There I was, placidly reading Michael Barone’s excellent column “The Proximal Origin of a Scientific Fraud.” Referring to the recently released emails that reveal the “Proximal Origins” deceit, Barone concludes:
I found the cynicism revealed in these emails shocking, even though I have written critically, in July 2021 and March 2023, about government scientists’ attempts to discredit the lab leak theory. I note that statistics guru Nate Silver, not a member of any right-wing conspiracy, is now similarly appalled.
“I’m deeply disappointed by the scientists’ conduct here and how unmoored they were from any attempt at truth-seeking,” he wrote last week. “The COVID origins story has also been a journalistic fiasco,” he added, opining that “journalists are more prone toward being manipulated by bad apples in academia and science than they were ten or twenty years ago.”
Evidence for that predilection comes from New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who last week tweeted that a House Republican hearing “raised thorny questions about free speech in a democratic society: Is misinformation protected by the First Amendment? When is it appropriate for the federal government to seek to tamp down the spread of falsehoods?”
Leave aside the deliciously Orwellian flavor of her verb “tamp down” and her astonishing ignorance of First Amendment law, and reflect on how “Proximal Origin” suggests that the government and government-financed credentialed experts are often better at generating misinformation and falsehoods than at detecting them.
With his mention of Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Barone triggered me. I was grateful to have forgotten about her.
Stolberg contacted me for her her 2018 post-election profile of Ilhan Omar in “Glorified and Vilified, Representative-Elect Ilhan Omar Tells Critics: ‘Just Deal.’” Omar is of course made to order for the Times; she perfectly embodies the state of the left. She therefore received the mostly hagiographic treatment one would expect from the Times.
This is how Stolberg treated the issue of Omar’s possible marriage to her brother: “[A]t home in Minnesota, Ms. Omar has been dogged by claims that she briefly married her brother for immigration purposes” (my emphasis). She returned to the subject in a paragraph that linked to my City Journal column “The curious case of Ilhan Omar.” She writes (emphasis mine again):
Running for office meant upending gender norms in the Somali community, where politics is typically the province of men. It also forced Ms. Omar to make public details about her complicated private life, which became fodder for conservative bloggers, who seized on her brief marriage to a British citizen. They have since divorced; earlier this year, she married her current husband, Ahmed Hirsi, the father of her three children.
Stolberg had called me to talk about my work on Omar before her story was published. She claimed familiarity with all of it. I answered the questions she posed to me by email. Disappointed by her story, I followed up with her by email:
Dear Sheryl: I have read your Ilhan Omar story several times. When you treat the issue of her possible marriage to her brother (Ahmed Nur Said Elmi), you relegate it to the world of “conservative bloggers” and describe the marriage twice as “brief.” I guess that can be translated as meaning it is undeserving of further discussion. Yet Omar was married to Elmi for eight years. By what lights is that “brief”? Was Barack Obama briefly president of the United States?
If you mean that Omar and Elmi only lived together for a year or two after they were married, why don’t you say so? You know that she only got around to dissolving the marriage last year [i.e., in 2017] as she was preparing for bigger things.
You only describe describe Elmi as “a British citizen.” Where and when did they meet? Was he a British citizen at the time she married him?
Am I wrong in thinking that if Omar were an up and coming heroine of the conservative movement you might take a closer look at the question of who Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is and why Omar has treated the issue of her marriage to him as a public relations crisis about which she refuses to talk to the media (other than her extremely misleading comments to the City Pages reporter in 2016)?
I don’t understand your treatment of her marriage to husband number 1 either. As you know, she says that she married him “culturally” in 2002. You note that she has three children with him. You don’t note that she has lived with him since 2002 or that she has held him out at all times as her husband, although you do note that she got around to marrying him legally this year [i.e., in 2018] — again, as she was preparing for bigger things. You only describe him as “her current husband.”
What is the story? You dispense with the story as “complicated.” Does that mean husband number 1 is also husband number 3? Does that mean the situation might require further explanation? I’m sure Times readers could figure it out with a little help from you. Why not give them a chance?
I’d appreciate anything you might be willing to offer in response to these questions.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t hear back from Stolberg, but I continued to seethe about her story. I called and asked her why she failed to acknowledge the substance of the controversy. Stolberg told me (I am paraphrasing) that Omar’s election in the face of the controversy rendered the issue more or less moot.
Stolberg assumed that voters were in a position to make up their own minds. However that is hard for voters to do when reporters — to borrow Barone’s formulation — are “better at generating misinformation and falsehoods than at detecting them.”