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Caveat lector

24 February 1999

A Howler question: What did really happen?

Synopsis: The celebrity press corps needs to explain how it published the Blumenthal story.

What Really Happened
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation, 3/1/99

How Hitchens Suckered Himself
Alexander Cockburn, The Nation, 3/8/99

Did Christopher Hitchens get his false narration directly from the OIC staff, before he wrote his embarrassing piece in The Nation last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/99)? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing. Clearly, he couldn’t have gotten his puzzling story from reading through the relevant transcripts; his story is almost wholly divorced from the actual facts of the case. Hitchens does offer one intriguing passage about some contacts that he made, in the course of running down the story that he was preparing to butcher:

HITCHENS: In the course of getting hold of the transcripts and so forth, I had a number of conversations with staffers at various House committees. One of them evidently called the House Judiciary Committee...

Which led to the famous affadavit. Left unexplained is an obvious question--why Hitch had to go stumbling around on the Hill in order to “get hold of the transcripts and so forth.” The transcripts are sold in GPO stores, which are found at various spots around Washington. We can’t help wondering if a helpful House staffer may have whispered false tales in the brawling Brit’s ear. As we’ve said before: it’s quite clear he didn’t read the transcripts the helpful House staffers rushed to get him.

It’s just one of the questions The Nation should answer in the wake of the Hitchens report. Alexander Cockburn’s column this week trashes Chris Hitchens’ horrendous “reporting.” But no one has tried to explain how The Nation came to publish such a howling report. The story was littered with egregious errors that would have taken them roughly ten minutes to check. The Nation simply must explain how these slanders ever made it to print.

But it isn’t just the folks at The Nation that have some big ’splainin’ to do. As we’ve told you, the absurdly false narrative that Hitchens penned has turned up all over the press corps. The New York Post; The Wall Street Journal; Special Report with Brit Hume; Laura Ingraham’s Watch It!--these are just the major places where we’ve seen this groaning report. If the press corps makes any effort at all to steel itself against deception, it must explain how this howling report came to be so widely published. Especially given the striking fact which we passed along in yesterday’s column--the fact that this story was directly attributed to Starr’s staff in the Post last November.

Was Ken Starr’s staff passing out this crap? And why in the world did the press corps write it? The time has come to answer these questions--if there’s any such thing as a real press critique carried on within the press corps.

Yo! DAILY HOWLER to Howard and Bernie! We’re waiting for answers from you!

Questions: The following questions must be asked about this remarkable episode:

  1. What kind of fact-checking could possibly go on at outlets that published this story?
  2. How did journalists come to think that the story was actually true? (For example, how did Fox’s Hume, Barnes, and Liasson all come to believe this report?)
  3. Most important: was Ken Starr’s staff the source of the story? How did Rotunda come to give this story to the Post’s Blomquist?
One other question should be reviewed in running down this story. Why would sources spread a false tale that could be so easily checked? The source of this story seems to know the thing that we’ve been telling our readers. You know--how this press corps simply doesn’t do transcripts? How this press corps just loves getting spun?

Visit our incomparable archives: Our past work on this topic:

On February 3, three separate outlets all ran this false story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/99.

Hitchens then penned the tale in The Nation! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/99.

Alexander Cockburn corrected Hitchens--and suggested the source was Ken Starr. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/99.