Mindless moral equivalence

Jack Shafer at Slate thinks that the lesson of the Schiavo memo is that “blogs have reached a sort of parity with their mainstream colleagues” in that “bloggers proved themselves the equals of their mainstream media colleagues. . .by ignoring or glossing over their goof.” To the extent that Shafer includes Power Line in this verdict, his claim is baseless. On the evening of April 6, we learned from the Washington Post’s Mike Allen that the Schiavo memo was written by a Martinez staffer. Earlier that day, I had characterized the memo as “questionable if not fake.” As soon as I learned that a Martinez staffer was the author, I updated my post to state that the memo was not a Democratic dirty trick, and that it came from a Republican source. Since then, Rocket has written a Weekly Standard piece about the memo called “It Wasn’t Fake,” and has stated that he was mistaken in concluding that it was.
Compare this with the conduct of CBS. It claimed for about two weeks that its fake memo was authentic. Eventually it backed away from that claim, but still has never said the memo was fake.
The real problem that good faith critics like Shafer may have with our response stems, perhaps, from Rocket Man’s continuing criticism of the Post’s story about the memo. Shafer appears to construe this as “glossing over” our mistake, but the issues of whether we erred and whether the Post erred are independent. The mindless “moral equivalence” argument exemplified in Shafer’s piece glosses over the fact that the Post erred and that, to my knowledge, it has been less willing to acknowledge its error.
JOHN adds: That’s true, but I think the following point is also important. We were “wrong” in the sense that we laid out the evidence and said that based on the available evidence, we thought that the memo was a fake. We did not report as a fact that the memo was a fake, and we did not purport to have any information that was not publicly available. Any reader could follow our logic and either agree or disagree with our opinion. But the Post was “wrong” in a much different and more serious way. The Post reported as a fact that the memo was written by “Republican officials” and was “distributed to Republican senators by party leaders.” The Post didn’t say that was an opinion, or a guess, or an inference; they reported those statements as facts, without giving the reader any information about how the paper knew them to be true. But, as it turned out, they weren’t facts. We still don’t know why the Post reported inaccurate information, not as opinions, but as facts.


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