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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Monday, January 30, 2006

We Will Not Yield to Islamist Pressure!
posted by lostingotham

A few weeks ago, an independent Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published some rather mild cartoons that were critical of Islam and its founder, Mohammed. Since then, whackos from throughout the Muslim world have been threatening all sorts of dire consequences, including, one must assume, a boycott of Danish hams.

The Danish Prime Minister has basically told the objecting Muslims to go to paradise (unlike his Norwegian neighbors, who somehow felt compelled to apologize for the Danes' anti-Muslim "atrocities").

It turns out mocking Mohammed is something of a Danish national pasttime, that is if the reaction of my friend Wiggin (who lives in Denmark) gives us anything to go by. He has graciously given me permission to reproduce his brilliant homage to the Prophet (pbuh)(peanut butter upon him) above. On the off chance that there are any Islamists reading--I guess you just won't be enjoying any more delicious Danish ham.

Hopefully the "we must address the reasons why they hate us" crowd is paying attention. They hate us because theirs is an ideology of hate. If it's not our foreign policy, it'll be the cartoons in our newspapers. If they drive us out of Baghdad, they'll want Seville.


Jyllands-Posten has published a non-apology apology. It's addressed to "Honourable Citizens of the Muslim World" (though one wonders if honorable Muslims are the ones making a hullabaloo) and essentially says "We're sorry you're offended." Not bad, I suppose, though I think "We're sorry you feel compelled by your religion to act as though you live in the 13th century," or "We're sorry you let your imams think for you" might have been even better. Don't look for a big Saudi rush on Danish ham.


Bucking the national tradition of appeasement, the French newspaper France Soir has reprinted the Danish cartoons (the originals, not Wiggin's masterpiece above). In recognition of this dramatic and unexpected feat of non-cowardice, I think tonight I'll enjoy a bottle of French wine--my first in over two years.


I knew it was too good to be true. The French compulsion to surrender is just too strong. The owner of France Soir has fired its editor for his un-Gallic display of courage and issued an appropriately grovelling apology. It's too late for me to un-drink that bottle of French wine, but as it leaves my body I dedicate it to the owner of France-Soir. Get used to it, mon ami, there's a long line of radical Muslims preparing even now to piss on you, too.

UPDATE 4 (on 02/02/2006 by Bathus):

PBS Watch has been doing a fine job blogging the Cartoon Wars. For the latest developments, insightful commentary, relevant links, and reproductions of the cartoons themselves, see the following PBS Watch posts (listed here in reverse chrono order):

Who Won the Election?

Once In A While


More Help For Tarek

We Have Always Been At War With Oceania

Trumping The Blogburst

Europe Grows A Backbone

Rodney King

The Final Solution

Helping Tarek

Advancing the Discussion

Farenheit 451 Alert (The Danish cartoons are reproduced here.)

posted by lostingotham | 1/30/2006 05:22:00 PM
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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Study Reveals Joe Biden Is Judiciary Committee's Biggest Gasbag
posted by Bathus

[01/11/2006 NOTE by Bathus: There's an update of this item here at the end of this post.]

Let's have some fun with statistics, shall we?

In the senate judiciary committee hearings this morning, Ted Kennedy clumsily attempted to make use of a Cass Sunstein "study" to support a charge that "Judge Alito rules against individuals 84 percent of the time." Writing for National Review Online two days ago, Byron York pointed out in advance that, with all its caveats, qualifications, and disclaimers, Sunstein's report is useful "to prove virtually nothing." Well, it does prove that if a bloated liberal senator gives Cass Sunstein enough money, in a very short time that scholar of unimpeachable credentials will produce a study of sufficient rigor to convince the bloated senator that what the bloated senator wants to be believe is actually true.

Kennedy didn't mention Sunstein's ample disclaimers because the ample senator doesn't care whether Sunstein's ginned up stats reveal everything, something, or nothing about what kind of justice Alito would be. Kennedy's not alone in that regard. If any of the senators on the judiciary committee actually cared about using these hearings to learn something about Alito, they would spend more time listening to what the nominee might have to say, and less time self-indulgently bloviating.

Kennedy's use of Sunstein's dubious statistics inspired me to do a little number-crunching myself, to answer the pressing question: Which senator, when measured by an objective standard, can be identified as the biggest gasbag on the judiciary committee?

My methodology is completely objective:

Using this transcript of the morning session of today's hearings, for each senator's thirty minute question period I took the number of words spoken by the senator and divided it by the number of words spoken by the nominee and the senator together. Actually, because some senators use bigger words and some use smaller words, I decided that, instead of using words as the unit of measure, it would be better to use individual letters (without counting spaces between words), so that the phrase "Alito sucked eggs" and the phrase "Alito dissembled" count exactly the same: 15 characters. (Before calculating percentages, I excluded words spent on administrative matters and other similar interruptions. However, the senators'--often extensive--introductory remarks were counted.) So the numbers in the second and third columns of the chart below reflect the number of letters (not words) appearing in the transcript of questions and answers asked by and answered to each senator. The resulting percentages, shown in the last column (labelled "Senator %,") indicate what portion of each senator's dialogue with Alito was comprised of the senator's "questions."

The great thing about careful statistical analysis is that it reveals truths that just can't be discerned by casual observation and common sense alone.

For example, I bet you never would have guessed that the biggest gasbag during the first session of questioning was Joe Biden, who monopolized almost 80% of his dialogue with Alito. Roughly speaking, the nominee got in edgewise one word for every four that meandered out of Biden's yap.

Coming in a distant second in verbosity this morning was the ever-generous Ted Kennedy, who gave more than twice as much as he received. But it's not really fair to expect the bloated one to be up to snuff so early in the day.

As a group, during the morning session the senators used up three-fifths (60.32%) of the total dialogue and left the nominee to make do with two-fifths. I guess that's only fair since there are so many of them and only one of him.

Kyl was the only senator who failed to out-talk the nominee. But as the last questioner of the morning session, Kyl was interrupted when the committee adjourned for lunch ten minutes into his allotted thirty minutes. With a light lunch and a heavy nap, perhaps Kyl can catch back up with pack when the hearings resume in the afternoon.

Joe Biden also claimed the morning's prize for the longest soliloquy, wherein he wasted more than a third of his entire dialogue with Alito on this single "question":
BIDEN: Well, it was a pretty outrageous group. I mean, I believe you that you were unaware of it. But here I was, University of Delaware graduate, a sitting United States senator, I was aware of it because I was up there on the campus. I mean, it was a big deal. It was a big deal, at least in our area of the Delaware Valley, if Princeton, Penn, the schools around there had this kind -- because the big thing was going on at Brown at the time as well.

And by the way, for the record, I know you know when you stated in your application that you are a member -- you said in '85, "I am a member" -- they had restored ROTC. ROTC was back on the campus.

But again, this is just by way of why some of us are puzzled. Because if I was aware of it, and I didn't even like Princeton...

I mean, I really didn't like Princeton. I was an Irish Catholic kid who thought it had not changed like you concluded it had.

I admit, one of my real dilemmas is I have two kids who went to Ivy League schools. I'm not sure my Grandfather Finnegan will ever forgive me for allowing that to happen.

But all kidding aside, I wasn't a big Princeton fan. And so maybe that is why I focused on it and no one else did. But I remember it at the time.

The other thing is, Judge, the other thing you should be aware of -- and do not take this personally, what's going on here -- every nominee that comes before us is viewed by all the senators -- left, right, center, Democrat, Republican -- at least on two levels, at least in my experience here.

The first one is individual qualifications and what their constitutional methodology, their views are, their philosophy.

But the other is -- and it always occurs -- whose spot they're taking and what impact that would have on the court.

Everybody wrote with Roberts after the fact that a lot of people voted for Roberts that were doubtful. I was doubtful, I voted no. But he was replacing Rehnquist. So Roberts for Rehnquist, you know, what's the worst that can happen, quote/unquote, or the best that can happen?

No, I'm not being facetious. What's the best or worst?

If you're conservative, the best that can happen is he's as good as Rehnquist. From the standpoint of a -- someone who's a liberal, the worst that can happen, he's as good as Rehnquist.

So, I mean -- but you're replacing -- I mean, we can't lose this and so people understand this. You are replacing someone who has been the fulcrum on an otherwise evenly divided court. And a woman who's -- most scholars who write about her, and in a retrospective about her, say this is a woman who viewed things from -- the phrase you've used -- a real-world perspective. This was a former legislator, this was a former practitioner, this was someone who came to the bench and applied -- to her critics, she applied too much common sense. Critics would say that she was too sensitive to the impact on individuals, you know, that -- what would happen to an individual.

So her focus on the impact on individuals was sometimes criticized and praised.

It's just important you understand, at least for my questioning, that this goes beyond you. It goes to whether or not your taking her seat will alter the constitutional framework of this country by shifting the balance 5-4, 4-5, one way or another.

And that's the context in which, at least, I want to ask you my questions after trying to get some clarification, or getting some clarification from you on concern Princeton. Because, again, a lot of this just is puzzling; not not able to be answered, just puzzling.

Judge, you and I both know -- and clearly one of the hallmarks, at least in my view, of Justice O'Connor's position was, she fully understood the real world of discrimination. I mean, she felt it.

Graduated number two in her class from Stanford, couldn't get a job, was offered a job by law firms -- granted, she was older than you are, but couldn't get a job because she was a woman; they'd offer her a job as a secretary.

And so she understood what I think everybody here from both ends of the spectrum understand: that discrimination has become very sophisticated. It's become very, very sophisticated, very much more subtle than it was when I got here 34 years ago or 50 years ago.

And employees don't say any more, you know, "We don't like blacks in this company," or, "We don't want women here."

They say things like, "Well, they wouldn't fit in," or, "You know, they tend to be too emotional" or "a little high-strung."

I mean, there's all different ways in which now it's become so much more subtle. And that's why we all, Democrat and Republican, wrote Title VII. We wrote these laws to try to get at what we observed in the real world.

What we observed in the real world is it's real subtle. And yet it's harder to make a case of discrimination even though there's no doubt that it still exists.

And so I'd like to talk to you about a couple of anti- discrimination cases. One is the Bray case. In that case, a black woman said she was denied a promotion for a job that she was clearly qualified for. There was no doubt she was qualified. And she said, "I was denied that job because I'm a black woman."

And it was, as I said, indisputable she was qualified. It was indisputable that the corporation failed to follow their usual internal hiring procedures. And the corporation gave conflicting explanations as to why they reached the decision to hire another woman who they asserted was more qualified than Ms. Bray.

Now the district court judge said, you know, Ms. Bray hadn't even made a prima facie case here, or she made -- but she hadn't made a sufficient showing to get to a jury; I'm finding for the corporation here.

And Ms. Bray's attorney appealed and it went up to the 3rd Circuit. And you and your colleagues disagreed. Two of your colleagues said, you know, Ms. Bray should have a jury trial here. And you said "No, I don't think she should," and you set out a standard, as best I can understand it. I want to talk to you about it.

And your colleagues said that if they applied your standard in Title VII cases, discrimination cases, that it would effectively -- their words -- eviscerate Title VII because, they went on to say, it ignores the realities of racial animus.

They went on to say that racial animus runs so deep in some people that they're incapable of acknowledging that a black woman is qualified for a job.

But, Judge, you dismissed that assertion. You said that the conflicting statements that the employer made were just loose language, and you expressed your concern about allowing disgruntled employees to impose cost of a trial on employers. And so your colleagues thought you set the bar, I think it's fair to say, pretty high in order to make the case that it should go to a jury.

Can you tell me what the difference is between a business judgment as to who's most qualified -- you said, "This comes down to subjective business judgment" -- and discrimination? You said, "Subjective business judgment should prevail unless the qualifications of the candidate are extremely disproportionate."

What's the difference between that in today's world and discrimination? I know you want to eliminate discrimination. Explain to me how that test is distinguishable from just plain old discrimination.
So the big revelation from this morning's hearing is that, based on objective statistical analysis and confirmed by anecdotal evidence, Joe Biden is the biggest gasbag on the judiciary committee.

Even though he is an indeflatible gasbag, from what I've heard Joe Biden is actually a pretty decent guy on a personal level, which is more than one can say--on any level--about certain other members of the committee: If I can figure out an objective way to measure who's the biggest asshole on the judiciary committee, my next post will feature Ted Kennedy.

UPDATE 01/11/2006: The table above displayed data only for the first seven senators who questioned Alito during yesterday's morning session. By this afternoon the judiciary committee had completed its first full round of questioning, so I've run the numbers to show results for all eighteen senators:

With one full round of questions completed, Joe Biden retained his top spot in the gasbag stakes, but saw his lead threatened by Republican John Cornyn who now trails him by less than one percent. By the end of the first round, Ted Kennedy had slipped all the way to fifth place, when Senators Schumer and DeWine both recorded truly inspired displays of fatuous bloviation. Undeterred, the bloated senator from Massachusetts remains within what for him is easy stinking distance of the lead, and has promised an especially gaseous outing in the second round of questions, which was set to begin right after lunch today. Thrown off stride when his first round questions were interrupted by an adjourment after only ten minutes, Senator Kyl had been the only inquisitor to fail to out-talk the nominee in yesterday's morning session. But after the adjournment Kyl came back strong in his final twenty minutes to offer a respectably gas-filled performance that propelled him back toward the middle of the pack. Bringing up the rear were Senators Feinstein and Kohl. Those two senators, who permitted the nominee to out-gas them badly, have fallen so far behind that some have suggested they should drop out of the competition altogether.

(Thanks to James Taranto at Best of the Web for linking this post.)

posted by Bathus | 1/10/2006 11:00:00 PM
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Sunday, January 08, 2006

posted by Bathus

Sad but true, "throw 'em to the wolves" is sometimes for the best.

The Dems set their sights on bringing down Tom Delay a long time ago, and now they've succeeded.

I had expected all along that they would succeed, and to be perfectly frank I've looked forward to their success because Delay (aka "The Exterminator," aka "The Hammer") has never presented the most appealing image of the Republican Party. He's not the devil the Dems want to make him out to be, but there is something about his persona that lends itself to a caricature drawn with the most hideous stereotypes one can associate with Republicans and conservatives. I doubt Delay will be convicted (but then again I thought Martha Stewart would be acquitted), but that's irrelevant to what's in the best interests of conservatives, the GOP, and the public generally.

What's happening to Delay is akin to the ancient Athenian democracy's practice of ostracism, a practice in which the actual guilt or innocence of the political leader is completely irrelevant. The person's status comes to depend entirely upon whether he is admired or reviled (or feared). Ostracism is a formalization of a fundamental instinct of all democratic peoples: The need, now and then, to bring low some person of high status.
To be ostracized by the Athenians meant being exiled from the land for a period of ten years. But one was not imprisoned, and one's property was not confiscated. In our democracy, ostracism can be both harsher and more frivolous than it was among the Athenians: Our practice is harsher because our modern ostracisms sometimes entail criminal prosecutions, with loss of freedom and/or property. Martha Stewart's criminal trial was a modern ostracism. She was convicted because she was reviled and envied. Our process is also sometimes more frivolous than it was among the Athenians, because they reserved ostracism for great political leaders. The Athenian people would have thought they had demeaned themselves if they ostracized a mere celebrity like Martha Stewart.

To have been ostracized by the Athenian democracy was a mark of greatness and power. To be ostracized by the American democracy it is enough merely to be popularly disliked or envied.

Distasteful (and morally abhorrent) as all this is, aside from the nice question of whether what is happening to Delay is fair or just to him personally, the reality is that in a democracy a leader cannot serve the public good if he is too widely reviled or envied. In that question of the public good, the justice of the individual case cannot stand against the public necessity.

The Dems and Ronnie Earle are doing the GOP a favor by giving them the excuse to do, and claiming the ignoble credit for doing, what many Republicans have wanted to do-- what must be done for the good of all, all except Tom Delay.

posted by Bathus | 1/08/2006 01:48:00 PM
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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Further Thoughts on the Little White Lie about a Little Read Book
posted by Bathus

[01/05/2006 NOTE by Bathus: There's an important update of this item at the end of this post.]

On further reflection I have realized that my last post on this subject was too hard on the UMass Dartmouth student and too easy on the newspaper that published his lie.

I still believe that the student's name should be disclosed for the public good and for the good of journalism, and that the student himself will be better off in the long run if he steps forward to take personal responsibility for his lie.

So if and when I discover his name, I still intend to publish it in this space.

However, after looking more closely at the way the New Bedford Standard-Times handled this story, especially how that newspaper's editors and its reporter have slyly sought to deflect the major responsibility for their journalistic sin from themselves onto the student, I have come to the conclusion that the Standard-Times, not the student, is the real villain of this piece.

My thinking about all this is set forth in full in the following email I dashed off to the Standard-Times editor, Robert Unger. (I've edited the text of my email a bit to spruce up sloppy grammar and to clarify especially awkward phrasing.)

From: Bathus
To: Robert Unger
Date: Wednsday, January 04, 2006 12:40 AM
Subject: Further Thoughts on the Little Red Hoax

I am an attorney and blogger who operates under the nom de blog "Bathus" at Adeimantus Blog, where I have recently written on the subject of the now infamous UMass Dartmouth Little Red Book hoax.

In its apologia for publishing this false story, the New Bedford Standard-Times has put forward three rationales for withholding the hoaxer's identity:
[W]e didn't name the student, at the request of the university. We also worried about the student's mental state and about the careers of professors Williams and Pontbriand.
(In his follow-up story, your reporter Aaron Nicodemus had similarly stated, "At the request of the two professors and the university, The Standard-Times has agreed to withhold his name.")

Your paper's stated rationales for refusing to disclose the identity of the UMass Dartmouth hoaxer are not plausible. Let's look at them one by one:

I. "We didn't name the student at the request of the university."

This rationale standing by itself is worthless. No responsible newspaper would ever withhold newsworthy facts from the public merely because some entity, even a beloved local institution of higher education, so requested. If the information is newsworthy (and in the course of reading this email it should become clear to you why the student's identity is indeed newsworthy), then the newspaper should publish it notwithstanding the university's understandable desire to protect its students--unless the university offered some very weighty reasons not to publish. Such reasons have not been forthcoming.

II. "We also worried about the student's mental state."

This rationale, while somewhat compelling emotionally, is not otherwise persuasive. Editors and reporters are not qualified to make a psychologist's judgment that publishing the student's name would do him significant emotional harm beyond that which he has already suffered. One wonders whether--except for the inapplicable rationales for withholding the names of minors and victims of sex offenses--the Standard-Times has ever before worried whether publishing the name of a person at the very center of a story would affect that person's mental state. In a similar context, would the Standard-Times hesitate to publish the name of a 22 year-old factory worker whose false statements were at the center of a nationally significant story reported in its pages? Notwithstanding the sympathies one might feel toward students as a class, does a student deserve milder treatment than a factory worker?

One must evaluate the credibility of the Standard-Times' purported concern for the student's frail emotional state in light of an editorial column titled "Sizing up [the] week of news" in which the Standard-Times published the following post hoc analysis:
Student should be ashamed

Thumbs down for the UMass student who lied to professors and The Standard-Times about being visited by federal agents after he ordered a copy of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book through the inter-library loan system. This bogus story went around the nation and gave the public a false impression of our government at a time when our government is under intense pressure to defend the homeland from terrorism and does not need the public to turn against it. (emphasis added)
The above statement elicits the following observations:

Firstly, with the above statement, the Standard-Times appears to be attempting unfairly to place the bulk of the blame on this student in order to deflect responsibility away from itself, when (as I explain more fully below) it was the Standard-Times' extremely shoddy reporting that transformed what otherwise would have remained a thoroughly unremarkable "private lie" between a student and his professors into a source of massive public embarrassment for all the involved parties.

Secondly, the Standard-Times' assertion that the student deserves shame is not consistent with its statement that the Standard-Times is worried about the student's mental health. If the Standard-Times were truly concerned about the student's purportedly fragile mental health, it would not have published the above statement asserting that the student deserves to have shame heaped upon him. (On the other hand, you can call me old-fashioned, but I personally believe that this student would emerge from this episode with greater integrity, both emotional integrity and ethical integrity, if he were required publicly to take personal responsibility for his role in this fiasco.) The Standard-Times inflicts more public shame on the student (whose identity is already known among a large segment of the UMass Dartmouth community) while at the same time using the student's supposed mental frailty as an excuse for withholding his name.

Thirdly, the Standard-Times' statement correctly points out that this story "gave a false impression of our government at a time when our government is under intense pressure to defend the homeland from terrorism and does not need the public to turn against it." Because that is true, the Standard-Times editor has a journalistic duty to the public, to his own paper, and to his profession to reveal the name of the hoaxer so as to discourage others from using the media to disseminate information they know to be false. This duty to protect the integrity of your profession, and to serve the public's right to the full truth on a story that has corrupted the public debate in a matter of national interest, outweighs any speculative concerns the Standard-Times might have about private harm that might redound to the person who originated the lie.

III. We also worried about . . . the careers of professors Williams and Pontbriand.

All of the considerations that apply to discredit your concern for protecting the mental health of the student apply equally to your concern for protecting the careers of the professors. Since when did tenured university professors become a specially protected class under the First Amendment?

More particularly, I am unable to see how disclosing the name of this student could do further harm to the careers of these two professors--unless that disclosure might lead to discovery of additional facts indicating the professors had reason to know, before the story was first published, that this student and his story did not merit the defense that they attempted to provide. In either case, the story remains unfinished, and the Standard-Times has a journalistic duty to complete the story that it started.

The implicit suggestion that disclosure of the student's name would cause harm to the professors' careers leaves one with precisely the impression that the professors do have something to hide. If you really do care about the professors' careers, assuming their careers deserve journalistic protection, you would serve them better by publishing the student's name. But your duty is not to protect reputations and careers. Your duty is to get all the facts out so your readers, including those who happen to be in a position to make judgments about the two professors' careers, can determine for themselves what judgments are fitting.

In that regard, one notes Professor Williams' positively glowing statement--that this student, whom he claimed to "know well" was "the real thing . . . mature, honest, reliable, hard-working and genuinely interested in getting to the truth"--an evaluation that simply does not match up with the picture of this student that emerges from the Standard-Times later reporting, wherein the student comes across as self-centered:
When I came back, like wow, there's this circus coming on. I saw my cell phone, and I see like, wow, I have something like 75 messages and like something like 87 missed calls. Wow, I was popular.
and not quite the budding scholar the professor described, if the above sample of his thinking and the following sample of his writing are fairly illustrative:
The fact is that my being panicked about this hole (sic) event led me to unfortunately prop up my story (i.e., fabricate it), for that I have to apologize to you and to my professors. I have spoken to my family about the whole issue and the fact is that they were understandibly (sic) angry. My name has been dishonored within my family and so I will spend the rest of the winter trying to restore even a little bit of it back, at least.
One finds it difficult to believe that Professor Williams could be so utterly deceived about the character of a student he claimed to know so well. Thus, one is left to wonder whether the incongruity between the character of the student Professor Williams described and the character of the student who made the above statements should be otherwise, or at least further, explained. Several persons, including myself, have speculated whether the unidentified student might have originated as a creation of professor's imagination. Many others have speculated that the student's story was seeded by the government to embarrass Bush's critics, and that the two professors were in on it the whole time. The plausibility of such speculations confirms that the story remains incomplete and cannot be wrapped up until this student's identity is known.

Having gone through the reasons that the Standard-Times' rationales for withholding this student's name are implausible, let me offer my opinion as to the real reason, for your reticence, a reason which I hinted at above and which can be summed up in single word:


(Pardon me here if I indulge in the same sort of psychological analysis for which I have faulted the Standard-Times. We lawyers grant ourselves wide latitude.)

The Standard-Times, or should I say its editors and reporter, feel downright guilty, as well they should, that their sloppy journalism had the effect of tempting and aiding an otherwise fairly decent young man to persist in what was an otherwise mildly blameworthy private lie until that private lie was transformed into what now seems to threaten to become a public humiliation.

Let me explain how I reached that judgment about your motives for withholding this student's name, motives of which you yourselves might not yet be fully conscious. Based on the Standard-Times' own reporting and editorializing, it seems clear that events unfolded thusly:

In the course of a conversation Nicodemus initiated to obtain a comment from Professor Williams, the professor let drop, "almost as an aside," that he'd heard tell from a fellow professor that a student had been interrogated by government agents for attempting to get his hands on a copy of the Little Red Book. Had Professor Williams known that Nicodemus would want to make a full-blown story out of that yarn, he probably would never have mentioned that seemingly harmless little anecdote in the first place,even if he did believe at the time it was true. But Nicodemus seized on the juicy tidbit, and--based on a second piece of second-hand hearsay "corroboration" (which was just as worthless as the first piece of second-hand hearsay "corroboration")--put the story into print without first making direct contact with the student himself.

Let me here point out with special emphasis the important fact that, although the student had lied privately to his professor, he did not lie to the Standard-Times reporter until after the Standard-Times had already put the story into print. The Standard-Times got the story wrong without ever talking to the student. Therefore, it is quite false, unethical, and grossly unfair to the student (about whom the Standard-Times now claims to worry so much), for the Standard-Times to have left its readers with the impression that the paper got the story wrong because the student purposefully misled the Standard-Times reporter. That is exactly the impression you tried to create when you wrote, "We must be as sure as we can that a source is telling us the truth," which leaves the impression that you got the story wrong only because the student lied to you. Yes, the student misled his professors. But the Standard-Times misled itself. And then the Standard-Times slyly tried to nudge the bulk of the blame for its own mistake onto the student. For that journalistic sin, you deserve every bit of the guilt you now feel.

That failure to speak with the student before printing the story was the fatal error. And that failure to speak with the student remains the source of the Standard-Times' abiding feelings of guilt. That sense of guilt prevents the Standard-Times editors from perceiving their journalistic duty.

If, oh if, the reporter Nicodemus had just made contact with the student, and if, oh if, Nicodemus had then pressed him as he should have, it is entirely probable either that the student would have backed off his fish story or that Nicodemus would have smelled something fishy that would have warned him off the story.

But once the story was in print, once the student's favorite professors had publicly placed their own reputations on the line in defense of the student's tale, the stakes became just to high for the student to pull back. By unilaterally upping the ante (with some help from the gullible professors), the Standard-Times made the game too rich for the student to fold. That's the kind of thing that can happen when newspapers gamble with the truth. Lots of people lose.

So the Standard-Times feels especially guilty toward the student for taking what should have remained an entirely private matter (a student's private lie to his professors) and transforming it into a major public humiliation for the student. The Standard-Times then magnified its guilt by suggesting that the student had misled its reporter into filing a false story, when the Standard-Times, by its own admission, never spoke to the student before printing the false story.

So guilt, that good old fashioned emotion, is the real reason the Standard-Times won't finish reporting this story. And it seems that, by apparently promising the professors and the university not disclose the student's name, the Standard-Times has made things worse by painting itself into a journalistic corner. One journalistic sin just keeps leading to another, until it seems the Standard-Times only option is to clam up entirely.

Let me suggest a way out for the Standard-Times to escape from its dark and silent corner.

First, come clean. All the way clean. Admit explicitly that you screwed up completely. Not a little. Completely. Off the charts. Off the scale screw up. Don't offer explanations that sound like excuses. Don't give us these half-apologies about how Nicodemus "corroborated" the story with a second source. (Pontbriand's "corroboration" was confirmation of what the student said; it was not confirmation of the truth of what the student said. Don't you see the difference? If Pontbriand had said that a student had said the moon is made of green cheese, would you claim to have a second reliable corroboration that the moon is made of green cheese?)

Second, apologize publicly and profusely to the student, whom you have unfairly cast as the main villain. Explain explicitly that although the student's private lie was certainly blameworthy, it was worthy only of private blame, to be negotiated between him and his professors. Explain that, although the student was clearly wrong to lie to his professor, that private act did not the merit the public humiliation that the Standard-Times' sloppy reporting lead to. Explain that once the Standard-Times published the story without giving the student a chance to confirm or to retract his private lie, and without proper corroboration, the damage was already done. Explain that by the time your reporter got around to speaking with the student, the die had already been cast by the Standard-Times, and nothing the student could have said once the story was already in print could undo much of the damage the Standard-Times had done. Explain that it is certainly understandable that after the Standard-Times rashly raised the stakes by making this private lie public, it would have been extremely difficult for any young student to come clean right away when his apparently harmless private peccadillo suddenly threatened to compromise the public reputations of his favorite professors. Explain and admit to your readers over and over that, although it was a private wrong for the student to lie to his professors, it was a much worse public wrong for the Standard-Times to rely on a second-hand story that made that private lie into public humiliation. Retract and apologize profusely for your editorial heaping blame on the student, when the vast bulk of the blame belongs to the Standard-Times for blowing this private lie completely out of proportion. Remind yourselves and your readers over and over again that although the student had lied privately to his professors, he didn't lie to the Standard-Times until after the Standard-Times had already published this false story. Remind your readers that the Standard-Times never published a single word that was based on a lie the student told directly to the Standard-Times, and that it was therefore terribly wrong for the Standard-Times for try to blame lies, to which it was not a party, for its own sloppy reporting.

Third, publish the student's name. But before you do so, explain to him that, although his private lie deserves private blame, the Standard-Times will acknowledge that its own sloppy reporting--by exploding a private lie into a public matter--placed him into what for almost any young person would be an untenable position. Explain to him that you must now publish his name because one journalistic sin cannot serve as the justification for a second journalistic sin. And give the student another chance to make a fuller public statement, in a separate piece to be published prominently on your editorial page, concurrent with the publication of his name. (And this time, have your editors clean up his grammar, spelling, and diction so he won't look like an idiot.) If you approach this student honestly, if you explain to him that you will now deal with him fairly, I believe that he will agree to have his name disclosed.

There's an honorable and honest path open to you if you have the guts to take it.

Or alternatively you can dig yourselves deeper into your dark and silent corner and hope to weather the storm. But (God bless the internet!) some blogger (maybe me) will soon come up with this student's name and will disclose it. Several of us are working on it already, and it is just a matter of time. No, my site traffic is not on the scale of Instapundit or Kos, but I suspect that if I come up with this student's name before you disclose it, Instapundit and Kos and dozens of other bloggers large and small (and perhaps a few MSM outlets) will link to my post. When that day arrives, you can rest assured that I will be fairer to this student than you have been thus far. Indeed, on further contemplation, I have come to realize that my recent blog post was far too hard on the student and much too soft on the Standard-Times editors and reporter, who to my mind were and remain the real culprits here. So now I can assure you that if the Standard-Times doesn't come clean, if and when I get this student's name, I will use that occasion to give the Standard-Times the public blistering it will by then most richly deserve.


If you have information that might lead to the identity of theUMass Dartmouth Little Red Book hoaxer, email me at

01/05/2006 UPDATE

Standard-Times editor Robert Unger replied to the above email. I wrote him back, and he replied a second time:
From: Robert Unger
To: Bathus
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2006
Subject: Re: Further Thoughts on the Little Red Hoax

Dear Mr. Jacobs,

Whether or not you decide to publish the name of the student is your business. We made our decision based on what we believed to be right and fair. You disagree, as is your right. You also are free to criticize us in any way you choose.

With best regards,

Bob Unger
Editor, The Standard-Times

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

From: Bathus
To: Robert Unger
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2006
Subject: Re: Further Thoughts on the Little Red Hoax

Dear Mr. Unger,

Thank you for reminding me that I am free to criticize the Standard-Times in any way I choose. We agree about that much.

But with respect to those matters where agreement is less easy to come by, I had hoped that your reply might substantively address at least a few of the points raised in my email.

I believe the Standard-Times has an obligation, not to me, but to its readers, to provide a fuller explanation of its decision to withhold this student's name. Can't you expand further on the reasonings that led you to believe it was "right and fair" to withhold the student's name? One assumes there was a thought process involving a weighing of interests, a consideration of consequences, etc. Or was it just a gut feeling that prompted you to make a promise to the university and the two professors without really thinking things through? If you aren't going to publish the student's name, you should at least explain the reasoning that brought you to that decision. The account you've given so far is simply not persuasive or even plausible, for all the reasons I've pointed out [in my last email].

I am still hoping for a fuller reply.



¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

From: Robert Unger
To: Bathus
Date: Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Subject: Re: Further Thoughts on the Little Red Hoax

Hello, Mr. Jacobs,

I didn't mean to blow you off in any way, and I hope you'll forgive me if that's how it sounded. It's just that I have heard from a lot of non-readers (mostly bloggers, talk radio hosts and people with strong pro- and anti-Bush perspectives all wanting to talk about this case) and I do have a fulltime job here that keeps me plenty busy. My two reasons for not ID'ing the student truly was as I said.

The two professors we quoted [Pontbriand and Williams] both were facing possible disciplinary action because they divulged to our reporter private information about a particular student. In that it was our reporter [Aaron Nicodemus] seeking comment from them on the Times story about the eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, which we do from time to time in seeking reaction to significant national or international events, we believed that they would pay an unfairly heavy price for talking to us.

In addition, it was our belief (along with our other sources) that the student who told this tale -- which as I said we should not have reported without evaluating his story directly ourselves -- was emotionally unstable and we feared for him. We believed that revealing his name, therefore, was likely to do more harm than good. At no point did we promise anyone -- either the student or the university -- that we would not name him; we made that determination ourselves after long discussion. I believe it was the right thing to do. I hope that answers your questions, and I respectfully acknowledge that you disagree with that decision.

With best regards,
Bob Unger
I do appreciate Unger's willingness to respond to a highly critical email from an obscure blogger. His second email--by abandoning the dismissive tone of his first email--represents at least a stylistic improvement. However, inasmuch as neither of Unger's replies succeeds in meeting the points I had raised in my long and detailed email, there's nothing to be gained by my rehashing arguments to which he has failed to respond. Without doing much to address my points, Unger's reply does create new questions and new contradictions:

1. To support the rationale that the Standard-Times withheld the student's name to protect the professors' careers, Unger writes:
The two professors we quoted both were facing possible disciplinary action because they divulged to our reporter private information about a particular student. In that it was our reporter seeking comment from them on the Times story . . . , we believed that they would pay an unfairly heavy price for talking to us.[emphasis added]
So far as I know, there had not been--until now--any public allegation that the professors had improperly divulged private information about the as-yet anonymous student. While I have no idea under what circumstances a professor's disclosure of such information would violate UMass Dartmouth policies, and while I have no knowledge about precisely what private information the professors disclosed, it seems to me that, with his startling admission that the professors had "divulged to our reporter private information about a particular student," Unger has provided evidence that now substantially increases the risk that the professors could be subjected to discipline by their university.

So much for the Standard-Times' concern about protecting the professors' careers!

And there's a larger point here. For reasons that I discussed in my long email above, the Standard-Times' concern about the professors' careers is misplaced. Instead of sending me an email disclosing potentially damaging facts about acts these professors might have committed in furtherance of the hoax, the fact that these professors, possibly wrongfully, disclosed private information about their student should have been published several days ago in the pages of the Standard-Times. That fact, along with the identity of the student hoaxer, is necessary for the public to evaluate exactly how and why it came to be that, at a crucial moment in a vitally important public debate, the Standard-Times published a false story that corrupted the debate.

2. If indeed the professors are candidates for university discipline, either for divulging a student's private information to a reporter or for some other act, it is not clear to me that by withholding the name of the student, the Standard-Times thereby reduces the professors' risk of being disciplined. If the UMass Dartmouth disciplinary system is administered fairly, the professors liability for academic discipline will depend solely upon the acts the professors themselves committed, not upon acts committed by a third party. If the professors violated university policy by divulging a student's private information to a reporter, the act deserving discipline was complete the moment the information was passed to the reporter. Whether or not the reporter then further disseminates the information is irrelevant to the question of the wrongfulness of the professors' disclosure. If the professors were wrong to disclose a student's private information to a reporter, that act does not become less wrong because the reporter chose not to publish the information.

3. In my original email to Runger I had speculated that perhaps the Standard-Times had bound itself to silence by rashly promising either the student, the professors, or the university not to disclose the hoaxer's name. In his second email to me Unger contends that, "At no point did we promise anyone--either the student or the university-- that we would not name him; we made that determination ourselves after long discussion." However, in his follow-up article reporting that the student's tale was a hoax, Standard-Times reporter Nicodemus wrote, "At the request of the two professors and the university, The Standard-Times has agreed to withhold his name." Does The Standard-Times' agreement, made at the request of the university and the professors, constitute a promise? Other lawyers can split hairs over that one, but from a common sense perspective--and probably from the perspective of an expert in journalism ethics--it sure looks an awful lot like a promise to me. If so, it was a promise rashly given, a promise prompted, as I have already suggested, not by an evaluation of journalistic duty, but by a sense of guilt.

And so one journalistic sin leads to another and another and another.

It's time for the Standard-Times to come clean.

posted by Bathus | 1/04/2006 01:59:00 AM
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