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 couldnt 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 cant help wondering if a helpful House staffer may have whispered false tales in the brawling Brits ear. As weve said before: its quite clear he didnt read the transcripts the helpful House staffers rushed to get him.
Its just one of the questions The Nation should answer in the wake of the Hitchens report. Alexander Cockburns 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 isnt just the folks at The Nation that have some big splainin to do. As weve 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 Ingrahams Watch It!--these are just the major places where weve 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 yesterdays column--the fact that this story was directly attributed to Starrs staff in the Post last November.
Was Ken Starrs 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 theres any such thing as a real press critique carried on within the press corps.
Yo! DAILY HOWLER to Howard and Bernie! Were waiting for answers from you!
Questions: The following questions must be asked about this remarkable episode:
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 weve been telling our readers. You know--how this press corps simply doesnt do transcripts? How this press corps just loves getting spun?
- What kind of fact-checking could possibly go on at outlets that published this story?
- How did journalists come to think that the story was actually true? (For example, how did Foxs Hume, Barnes, and Liasson all come to believe this report?)
- Most important: was Ken Starrs staff the source of the story? How did Rotunda come to give this story to the Posts Blomquist?
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.