Sabato’s sabotage

Yesterday I noted the mystifying comments of University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato on his personal knowledge of Senator Allen’s alleged use of a racial slur:

“I’m simply going to stay with what I know is the case and the fact is he did use the n-word, whether he’s denying it or not.”

I took Sabato’s reputation as a nonpartisan analyst and commentator at face value. With diligence suitable to the subject, however, reader John Farmer wrote Sabato to press him on the question of his personal knowledge:

I believe you need to make a clearer statement to the press regarding your claim that George Allen used the N word. That’s about the most damaging political charge you can make in today’s environment. If the media reports your comment correctly, and you claim to know that he used it, fairness requires that you cite your evidence. Otherwise, Mr. Allen is denied the opportunity to confront and examine the person making the claim.

Sabato’s staff responded with the following email message that Sabato had sent earlier in response to similar inquirires:

I didn’t know these things until the past few months.

People I know and who are very credible contacted me and shared the stories.

Then reporters checked them out: I am not a reporter. Based on everything they learned, they believe the stories and so do I. Other things will determine the election, though.

I was inclined to take Sabato’s original comments at face value based on Sabato’s reputation. I was mistaken. Sabato’s irresponsible conduct in this matter — passing on the “hearsay” of unidentified third partiies as of his own knowledge — should disqualify him as an allegedly neutral commentator on contemporary politics.

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