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.