A correction - and apology

Yesterday, American Thinker featured a blog post that linked to Michael Ledeen's article about the contents of President Obama's thesis.

As it turns out, Mr. Ledeen's post was in error, and the story was proven to be bogus (it was a satire). Ledeen issued a
manly apology here.

Upon discovering that AT was also taken in by the hoax, I deleted the entire post rather than simply updating it to reflect the new information. Frankly, it was a pretty stupid and unthinking reaction on my part and I'd like to apologize to AT readers for not thinking through the consequences of that action.

As it is, there is no thesis and the American Thinker was in error for reporting there was. In addition to our mea culpa to AT readers, we also owe President Obama an apology for ascribing thoughts to him that he did not write.

Lesson learned all around.

The Obama Thesis Mess, involving Michael Ledeen, Rush Limbaugh and Joe Klein, and my sorry part in it all!

Yesterday was not a good day! I found myself at something close to the center of an embarrassing controversy (The Obama Columbia Thesis Affair!), and though not alone in that uncomfortable location, much if not most of it was totally my fault.

Early in the day I ran across a two day old post at Faster, Please!, Michael Ledeen's blog. I've read and respected Mr. Ledeen's work for years. It was entitled
Obama and the Constitution; He Has His Doubts.

Mr. Ledeen wrote at the very beginning of his post:

Brian Lancaster at Jumping in Pools reported on Obama's college thesis...

So very early to make a critical assumption and mistake, but not too early for me! I have used similar formulations, such as "as reported by Robin at Chickenhawk Express". When I do so, I am invariably making reference to someone who has credibility with me. I read Mr. Ledeen's words projecting my own sense of confidence in that way and didn't follow the link to Brian Lancaster's site. Huge mistake!

Noting that Mr. Ledeen's post was two days old (Oct. 21), I searched Google news for sources that would have picked up the story of these eminently newsworthy quotes attributed to a young Barack Obama at Columbia. I got nothing.

At that point and considering some very verifiable history of the GUANOs (Government Unoffically Authorized News Organization) as regards Barack Obama, I thought we might have another case of media 'ho-hum, move along, nothing to see here' when something might reflect badly on Obama!

I wrote a short piece comparing what I thought was media inaction in reporting on what I thought was an Obama thesis and the many reports in the media on the decades old thesis written by the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia. I sent that to American Thinker mid-morning, and it was posted as "Obama's Columbia thesis excerpt surfaces". That post had:

What on earth does this President have to do to get the media coverage he so richly deserves! In the Virginia Governor's race, Republican candidate Robert McDonnell wrote a graduate thesis twenty years ago that could be politically damaging to his campaign. That decades old thesis has been covered by the Washington Post on August 30 and again on September 1. It has been reported on in some depth across the spectrum of media outlets from NPR to US News to the CS Monitor to FOX and on and on!

That was the main point of the post. I also quoted the supposed thesis by Obama as supposedly having this written by Obama:

... the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.

I didn't then and do not now consider those sentiments to be beyond the pale of possibility that Obama could think and write such as a very young college student who by his own admission sought to hang out with the radicals at Columbia, some of whom I've known! In this 2001 interview video, Obama the State Senator speaks of the Constitution as a document of negative liberties that avoided discussion of distribution of wealth, his "redistributive change".

Having said that, my main point was still about the GUANOs covering for Obama, a very current topic as the administrations has sought to keep the GUANOs in line by the example of ostracizing and demonizing FOX.

AT published the post and I had other things to do, but in spurts as I could I began to search Google news for any connection, as the Ledeen post had claimed, between Joe Klein and the thesis, and came up empty. I started to have growing doubts about the story. When the post went up at AT, the first comment to it was time stamped at 9:13. The times on the comments do not reflect the real time here on the East Coast where I write, but they do properly show intervals. By 9:59, three quarters of an hour later by time stamp, I
commented as DenisK, identifying myself as the author, that I have doubts that the story I picked up from Michael Ledeen's blog was real and I was having trouble verifying it from other news sources. I wrote:

...I am having no success now in further verifying the quote and a growing sense of doubt that it is real.

In the interim and afterward, I tried without success to contact Mr. Ledeen (but did get through to PJM, the host for Mr. Ledeen's blog, with my concerns) and to continue to try to find any news source connecting Joe Klein to a supposed thesis. PJM later replied to me that they were also doubting the story. In frustration I finally, belatedly, unforgivably went to Mr. Ledeen's source for the story at Jumping in Pools- and found it to be a satire! I had certainly found - confirmation!

I was listening to Rush Limbaugh while doing so and he started to reference the Ledeen claim on his radio show, and believing in abject shame that he picked it up from my post at AT, I immediately e-mailed him (subject line: Obama Thesis Quote Phony) and stated that I was the AT author, that I checked Ledeen's source and found it to be satire and that he should back away from a story that was totally bogus. If you go to the transcripts of Rush's show, you will find that he backed off the story within minutes of talking about it, though I don't necessarily believe it was my e-mail or solely my e-mail that got to him on it! Rush
said this, and did so making his own satirical point about the GUANOs:

I'm also told that the blog containing the passage on Obama's thesis is a satire blog. So it's one of these sites like ScrappleFace or The Onion or some such thing. So I shout from the mountaintops: "It was satire!" But we know he thinks it. Good comedy, to be comedy, must contain an element of truth, and we know how he feels about distribution of wealth. He's mad at the courts for not going far enough on it. So we stand by the fabricated quote because we know Obama thinks it anyway. That's how it works in the media today.

Immediately after that I posted in the comments again at AT (11:42 a.m.) with a correction stating that Ledeen had inadvertently taken a satire seriously and that I had taken Ledeen's post seriously and the story was bogus. Not long after that Mr. Ledeen posted a link at the top of his blog post to an apology he offered for the mistake, and he also personally contacted Joe Klein and apologized to him:

The Obama "thesis" hoax
It's a hoax, or a satire, depending on your point of view. Joe Klein has said that he never read any part of an Obama "thesis" from his Columbia days, and that's conclusive, as far as I'm concerned.

The hoax/satire was written in August, so it's not connected to any current event. I cam across it on Twitter, read the blog, found it interesting, and posted on it. I failed to notice that one of the tags was "satire." So he got me, and lots of others. It worked because it's plausible...

So I should have picked up some hint, but I didn't. Shame on me.

I'm posting this as quickly as possible. Apologies to the president and to Joe Klein, and to Rush Limbaugh, who had many very wise things to say about the Constitution and the views of the Founders today, and to everyone else who got involved.

I ended up posting two more comments, one yesterday when it seemed some readers weren't getting the point that the story was in error. The other was today, with more detail, and in that one I directly answered one critical commentor, CommonSense, as follows:

Yes, CommonSense, bad mistakes, very much including mine. However, how quickly did we seek to correct them? Mr. Ledeen, Rush Limbaugh and PJM and the blog post author here at AT all posted corrections or backed off the story or both within hours or less. Was that the case with the major media and many on the left with the fake Limbaugh quotes, or the fake TANG documents about Bush, or Jesse McBeth, or...as you write this:

"Have you all no shame? As the president he deserves that much."

CommonSense, have you ever in the last several years heard the totally bogus claim that "Bush lied" about Iraq, and who has climbed down on that false charge? On the left it was just keep repeating the lie until it is believed! That's the difference.

I also have to say this. I believe Mr. Ledeen's apology, especially to Joe Klein, was gracious. Mr. Klein's response, not so very much:

A report is circulating among the wingnuts that I had a peek at Barack Obama's senior thesis. It is completely false. I've never seen Obama's thesis. I have no idea where this report comes from--but I can assure you that it's complete nonsense.
Update: Michael Ledeen now has apologized to me on his blog, claiming that he, Limbaugh and others were punked by a satire. I appreciate the apology...but I wonder about what the willingness to take this cheesy crap as gospel says about Ledeen's--and Boss Rush's--sensibility. Actually, on second thought, I don't wonder all that much.

All I can say to Mr. Klein is that people make mistakes. Some try to correct them and even make strenuous effort to do so. Others, when having been accused of writing things that were in error, say things like:

I have neither the time nor...background to figure out who's right.

I didn't write that. Joe Klein did, and it comes from Editor & Publisher, November 29, 2007, and reads:

Klein, under persistent pressure since, backtracked to some extent in recent days, offering repeated updated clarifications, which critics also deemed inadequate. Finally he wrote, "I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right." Now the next issue of Time magazine, due out Friday, runs a correction of sorts that Greenwald and others may still find lacking as it suggests the factual matter is under dispute. The Chicago Tribune, however, which carried Klein's column, ran a full-fledged, unqualified correction, today.

Yes, Mr. Klein, we can all make mistakes, and some of us seek to correct them quickly and apologize with sincerity, without pressure or equivocation. Yesterday I wrote this (4:59) in the comments at AT:

The source I relied on for the news about the supposed Obama thesis and the quotes that appeared "Obama Not Getting Media Coverage He Deserves!" was Michael Ledeen at PJM. He has now retracted his story and apologized for any trouble his post has caused to any, stating that he was taken in by what was either a fraud or a satire. I too sincerely apologize to American Thinker, its readership and Rush Limbaugh, for my part in having spread what turned out to be entirely false. I should have checked further than a single source for something with such volatile content.

But then again, Mr. Klein, I'm not a professional journalist who does this for a living or any compensation, so I didn't have to be pressured to make correction to error.
Posted by Denis Keohane at 12:20 PM