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I don't wish to make a theme of this...

... but it seems as if every other time I pop in on Andrew Sullivan to see what he's up to I find something that makes me wonder about the Internet's highest-paid blogger. Usually, it involves something in his Big Blindspot — homosexuality, particularly its interaction with his Catholicism. This time, however, it's a bit further removed.

He writes, "AFTER THE LOTT DEBACLE: Why on earth is the Bush administration doing this?" The this is placing a wreath at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. Senator Lott's comments were an embarrassing blow to Republicans, but I don't think they required time travel!

Of the two questions that I would ask, the first is the easiest: Why would Time publish such a story on January 19? The explicit connection, by Time, to Lott brings to mind the image of an editor sending out his or her reporters to connect Bush with the Confederacy. If a wreath at a memorial for dead Americans is the best they were able to do, I'd say Texas-man Bush is doing darn well.

The second question is a bit more difficult: Why did Andrew Sullivan fall for it?

Tom Maguire points out another problem with the Time article that I'd considered tangential to this post: the leap from sending a wreath for Confederate soldiers to honoring Jefferson Davis. I bring it up now because, in what can only be seen as a tragic development, Sullivan shares his mistake with Maureen Dowd, who, although moving away from Time's leap, puts it thus:

For all the talk about how Republicans were morally re-educated by the Trent Lott fiasco, Mr. Bush is still pandering to an unspoken racial elitism.

He resubmitted the nomination of a federal judge with a soft spot for cross-burners. And, as Time notes this week, he quietly reinstituted the practice — which lapsed under his father in 1990 — of sending a floral wreath on Memorial Day from the White House to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, where those nostalgic for the Old South celebrate Jefferson Davis. Why on earth would the president of the U.S. in the year 2003 take the trouble to do that?

Well, actually, Bush "reinstituted the practice" in 2001. Besides that (and skipping over the predictable misrepresentation of Pickering), "the Lott fiasco" didn't "re-educate" Republicans; rather, it showed that the majority of them did not require "re-education."

I'll resist the strong temptation to wonder publicly whether Dowd's support for "re-education" suggests a "soft spot" for Communists because that might open my life's work up for dismissal based on charges of McCarthyism.

ADDENDUM II (1/24/03): (via Instapundit and Josh Marshall)
The story was even more wrong than previously thought: Bush I never ended the practice; he merely moved the date from Jefferson Davis's birthday to Memorial Day. Time has put up a retraction. Mr. Sullivan? Ms. Dowd?

ADDENDUM III: (via Right Wing News)
North Georgia Dogma has a before-and-after [the retraction] post listing several bloggers who could be more explicit in their admissions of error.

Andrew Sullivan just posted an acknowledgement that something to which he linked was proven not true. Says Sullivan, "Now let's all wait to see if Maureen Dowd will retract a more serious error - actually claiming it was true."

Now, this may be nitpicky, but I seem to recall Sullivan periodically noting the parsed language of New York Times retractions. Sullivan's original link said "why is the Bush administration doing this" — not "would," but "is." On second thought, given that he then attempts to divert attention by making exactly this distinction with reference to Dowd, perhaps it isn't so nitpicky (I guess it depends what the definition of "is" is [sorry, couldn't resist]).

In his note on the topic in The Washington Times, Sullivan writes, "I asked why they would do this in the wake of the Trent Lott affair." I guess he still hasn't figured out when Americans actually celebrate Memorial Day.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 08:51 AM EST


I assume Maureen Dowd read the Time piece. Assuming it was true she included it in her column because it fit the profile, so to speak. It turns out the Time piece was wrong. Not too long ago, I believe it was the spring of 2000 the columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe was suspended by the Globe for repeating things he had read without doing his own reporting for his column. The Boston Globe is owned by the the New York Times. How long will we have to wait before Dowd is suspended for an equal length of time? I know that Maureen Dowd has worked under Howell Raines in many different positions so they must be close but major institutions like these have to be even handed as they mete out punishment for similar infractions. Isn't that true?

Charles Quinn @ 01/24/2003 10:35 AM EST

Mr. Quinn,

I'd agree that Jeff Jacoby's political leanings likely put him in a different position than Ms. Dowd (I mean, four months without pay!). However, his impropriety was in not mentioning that his work drew from that of others. Dowd covered herself in that respect.

Justin Katz @ 01/24/2003 10:47 AM EST

There are others besides Dowd and Sullivan that need to retract and apologise, including webbers atrios and Josh Marshall; the latter probably would claim that he posted a retraction, but what he posted was very cleverly crafted to avoid one from concluding that he had done anything so sloppy as pick up and run with a questionable story. And these people have aspirations to work again in real journalism???

Howard K. @ 01/24/2003 11:37 AM EST

Actually, Marshall does work in real journalism. He's a frequent contributor to Washington Monthly, and is included in its masthead.

Bryan @ 01/24/2003 11:45 AM EST


Thanks for inspiring me to look at Marshall's original post. I've made an entry of my observations.

Justin Katz @ 01/24/2003 12:56 PM EST

Charles Quinn writes "... that Maureen Dowd has worked under Howell Raines in many different positions so they must be close..."

That explains why Down is still employed at NYT inspite of her insufferable writing :-)

Victor @ 01/24/2003 01:56 PM EST

Disclaimer: Dust in the Light has no knowledge whatsoever of what positions Maureen Dowd may have taken under Howell Raines nor whether her performance was to his satisfaction.

(Do I need to go to confession for innuendo in the service of truth? Or for missing the opportunity? Good eye, Victor!)

Justin Katz @ 01/24/2003 02:05 PM EST

Um, actually, every lefty has included a retraction -- the biggies (JMM, Atrios) and the wee ones (including me).

Jeff @ 01/24/2003 06:19 PM EST