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New Yorker, once the proud home of fact-checking, shits the bed covering Obama's RFK smear of Hillary

The mildew continues to spread.

I've been been reading the New Yorker almost since I could read. I'm sure my parents weren't the only parents who framed New Yorker covers for art, when they were coming up and poor. I still think of a table of contents, let alone a letters section, as innovations that pander to weak-minded readers, and I loved the five-part series on geology.* And the one on soybeans, too! The Mighty Corrente Building has Departments in homage to New Yorker; I admire--honor--revere the New Yorker, and not least because they publish Seymour Hersh.

One of the strengths of the New Yorker has always been its fact-checking. (Adam Gopnik, in his wonderful Paris to the Moon, runs a wonderful riff on the idea that in America, we have fact-checkers, whereas in France, they would have theory checkers.) Of course, as elsewhere in our famously free press, fact-checking has declined from the high point described here, in 1993:

I was a New Yorker checker for some 14 years, between 1974 and 1988. ...

Most of the time, almost all of the time, we got it right. How do I know? Because if we got something wrong, if we got something that seemed wrong, some reader would write in and howl that Harold Ross must be spinning in his grave. Any accusation of checkerly nonfeasance rumbled into our department like an indictment.

If the number of such letters I observed was any guide, Harold Ross's grave was properly restful.

Every decent checker hated letting an error get into a piece. You hated to let down the author [these days, we create our own reality]; you hated to let down William Shawn or Bob Gottlieb, because you inevitably came to believe that the magazine was special. You certainly hated to let down Sara Lippincott or Martin Baron, who ran the department.

By and large, to check the facts is to try and keep the foundation of an article strong. If the writer and editor don't care how the foundation concrete gets poured, they deserve to live on the highest floor of the building they designed.

RICHARD SACKS Ridgefield, Conn., June 17, 1993

Haw. To here, from CJR, in 1994:

At The New Yorker, the fact-checking department has traditionally been seen as a journalistic gyrostabilizer. Is it wobbling a little? ... If so, it would not be too surprising. Editor Tina Brown has taken the stately yacht of The New Yorker through maneuvers more typical of a cigarette boat. Where the old New Yorker sought to be timeless, she strives to be topical ... Given such challenges, Brown has tried to strengthen the checking department. Since her arrival in 1992, the number of fact-checkers at The New Yorker has doubled to sixteen ... the magazine's executive editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, told interviewers that The New Yorker has admitted to "something above 300" mistakes in the past. Significant errors were often acknowledged in a floating errata column B variously called the "Department of Correction," the "Department of Correction and Amplification," and the "Department of Correction, Amplification, and Abuse" B or via private correspondence. As one long-time department member recalls, "They would write a private letter, saying, 'We're sorry. We didn't mean to imply you were a pedophile. Yours sincerely, The New Yorker.'"

Those genteel days are over. One of the reasons, many in the fact-checking department feel, has less to do with new time pressures than with the nature of the subjects the magazine now treats -- organizations and people who, as three fact-checkers put it, are "more press savvy," are "more litigious," and "tend to be in the hot seat already." Some members of the department also say darkly that under Tina Brown the editing of The New Yorker has become "addicted to spin."

Which -- "spin" -- brings us to this week's article by Peter Boyer, where he teabags K.O. Boyer writes--and unfortunately I quote a great slab of it, since it's the nature of the vacuous to take up space:

On May 23rd, at an editorial-board meeting in South Dakota, Clinton was asked, again, whether she should drop out of the race for the good of the Party. Clinton, saying she would not, employed a historical reference meant to remind her listeners that the nomination process had extended into June in previous primary campaigns. “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

For those willing to ascribe iniquity to all things Clinton, the remark was shocking. “Why, in the name of all that all of us hold dear, would anybody ever say anything like this?” Olbermann asked, at the beginning of his broadcast that night.

A rhetorical question crying out for an answer which Boyer, alas for the New Yorker's reputation, does not give.

“Can she in good conscience continue in the race for President after having said anything like this? Is her political career at an end?” At the conclusion of his show, Olbermann subjected Clinton to the Special Comment treatment. Assuming a posture of animated outrage, Olbermann blasted Clinton for nearly eleven minutes, suggesting that her remarks were calculated and “heartless.” He recited a number of sins for which Clinton had already been forgiven, from her landing-under-fire-in-Bosnia claim to her exploitation of the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

“This, Senator, is too much,” he concluded. “Because a senator, a politician, a person who can let hang in midair the prospect that she might just be sticking around, in part, just in case the other guy gets shot has no business being, and no capacity to be, the President of the United States.”

Plenty of spittle from K.O., but can anybody spot the missing fact?

The story wasn't true. There wasn't an ounce of truth to it. The scandal, as the Howler showed in detail, was blown up by the New York Post, then emailed to the universe by Obama, from whence it metastatized to K.O. and the entire known universe.

As we documented extensively at the time.

And surely the Argus editorial board, who were in the room with Hillary at time time, would hardly have endorsed her, had they understood her to be calling for her opponents death.

Of the many shameful things done by Obama in the course of this primary, his vile RFK smear was, for me, the worst.

Shame on the once proud New Yorker for airbrushing history, and for putting their obamiste preferences above the facts.

This from the magazine that devoted an entire issue to Hiroshima?

Will the truthiness never end?

Will the rot never stop?

What's wrong with these people?

I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.

NOTE * There might have been more than one, in fact.

No votes yet


vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... but doesn't this caveat suffice? "For those willing to ascribe iniquity to all things Clinton, the remark was shocking."

Sounds like it captures the willfulness, to which Somersby speaks, pretty well.

If the author fails to subsequently skewer Olbermann for his willful decision to turn from Murrow wannabe to McCarthy incarnate, then I agree with your assessment. But I'm lazy and have to run....

Submitted by lambert on

No, it doesn't. If the author can quote Keith Olbermann at length on this matter, then he can make some effort to determine if what KO says is true -- regardless of the "for those willing" caveat, which is just meta, and therefore worthless.

I'm not saying he's got to skewer Olbermann, but the teeniest bit of truth as opposed to truthiness puts a different slant on the whole story.

[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Swift Loris's picture
Submitted by Swift Loris on

The RFK ploy was by far the most shameful of Obama's campaign.

But I also agree with VastLeft. When I read the Boyer piece and got to the RFK part, I breathed a sigh of relief after the first two paragraphs, because Boyer was, I thought, very clear that the outrage was a crock.

By the time Boyer gets to Olbermann's rhetorical question, he's already answered it, by describing in the earlier paragraph what Hillary meant: "to remind her listeners that the nomination process had extended into June in previous primary campaigns." That's why she would say something like that, in other words.

His extended quotation of Olbermann's rant thus exposes KO as a vicious fool.

I don't know why "For those willing..." even if it is meta, is worthless. Boyer is clearly not including himself among them.

Iphie's picture
Submitted by Iphie on

If you haven't, you should -- somebody will read it. I'm working on my letter re: Hendrik Hertzberg's piece in the same issue. Although Hertzberg tells us that we shouldn't compare racism and sexism, he then goes on to do so and according to him, historically, racism is worse. Well, okay then -- if he says so. He fails to mention any examples of gender oppression, and clearly has employed a hear and see no evil policy these last 16 months or so which has allowed him to ignore any evidence of a current double standard.

Anyway -- send this as a letter to the editor.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Every once and a while someone will flag an article and I'll look at it, but actually buying the magazine or seeking out articles? Not after that foolishness. They were done then for me, and nothing has happened since to get me to look at them again.


LuigiDaMan's picture
Submitted by LuigiDaMan on

could form the basis of a communications doctoral dissertation. (And yes, I've thought of doing it, but no, I'm not going to.) The one-time esteemed, liberal, logical literary vessel that heretofore prided itself on its ability to rise above the carnage slowly and methodically renounced its values and fell head over heels in love with "The Next Best Thing."

Going into this year, the NY was clearly behind HRC. But somewhere after Iowa and before the Super Tuesday primaries, the water cooler at the New Yorker started churrning out multi-colored Kool-Aid. And we all know what happens once that occurs!

Watching them savage everything Bill and Hillary while praising The Precious has got to rank as one of the fastest and phoniest flip-flops in the history of the written word.

jeqal's picture
Submitted by jeqal on


What a great post
*wipes a tear from cheek*
drat being so busy and not being able to read these blogs!

This is the exact reason why I LOVE correntewire....and their little dog toto too.

But it really was a media bloodbath on Hillary.

Recently, I heard a professor proclaim how America is a "fire at will" country if that was something to be proud of. He was talking about shuffling a disatisfied overweight employee over to another section and I brought up the "cannot discriminate based on genetic predisposition" he said that there was no such law. Gotta love University. His proof was that if there was a law like that then companies would not be able to fire people who were alchoholics or men who are abusive. and so I asked why they would be fired unless it impacted their job performance?

When did America become so intrusive into other people's private lives? Sheesh, either they can do the damn job or not,

I brought it up because it reminds me of the Hillary media slurfest. Who needs 'da facts' when they can say and do anything they want? This is when I miss the good old days of the owner making the players more accountable as it was his rep on the line.

"Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart." --Dorothy Parker

jeqal's picture
Submitted by jeqal on

In reference to the racism is worse, someone give me a damn break.
Let's see witchhunts, the slaughter down to one woman in villages across Europe, any who had "gifts" killed, any who spoke out "executed". Women are still stereotyped, shunned, taught to shut up and put up, just look at the American media, the women represented there are being starved and god forbid they should reach the age of 40 and remain on TV without countless face lifts and speculations...except ethnic women who are allowed some weight and more characteristic features. The lighter your skin as a woman the more you are shoved into a box. Whoever said that racism was worse than being a woman, was not a white woman over the age of 40.

Men don't like nobility in woman. Not any men. I suppose it is because the men like to have the copyrights on nobility -- if there is going to be anything like that in a relationship." Dorothy Parker

AM5's picture
Submitted by AM5 on

Oppression of women not as bad? Must be easy for him to dismiss the thousands of women beaten savagely by husbands and boyfriends in this country every year as well as the many hundreds killed. Take back the lie, Mr Hertzberg.

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

I've become quite the consumer of craft and hobby magazines. Every time I think it's safe to check back in with the New Yorker, something like this happens.

Submitted by lambert on

There's another story painting Chavez as the next Fidel.

Since when did New York, Manhattan, think it had to suck up to the Village, anyhow?

And bringiton, Tina shook it up, and left. Until... Well, about the last six months, when the creative class went rancid, I thought of the New Yorker as solid. The current editor, and I can't even remember his name, which is exactly as it should be, was great. And Hendrik Hertzberg hadn't inflated himself to his current, gargantuan size.

[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

But what I saw at the New Yorker was an enterprise floundering around a little, unsure of where to go with itself but still populated by fascinating and brilliant writers and thinkers. Along came Tina and shook things up all right, drove away anyone who didn't suit her "style" (which is all about "style" and not much on substance, the result of her inability to comprehend anything of actual substance) and set new a course for the magazine - straight down the nearest sewage drain.

I only have so many hours for reading; not enough to waste on drivel and the New Yorker went from 80-100% interesting-and-worth-the-time articles per issue to 25% or less under her leadership, in a big hurry. It has never recovered.

Just can't abide the woman is, I guess, what it comes down to. The word "shallow" keeps coming to mind, circled round about by "vapid" and "twit." Terrible, what she did.