity, but that doesn't imply that society has no interest in whether people keep their vows. Marriage is a valuable social institution. There are good reasons that society should buttress it. ...
[T]here's something a little too fifties about the "All men do it, so why should we care?" approach to this. I'd like to think that enforcing the norms which hold that infidelity is really, actually wrong is worth taking a few hours out of a slow news cycle.
Before the next politician gets caught with his pants down, there's something I'd like to put on the record. After many years of being a moralistic scold, I have lost faith in the idea that this kind of stuff has any bearing on whether someone is a good leader. A public figure can be admirable in public life and scurrilous in private. As long as the sex involves consenting adults and the person would not deny others the pursuit of the same happiness, it's none of our damn business.
It's ridiculously intrusive for McArdle to think that there's a compelling societal interest in policing marital fidelity.
Her premise is founded on the assumption that extramarital sex is universally wrong. I think most of us would say that it is, especially if our partner or our relatives are in earshot. But if you read a sex advice columnist who encourages complete candor, like Dan Savage or Dear Prudence, you find numerous people who've made different arrangements.
A marriage operates by its own rules, most of which outsiders never learn -- even if they're close to the couple. One of the drawbacks to holding married people to account is that we don't what these rules are, and finding them out would be incredibly invasive. When they file their first story on a sex scandal, how do reporters know they're not maligning a person for sex outside of marriage whose spouse accepts the arrangement and engages in it too? There are people who do that sort of thing -- and some of them aren't even Europeans.
There's a funny, profane speech on YouTube by Savage, who thinks an insistence on absolute lifelong monogamy breaks up marriages that could otherwise thrive.
"We need to think of monogamy the way we think of sobriety. You can fall the ---- off the wagon and sober back up," he says. "I'm a deeply conservative person. I believe these things because I want people's marriages to survive for the long haul."
This is from a guy who has spent the last 20 years hearing from people about their actual sex lives. It should come as no surprise that he takes a more tolerant view of sexual transgressions than media talking heads who tut-tut in disapproval with each bimbo eruption.
Expecting the media to dig into the fine print of somebody's marital contract is disturbing. McArdle and her husband Peter Suderman are both journalists at prestigious national publications whose marriage was covered in the New York Times, so they're limited public figures. If they become embroiled in a sex scandal, would McArdle agree that it's my job as a journalist to buttress marriage by subjecting them to a thorough probing?
McArdle's argument that the media has a valid role enforcing societal norms is even worse. Homosexuality has been far outside the norm until recent years. Was this ever a sufficient justification to reveal that a public official was gay?
If you have any empathy at all, it's excruciating to see the press take a blow-by-blow look at somebody's sex life. I cringed at questions Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was called to answer during his press conference Monday. As much as he invited that treatment by lying, I think many people would lie to prevent private sexual conduct from being scrutinized, especially if there's some guilt involved. Everybody has aspects of our sex lives we wouldn't want to explain to the world on live television. For most of my late teens I made sweet, sweet love to a throw rug I nicknamed Valerie Bertinelli.
Today, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) admitted that he sent a picture of his bulging crotch over Twitter to a female college student in Seattle and accidentally made it public. Obviously, my earlier post was completely wrong. This is my correction.
At the outset, I'd like to make it clear that I have made terrible mistakes that have hurt the people I care about the most, and I'm deeply sorry. I'm deeply ashamed of my terrible judgment and actions. I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife, a newspaper journalist who hates reporting errors like Charlie Sheen hates interventions.
When I started looking into this scandal, I found numerous reasons to doubt the veracity of Dan Wolfe (PatriotUSA76), the Twitter user who claimed to have found the photo posted by Weiner before it disappeared. Wolfe's Twitter account -- before he deleted it -- demonstrated deep obsession and irrational hatred for the congressman and his wife Huma Abedin over a period of six months. Based on my understanding of how Twitter works, I did not believe the story he told about finding it.
When Breitbart's site reported the original story, he had not checked out Wolfe at all, as he admitted to Tommy Christopher of Mediaite in a phone interview:
Once we published our story about Dan Wolfe, Andrew called me again, and it was clear from the conversation that he had genuine concerns about Wolfe as a source, and that he had been unaware of his prior activity on Twitter.
Because Wolfe's background was so dubious, Breitbart associate Lee Stranahan has been investigating Wolfe for days. He found numerous reasons to doubt him. On Saturday, Stranahan wrote:
Is Patriot a man or a woman? A group of people? ... Nobody I've encountered except "Patriot" knows. That is a fact. Nobody knows. There's a reason for that.
The facts gathered so far tell me one thing I'm sure about: Patriot is a liar and a manipulator. I'm 100% sure on that.
None of this means that Rep. Weiner isn't hiding something.
Like he did in the Shirley Sherrod incident, Breitbart did not begin to check out his source until after running his original story and talking it up on every cable news channel that would have him. This is not how journalism is supposed to work. But as I read all the coverage of this scandal the past weekend from news sites on the left, right and middle, it seems to be the emerging standard. First get it out. Then check it out.
Though he demanded (and got) an apology today from Weiner, Breitbart has never apologized for his July 2010 story that called Sherrod a racist based on maliciously edited video he received from a highly questionable source.
I think he should have apologized for that, as I am now apologizing to him for calling his Weiner piece "a bogus story being pimped by the biggest charlatan on the right." The conclusions I reached were proven untrue.
I am sorry for my enormous boner.
Correction: Weiner story not another Breitbart scam.
On Saturday evening, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart published a story suggesting that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent a photo on Twitter of his underwear-clad penis to a female college student in Seattle.
This story, like others pushed by Breitbart in service of his right-wing agenda, appears to be factually questionable.
Weiner had more than 40,000 Twitter followers at the time the alleged tweet was sent, but only one of those users either responded to it or shared it: Patriotusa76. That account belongs to Dan Wolfe, a self-described "conservative Reagan Republican" whose Twitter history reveals that he's obsessed with Weiner. Wolfe created the account Jan. 6 and has posted hundreds of messages about the congressman and his wife Huma Abedin. His first 19 messages were all about the Weiners, as were around 175 of his first 400 Twitter messages.
Wolfe's primary use of Twitter has been to post extremely crude criticism of the Weiners and correspond with a small group of other right-wing users who share his sentiments. Among his messages, more than 200 of which were addressed to Weiner at his @RepWeiner account so he'd see them, were claims that Weiner is gay, that his wife is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lesbian lover, that she's a Muslim who sympathizes with Al Qaeda terrorists and that she's so ugly she should wear a burqa. Here's a typical message he posted about them:
@goatsred LOL! Now there's an image not far from the reality! He's out looking for wiener while his "wife" is with her husband, Hildabeast
One of the technical aspects of how Twitter works is that you can't make a message disappear simply by deleting it quickly after you send it. Twitter messages are received and stored instantaneously by numerous Twitter clients and websites around the Internet. A user such as Weiner, even if he had deleted a message sent accidentally only seconds after it was transmitted, would not be able to stop copies of it from being saved. Tens of thousands of users receive his Twitter messages.
Yet in this situation, no one other than Wolfe responded on Twitter to the supposed crotch tweet. It was not present on Weiner's Twitter account when Breitbart's story was published. The only person who can vouch for it ever being posted at all is the rabid antagonist of the congressman.
The photo referenced in the alleged tweet was hosted on YFrog, an image-hosting service where people can post photos to be shared on Twitter. The photo did exist on Weiner's account for a brief time until it was deleted, presumably by him or someone on his staff.
YFrog has a huge security vulnerability that makes it possible to post photos to someone else's account without their password. If you know the person's email address on YFrog, you can send a photo to that email address and it will show up on that site under their account. Godfrey Dowson of the Cannonfire blog tried this out, sharing his YFrog email address firstname.lastname@example.org and encouraging readers to send a photo to it. One of them did, and it appeared on Dowson's account.
Considering this vulnerability, I think the most likely scenario for what took place is that someone posted the crotch photo on the congressman's YFrog account without his permission using the security vulnerability and it never appeared on Twitter. Wolfe shared this link as if it had been posted on Twitter, either because he was involved or because he monitors Weiner's YFrog page closely.
To believe Andrew Breitbart, Weiner sent a picture of his crotch over Twitter to thousands of people, but only one responded to it -- a person who has devoted his entire online life to hating that congressman and his wife. The media has once again fallen for a bogus story being pimped by the biggest charlatan on the right.
I'm getting some pushback on the Drudge Retort to how I presented the Itamar attack story:
In the West Bank settlement of Itamar, five members of an Israeli family were killed Friday night by an intruder who broke into their home and stabbed them to death. The suspect stabbed the mother, father and children aged 11, three and three months old. Two children, aged 2 and 4, were not harmed in the attack. The attacker has not been caught.
The media is calling the attacker a terrorist. I read six stories on the incident last night and none of them contained a single bit of evidence to back up this claim. They all simply assume that it must be terrorism and quote people making the same assumption.
I know this heinous crime is likely to be terrorism, but the media should not jump to conclusions and report something that is likely as if it is certain. This is particularly true when a story has immediate and explosive political ramifications.
But since I wrestled with this decision for a while, I'd like to hear other opinions.