Sabato’s sabotage, take 2

I wrote about Salon’s story on Senator Allen’s alleged use of a racial epithet while Senator Allen was a University of Virginia undergraduate in “The macaca offensive.” I sarcastically commented on what I thought was the weakness of the story. The following day I noted the personal attestation of Professor Larry Sabato on Hardball supporting the gist of the Salon story in “The macaca offensive, take 2.” On Hardball Professor Sabato stated: “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 followed up that post yesterday in “Sabato’s sabotage,” including a reader’s email correspondence with Professor Sabato. Based on the email corresopndence, I commented that, contrary to his assertion on Hardball, Professor Sabato was merely “passing on the ‘hearsay’ of unidentified third partiies as of his own knowledge.” My comments yesterday drew a response from Professor Sabato’s spokesman, Matt Smyth:

I think there might be some confusion based on the contents of your post; Larry’s comments on Hardball were not based on hearsay, but rather on the public comments of individuals like Ken Shelton, as well as others who have come forward since and stated their firsthand experience. Larry was unable to reveal the extent of this during the Hardball interview because of his promise to the reporters who were breaking the rest of the story the next day. As an analyst, he was satisfied with the sources’ credibility and the journalistic research that went into their claims, and based his assertion on that. It seems apparent that the individuals who came forward after the Hardball interview substantiated his assertion further—and not call it into question. If you could update your post to reflect that, we would appreciate it.



Matthew V. Smyth
Director of Communications
Center for Politics
University of Virginia

I wrote Matt back and stated that I would be happy to post his message in its entirety on our site as a separate item. I added:

[Y]ou don’t seem to understand the concept of “hearsay.” The point is that [Sabato] made the declaration [on Hardball] of his personal knowledge. This turns out to be false.

Beyond that: What grounds did [Sabato] have to opine on anyone’s credibility? Does [Sabato] know the names of Salon’s two unidentified sources? Did the Salon reporter share the names with [Sabato]? Whom are you talking about as having come forward? What investigation has [Sabato] performed on the sources’ credibility?

Matt responded:

Larry is not a journalist, and as a result he does not investigate these types of stories; he simply was contacted by the sources and forwarded them to members of the media. It is up to the journalists who pursue a story to perform the appropriate research. If they are not comfortable with the accuracy of the information, then it is up to the editors not to publish it.

Aside from that, Larry is not opining on anyone’s credibility and he’s not telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t believe. At no point did he say that he had firsthand knowledge of the language in question; all he did was assert that it did happen, and he’s either right or wrong. He has a long career behind him and he wouldn’t still be around if he wasn’t right much more often than he was wrong.

The other sources that have come forward with information about the stories are Chris Taylor, George Korte, George Beam, Doug Jones, Ellen Hawkins, and others—all with different types of information.



The names provided at the conclusion of Matt’s second message include those such as Doug Jones and George Korte who have come to Senator Allen’s defense. Is Sabato vouching for their credibility too? Matt’s message suggests that Professor Sabato has become the hub of the race-based stories on Senator Allen that have mysteriously appeared over the past few days. What is going on here? At the Allen campaign blog, Jon Henke suggests that what is going on is “a coordinated character assassination.”

Yet the weirdness of Professor Sabato’s comments continues. Here is a rush transcript (whose spelling and capitalization I have tried to clean up) of another of Professor Sabato’s cable television interviews on the subject of Senator Allen:

SABATO: Yes, you are incorrect in what you just said. I never said that I personally heard Allen use racial slurs. What I have said and have made clear is that the individual who’s came forward in the New York Times and other publications such as The New Republic contacted me quite some time ago, at least some in some cases and they made the allegation, they provided circumstances and evidence that is credible [transcript reads “incredible” — from context I believe this should clearly be “credible”]. Some of them at least are quite credible. And they were sent to news organizations. And it was up to the news organizations to confirm them to a level of comfort ability necessary for publication. That is precisely what happened. That has appeared in the newspapers. And based on my own personal experience with some of these people, I think those allegations are credible.

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Sabato, first I want to thank you so much for clarifying for us that you did not personally witness any of these alleged racial slurs because that was going to be my first question to you. My question is — what is it specifically about what these people have come forward with that makes you give so much credence to it?

SABATO: You have to look at each individual and what he’s done with his life and what his level of credibility is in his community and with his friends, and also, have you to ask the question how much time did that individual spend with George Allen, did they do some of the things that they said they did, do some of the details check out. And the reporters found that in fact, that was the case, that the details did check out and the allegations seemed credible. [Ed.: I don’t think that fairly describes the stories, which include evidence of on both sides of an unfalsifiable allegation.] Now, it is up to everybody in reading those things individually to make up their own minds.

INTERVIEWER: Which leads me to my next [question.] Y[ou’re a] political science professor [] at the University of Virginia. How do people, voters, constituents discern this information and decipher what to believe and what not to believe, because at this point it seems to be a case of he said, he said?

SABATO: Well, I think frankly Republicans will say it isn’t true, Democrats will say it is true [Ed.: Does that make Professor Sabato a Democrat?]. Independents will probably be s[wayed] b[y] evidence as they judge it one way or the other. They should read the stories carefully and also see if there are follow-up stories.

All of which raises at least a few questions:

1) The individuals mentioned in the New York Times and The New Republic contacted him “some time ago.” Why did all these people seek out Larry Sabato?

2) Professor Sabato says the individuals were “sent” to news organizations. Did Professor Sabato send them? If not, who sent them?

3) Professor Sabato’s basis for saying what he “know[s] is the case” is: “You have to look at each individual and what he’s done with his life and what his level of credibility is in his community and with his friends.” In other words, Matt’s statement that “Larry is not opining on anyone’s credibility” to the contrary notwithstanding, Professor Sabato is only opining on the credibility of third parties.

This is where we came in. On Hardball, Professor Sabato said: “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.” Professor Sabato either doesn’t understand that he said what he professes not to have said, or doesn’t understand the difference between statements based on personal knowledge and statements based on hearsay. He appears not to know what he has done, or that he has done wrong.


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