Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sullivan Issues a Retraction!--Updated!

Just not about the topic you think.

This morning Sullivan posted (on The Atlantic's website) an item attacking his Atlantic colleague Ross Douthat and raising factual questions about Sarah Palin and her family:

Ross Douthat tells us he is very comfortable with outright lies in politics. In fact, it is so faux to care about truth in politics (but never faux to display outrage at journalists asking factual questions about Palin's stories about her own family). He couldn't get worked up about Clinton's lies either, he tells us. Why? Because the ends always justify the means. If you're going to ban all abortion, you just have to tell a few whoppers and demonize a few opponents along the way:

The point of being in national politics is to win elections and govern the country in accordance with whatever goals led you into the arena in the first place, not to please columnists who disagree with you on ideological grounds but appreciate a finely-tuned sense of political principle.

It's really come to this? Notice the avoidance of what is at stake here: the basic question of truth: empirical, checkable, verifiable truth. How naive to care about that.

Pretty amazing stuff, no? Sullivan is walking as close up to the line as he can on the parentage of Trig Palin without actually having the stones to say so out loud. Look at that phrase: "asking factual questions about Palin's stories about her own family."

Someone, perhaps one of his Atlantic colleagues, should ask Sullivan to clarify exactly what factual question about Palin's family he is referring to.

Remember that the only "factual" question about Palin's family that Sullivan had previously asked was whether or not Trig Palin was Sarah Palin's son. Unless he has a new, unarticulated question, it seems reasonable to assume that that's what he's still talking about. Irrespective of whatever arrangement he came to with David Bradley and the management of The Atlantic.

But wait! I promised you a retraction! Did Sullivan take back this barely-veiled attempt to question the parentage of Trig Palin? No.

In an item originally posted here Sullivan went after Douthat again, saying, "Mitt Romney calls McCain's and Palin's lies 'wrong and reprehensible' and a 'massive mistake.' So Mitt is now more concerned about basic levels of honesty in the McCain campaign than Ross Douthat. Yes, Ross is now officially more cynical than Mitt Romney."

Upon having it pointed out that the Romney video dates back to the primary season, Sullivan removed the post in its entirety and issued a correction. (Though not an apology to Douthat.)

This seems like an important development.

Because it proves that when Sullivan and That Atlantic believe that he has made an error, The Atlantic's policy includes not only explicit acknowledgment of the error, but also wholesale retraction of the item.

The fact that Sullivan's posts about Trig and Sarah Palin (here, here, here, and here) remain published must be an indication that the magazine and David Bradley are standing by Sullivan's writing on the subject.

Shouldn't Howard Kurtz ask Bradley why that is?

Update: Ace notes Sullivan's further insinuations. And Victor Davis Hanson finally goads Sullivan into breaking his omerta on the subject of Trig Palin. Here Sullivan is, speaking for The Atlantic Monthly:

As for blog "rumors" about a Down Syndrome pregnancy, all this blog has done is ask for facts and context about a subject that the Palin campaign has put at the center of its message, facts about a baby held up at a convention as a political symbol for the pro-life movement, and cited in Palin's acceptance speech. You do that, you invite questions about it. I make absolutely no apologies for doing my job.

I find the account of her pregnancy and labor provided by Palin to be perplexing, to put it mildly, and I have every right to ask questions about it, especially since we have discovered that this woman lies more compulsively and less intelligently than the Clintons. . . . And in the absence of any information from the Palin campaign, I have aired every possible view trying to explain it. What else am I supposed to do? Pretend these questions don't exist? Pretend her story makes sense to me? I owe my readers my honest opinion. That's not rumor-mongering, it's fulfilling my core commitment to my readers. . . .

All my factual questions of more than two weeks ago, moreover, remain unanswered by the McCain campaign. They are all factual questions demanding simple factual answers that any campaign that wasn't bent on deceit and lies would be more than eager and perfectly able to provide.

Why haven't they? When will they?

Well there we have it. Andrew Sullivan is once again openly using The Atlantic as a platform to demand that Sarah Palin "prove" that she is mother of her youngest child.

It is a disgrace for the magazine and everyone associated with it. One hundred and fifty years of storied history set ablaze in fortnight by a single writer.

Since dissent is obviously tolerated at The Atlantic (see above) at what point to other staffers at the magazine have a duty to publicly and explicitly disavow Sullivan?

Update 2: Is the great Jeff Goldberg moving in that direction, using Jill Greenberg in personas Sullivanas? Here's Goldberg writing about Greenberg. His comments seem eerily--perhaps not accidentally--applicable to Sullivan:

I don't know Greenberg (I count this as a blessing) and I can add nothing to what James Bennet told the Post except to say that Greenberg is quite obviously an indecent person who should not be working in magazine journalism. Every so often, journalists become deranged at the sight of certain candidates, and lose their bearings. Why, this has even happened in the case of John McCain once or twice. What I find truly astonishing is the blithe way in which she has tried to hurt this magazine.

Update 3: A blogger named Alex Massie who says that he once guest-blogged for Sullivan has spoken out about Sullivan's continued smearing of Trig and Sarah Palin.

I'm sympathetic to Massie's complaint, which is that Sullivan's sustained questioning of Trig's parentage is doing terrible damage to a valuable intellectual institution. But Massie misses the larger point: The institution in need of protection here isn't Andrew Sullivan's blog--it's The Atlantic Monthly.

I can't emphasize this enough: There is nothing especially note-worthy about a blogger repeating unsubstantiated smears about a politician's personal life. Troll around enough websites and you'll see plenty of it from the left and the right. You'll recall the right-wing nutters who thought that the Clintons ran cocaine shipments out of an airstrip in Mena and were responsible for the deaths of Ron Brown and Vince Foster. (They were just asking question about the Mena airstrip, mind you.) So this sort of dirty pool is nothing new or remarkable.

What is noteworthy is that Sullivan has injected this sort of behavior into a once-great magazine that's been at the forefront of American letters for 150 years. Institutions matter more--much more--than people.

Andrew Sullivan should be allowed to write whatever he wants about Trig and Sarah Palin. That's not a scandal. The scandal is that The Atlantic is allowing him to write these things under their name.

And as a remind of what sort of things Sullivan is saying from his platform at The Atlantic, here's his response to Massie:

Alex Massie is disappointed by my relentless vetting of Palin, specifically the bizarre facts in the public record about her fifth pregnancy. For my part, I stand by my skepticism of everything Sarah Palin says. [emphasis in original] . . .

[M]y working assumption now is that she is a pathological liar--even about things that are objectively checkable.

A pathological liar simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth about herself, even on a subject as routine as a pregnancy and infant son. I can't believe I'm asking these questions either. But in the absence of any answers, what am I supposed to do?

I know this puts me out of the mainstream of acceptable Washington opinion. But let me just remind Alex that doubting the existence of Saddam's WMDs put some people out of the mainstream of acceptable Washington opinion. Would the world be a better place if those people had refused to be silenced or intimidated?

That's right: The Atlantic is now comparing rumor-mongering about Trig Palin's parentage to the multi-national intelligence gathering operation about Iraq's nuclear and biological weapons capability.

David Bradley shouldn't try to "silence" Sullivan; he should simply disentangle his magazine from him.


TubbyLover69 said...

Point taken, but can you believe the way Sullivan distorts Douthat's (perfectly clear) post? Weren't these two friends once upon a time?

I'm thinking the editorial meetings are getting ... uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

I'm betting senior editors -- or at least senior editor Andrew Sullivan -- don't attend editorial meetings.

Anonymous said...

Now Andy is obsessed with amniocentesis. It isn't just that it's a bizarre line of inquiry, it's that HE'S THE ONLY PERSON FOLLOWING THIS LINE!!! This man has gone so far off the deep end I cannot fathom what his colleagues must think. Ambinder is a partisan hack, Fallows is a lib (although really really smart), and Coates is sort of the youth voice over there, yet none of them have gone off the deep end like Sullivan. Go read their stuff, all of it very very critical of Palin. I don't necessarily agree with what they write, but I don't think their criticisms are unreasonable. Sullivan, on the other hand, reads like a lunatic.

Anonymous said...

I've long thought Douthat exhibited real moral courage in his writing. It can't be easy trying to climb the greasy pole as a devout, pro-life, conservative Catholic.

This is his moment. He has to say something. It's his career or his convictions. I guess we'll see which way he goes.

Anonymous said...

His retraction makes last week's conspicuous silence and elliptical posting all the more puzzling. Was he actually muzzled? Perhaps.

But if he's not suspended or terminated in the next two weeks, we may have a better sense who asked him to stop writing about Palin. And it might not have been David Bradley or James Bennett. Did our aspiring little Sid Blumenthal go off the rez? Stay tuned ...

Anonymous said...

God bless Vic Hanson for his part in getting Andy to blow his cover.
I especially love the part where he goes through a litany of "questions" and then asks "is that rumor mongering?"
Well yes, it is the very definition of rumor mongering to ask insidious questions for which no reasonable person would answer in order to smear them.
At the very least, Sullivan has to explain to his readers why he, on 2 separate occasions, stated the respect he had for Palin for giving birth to a down syndrome baby, only to question the truth a few days later. That alone is an offense worthy of termination.
This man's mental breakdown is stunning. How sad he takes The Atlantic Monthly reputation down in the process.

Anonymous said...

Sarah Palin's actions regarding her pregnancy, and the birth of Trig, were odd, risky, and inconsistent with her stated beliefs. There seems to be an over-the-top reaction to vilify anyone, like Andrew Sullivan, who questions them. If some feel it is entirely a private matter that shouldn't be discussed, that's a legit point of view. But that doesn't mean that they get to set the agenda for anyone else. Believe Palin's story if you wish, but accept the fact that Sullivan doesn't. It doesn't mean he's crazy; it means he disagrees with you.

Anonymous said...

Sullivan has every right to ask his questions. Palin has every right to tell him to stuff his questions where the sun don't shine.

And the rest of us have every right to conclude that Sullivan is completely around the bend because of his questions.

Finally, the Atlantic's editors have every right to decide they don't want Sullivan's obsession to soil their magazine's reputation, such as it is.

That all seems very straightforward to me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:59-

I don't think anyone is trying to persuade Sullivan that Trig is Sarah Palin's son, we all "accept" the fact that Sullivan believes otherwise. What some, including me, believe is that The Atlantic Monthly has a sterling history and reputation to uphold and Sullivan's Trig Trutherism is damaging that reputation.
Imagine for a minute that EJ Dionne had a WaPo blog and used it to push 9-11 Trutherism. Would this not damage the credibility of The Washington Post? How long would Dionne last at The Post were he to use his blog to convey a level of respectability not normally associated with 9-11 Truthers? This is what Sullivan is doing, using The Atlantic Monthly cover to claim some sort of journalism duty to uncover a conspiracy that no other respectable journalist buys into.
On a more personal level, once a person buys into a conspiracy, there is no level of evidence that will convince them otherwise. Sullivan believes the following:
- Sarah Palin is a pathological liar
- Sarah Palin will stop at NOTHING in attempt to gain power
- Sarah Palin is not the mother of Trig Palin and conspired with a cast number of people to cover-up for her daughter, who is the real mother of Trig Palin
- Bristol Palin is not currently pregnany (he has yet to say this, but it would be impossible to believe Bristol is the mother and that she is currently pregnant)

Given that he believes these things, there is no amount of evidence that would convince him Sarah is Trig's mother. Medical records? If provided he would simply believe they were faked. DNA evidence? Faked. Video footage? Faked. It's all part of her pathological lying and willingness to do anything for power. He's stated over and over again, in the era of Rove, anything is possible.

Now given all these things, The Atlantic Monthly has an obligation to its readers to maintain the reputation of not only their brand, but of their other writers. If they are willing to tolerate Sullivan's deterioration into trutherism, what else would they tolerate from their other writers, and how can their readers trust anything that appears on their pages?

Anonymous said...

Congrats on getting Sullivan to post an anonymous comment (@11:59) on your blog!

Anonymous said...

There have been several anon posts in the past week that I've thought were Sullivan's.
If you want a great blow-by-blow account of Sullivan's lunacy from a Sullivan-friendly blogger, read Alex Massie. The one point I disagree on is his commentary on Sullivan's amnio obsession. Sullivan keeps asking about the amnio/pro-life debate not because he thinks Palin hypocritically had an amnio, but because HE DOESN'T BELIEVE SHE DID, he doesn't believe she was pregnant. He hints at it but never has the balls to say it. He's trying to point out that it's more likely that she's lying about the pregnancy than being a hypocrite about the test:


Damian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damian said...

Sullivan responds to Massie here:


Yes, he is comparing the Trig "controversy" with the debate over whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. On my blog, I said I was giving up reading Sullivan - but I just can't turn my eyes away from this kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

I posted the comment at 11:59, and no, I am not Andrew Sullivan. I do find it flattering that some might think that I am! As to the following points:
- Sarah Palin is a pathological liar
- Sarah Palin will stop at NOTHING in attempt to gain power
- Sarah Palin is not the mother of Trig Palin and conspired with a cast(sic) number of people to cover-up for her daughter, who is the real mother of Trig Palin
- Bristol Palin is not currently pregnany (he has yet to say this, but it would be impossible to believe Bristol is the mother and that she is currently pregnant)

Every single point is believable. Although I think it's not only possible that Bristol Palin is currently pregnant, I think that it's likely. That doesn't mean that it's impossible for her to also be the mother of Trig. (I'd like to think that I'm not the only woman posting here, but there seems to be a lot of ignorance about how this pregnancy thing works. Have you never encountered the term "Irish twins"?)

I don't think that Palin is a pathological liar, but I do believe she's a politician with her eye on the big prize. Palin wants to be vice-president, to a man who, if elected, is likely to be incapacitated or dead during his term in office. If she did fake the pregnancy, and she went to those lengths to cover for her daughter, what might she do if she were able to gain real power? It's a fair question.

But not to worry. If Palin faked the pregnancy, at some point, somebody is going to spill the beans. If she didn't, in time the controversy will fade away.

Anonymous said...

Sullivan -- I mean, Anonymous@11:59/2:02:

Although I think it's not only possible that you're a woman, I think that it's likely. But I still demand confirmation. Please post a notarized copy of your birth certificate and a full medical file.

After all, you're the one who interjected your purported gender into this conversation. It is not despicable, evil, vile or outrageous for the press to ask factual, answerable questions about this.

Anonymous said...

GFAW, I'm not running for vice-president. There is, or should be, a higher standard for those who aspire to the highest office in the land, as opposed to those who post an opinion on a blog.

But I do believe there are few women on this board - and yes, I really, really am one! (I'd fax you my birth certificate, but of course it could be a fake.) Otherwise there wouldn't be so much ready acceptance of the codswallop that is the Sarah Palin birth narrative.

Damian said...

Sullivan is apparently cool with Palin's e-mail account bein hacked, too:


You'd think Andrew Sullivan, of all people, would have some concerns about people's personal, private internet messages revealed...

Anonymous said...

But let me just remind Alex that doubting the existence of Saddam's WMDs put some people out of the mainstream of acceptable Washington opinion. Would the world be a better place if those people had refused to be silenced or intimidated?

Wasn't Andrew Sullivan the same guy who wrote in the London times about a pro-terrorist "Fifth Column" after 9/11?

Anonymous said...

Just so everyone is clear about the lengths to which Andrew Sullivan will go to achieve his ends, today he endorsed identity theft as a legitimate tool against Palin.


I cannot comprehend how he has not been fired today. The Atlantic Monthly, one of the great publications of the past century+, now endorses identity theft. This is far more shocking that the lunacy and rumor-mongering of the past 3 weeks. Identity theft is a truly insidious crime that destroys peoples lives every single day. Today a Sr. Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, on their own pages, proudly endorsed this tactic. That the Washington Post is not investigating this situation is a complete and utter sham. Howard Kurtz should be ashamed. I plan on calling The Atlantic tomorrow to inquire as to their official position on identity theft and their comments on Sullivan's endorsement of it. I urge others to do the same.

Anonymous said...

Sullivan predicts he will say something shocking tonight on HBO:

"I'm on Bill Maher's HBO show tonight - live! You never know what I might say."

Anonymous said...

Every single point is believable. Although I think it's not only possible that Bristol Palin is currently pregnant, I think that it's likely. That doesn't mean that it's impossible for her to also be the mother of Trig. (I'd like to think that I'm not the only woman posting here, but there seems to be a lot of ignorance about how this pregnancy thing works. Have you never encountered the term "Irish twins"?)

You're wrong.

I must confess that I am a man and I am relatively ignorant about how the whole pregnancy thing works, but my wide is an MD with significant experience in Labor & Delivery and she shed some light on the subject for me.

Trig was born on 4/18. The earliest a woman can possibly get pregnant after having given birth is 25 days forward. The average is 45 days for a woman that doesn't breastfeed and higher for a woman that does.

So the earliest Bristol could have gotten pregnant is 5/13. This assumes all sorts of unlikelihoods including that she was having sex 25 days later, was capable of conceiving at the earliest possible date, and happened to get pregnant. But let's assume that against all odds, these three things are true.

If she became pregnant on 5/13, the baby would get an ultrasound because Bristol didn't have a period and they would need appropriate dating. What they'd find is that the new baby is consistent with a baby dated back to 4/29 or so. Baby dating begins on a woman's last period. Bristol didn't have one, but her baby's development would be consistent with that of a woman that did have a period on 4/29 or so.

If she conceived on 5/13, that would make the baby a bit over four months along when it was announced on 9/1. Her real five-month (22 weeks) mark would be at the end of September.

That means that one of the following is true:
(a) Trig is Sarah's and not Bristol's
(b) They lied about being five months along. Possible but rather unlikely given that they would have to pull the baby out early to avoid the pregnancy to go after the 42-week maximum before they would induce labor or pull the baby out of the tummy.
(c) Bristol is not currently pregnant. Possible but also unlikely because of the increased scrutiny. Plus, the Palin's would essentially be making up an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in order to cover up the fact that Bristol had a pregnancy out of wedlock. However, if there is a "miscarriage" that might lend some credibility to this theory.

Anonymous said...

trumwill - isn't it likely that your point b or c is the correct one - that Bristol Palin is not now five months along? She could be four months pregnant, or not pregnant at all. The expected birth date, would be months after the election anyway, when presumably it wouldn't matter.

One would think it unlikely that underage Bristol, ill enough to be kept out of school, with a mother who is a prominent advocate of abstinence-only sex education, would be out having sex in the first place. Yet there is no doubt that she was sexually active - her parents announced it to the world.

As to whether the Palins are making up an out-of-wedlock pregnancy to cover up an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, it seems byzantine. But when they perpetrated the first lie (if they did), they had no inkling of the kind of scrutiny that lay ahead of them.

trumwill said...


It won't suddenly stop mattering after the election. Palin has a career in front of her which will likely go up in smoke if it can be demonstrated these alleged lies are exposed. If that baby comes out after 42 weeks, people are going to ask a lot of questions. That might be a risk worth taking if they were up against a wall, but they weren't. The real date of conception would have made back-to-back pregnancies unlikely enough.

As far as making up the second pregnancy goes, I actually consider that slightly less unlikely than a fudged date, but even there reports have been at the start that it was an "open secret" in Alaska... which would suggest that it was known that she was pregnant before it was at all politically useful for her to be.

If the baby comes out after 42 weeks or there is a sudden miscarriage after the election, then maybe it's reasonable to re-open that file. But for right now the question is settled. If you're willing to believe that they'd be willing to play with such fire for the sake of the lie, there isn't any proof that they could offer that wouldn't be considered part of the lie.