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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Commenting on Weisberg Commenting on Suskind

Weisberg wrote

Issues of accuracy, fairness, and integrity come up nearly every time Suskind publishes something. Key sources claim they've been misrepresented and misquoted, that basic facts are wrong,

Then his only criticism of "The Price of Loyalty" is that it is too kind to co-author John O'Neill.

I comment.

I didn't know that anyone unaffiliated with the Bush administration had such a negative view of Suskind's earlier books. This is a sign of the risk of relying on partisan media. The liberal blogosphere loved them (I'm sure that Jane Hamsher likes the current book -- but I haven't checked). I don't really blame myself. I'm just a citizen, so I don't have to read conservatives, centrists or firebaggers if I don't want to. And I don't.

That said, let's look only at "The Price of Loyalty." O'Neill is a co-author of that book not just a source. The description of O'Neill had to be negotiated by Suskind and O'Neill. And O'Neill had a huge pile of bargaining chips since someone in the Bush administration had responded to his request for information by sending him a huge pile of confidential documents.

update 2: I'm sure you won't read to the end of this diatribe, but you really must read the note after the end of Weisberg's article

Correction, Sept. 22, 2011: Because of a production error, the article originally featured a photograph of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill with a caption identifying him as Ron Suskind.

I'm fairly sure that was a mistake, but my reaction is "Bad production assisting but oh what a critic."

Now consider this extremely dishonest butchered quote from your post "every time Suskind publishes something. Key sources claim they've been misrepresented and misquoted, that basic facts are wrong, " In the case of "The Price of Loyalty" you claim only that one of the co-authors is flattered. Notably all claims that sources were misquoted and/or misrepresented have been proven false. The sources are on disk as quoted in official (but normally secret) records.

I admitted that my quote was totally dishonest. I elided a key word which is absolutely necessary to make your statement true "nearly." But I have to admit that my BS detector is set off by weasel words like "nearly." You didn't have to use it. You could have discussed his sole authored books. You could have noted that "The Price of Loyalty" does not count, because O'Neill had to approve the text,, Suskind had access to usually secret official records and the people he criticized had access to the exact same records.

Any sneaky removal of context in "The Price of Loyalty" would be immediately detected by White House staffers tasked with searching for the quotes in computer readable files and checking the context.

Your view seems to be that "The Price of Loyalty" is an exception to the rule. But you slide over that fact using the weasel word "nearly" and then just not discussing the accuracy of claims of fact in "The price of Loyalty" or the description in it of anyone who isn't a co-author. For a few extra pixels, you could have avoided using a weaselly qualifier and avoided sliding over evidence related to your main claim without mentioning it.

Why didn't you just say that "The Price of Loyalty" is an exception and then provide the very simple explanation of why it is an exception as I did ? It's almost as if you would rather see if you can slip something past your readers.

Later Weisberg lists demonstrable errors of fact in "The Confidence Men." Weisberg's treatment of *his* sources is not reasonable. I have read about many errors on the list in articles which explicitly note that they were noted by the Obama administration. Basically White House staffers seem to have been assigned to look up howlers in the book. Weisberg gives no hint that he didn't discover all of the errors he lists on his own. Now journalism is different from academics, but, where I work, he would be required to cite his sources.


"W.H. details errors in Suskind book"
Ben White in Politico 9/19/11

An administration official sent along a partial list under the headline "The Suskind Book Game: 'Too Big to Fact Check?'" From the list of alleged errors: "1.) Suskind wrote that Larry Summers needed Senate confirmation to lead the National Economic Council. 2.) Suskind wrote that Secretary Geithner served as 'Chairman' of the New York Fed. 3.) Suskind wrote that Gene Sperling served as 'an assistant Treasury Secretary.' 4.) Suskind wrote that Geithner had 'never been an undersecretary' at Treasury. 5.) Suskind wrote that the acronym for the Bank for International Settlements is 'BASEL.' 6.) Suskind wrote that Gene Sperling played tennis at the University of Michigan."


Don't Believe Ron Suskind
Jacob Weisbert Slate 9/22/11

Suskind has now turned his egregious writing and dubious technique on the Obama administration in his new book, Confidence Men. Once again, his work is strewn with small but telling errors. Here are a few: The Federal Reserve is a board, not a bureau (Page 7); Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was previously president, not "chairman," of the New York Fed (Page 56); he was, however, an undersecretary of the treasury, which Suskind makes a point out of saying he wasn't (Page 172); Horatio Alger was an author, not a character (Page 54); Gene Sperling didn't play tennis for the University of Michigan, because he went to the University of Minnesota (Page 215); the gothic spires of Yale Law School, built in 1931, are not "centuries old" (Page 250); Franklin D. Roosevelt did not say of his opponents, "I welcome their hate" (Page 235). What FDR said at Madison Square Garden in 1936, was "I welcome their hatred." That nuance wouldn't matter if it weren't such a famous line, but getting it wrong is the political equivalent of an English professor misquoting Hamlet's soliloquy.

That is an entire paragraph. There is no citation of anything -- no hint that Weisberg had any help from anyone in finding those errors some of which were described in public 3 days before his article was published. And with attribution to the White House. It's easy to look good if you present someone else's work as your own.

Weisberg's post has had a dramatic effect on my opinions both of Ron Suskind and of Jacob Weisberg.

I hasten to add that I am fan of Robert Rubin and a Rubin-hater hater (you don't want to read what I write about Matt Taibbi).

update: I am writing as I am reading. Weisberg is more silly than I imagined possible. Now he is saying that Suskind got claims of fact wrong because of a non denial denial (or maybe two).

Suskind hangs a lot on a line from Larry Summers about the economic team being "home alone." Summers, too, has vehemently disputed Suskind's characterization, telling Politico, "The hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context."

Note that Summers's statement is consistent with the statement "I did say '... home alone ...' and that quote was taken out of context. The context was 'A 'quote' B' "(for A and B such that it is obvious that the meaning of the quote was not distorted by removal of context). I mean really when in the history of journalism has the fact that a public figure says he was quoted out of context (without describing the context at all) been considered damaging to a journalist ? I consider Summers' statement to be a confirmation that he did, indeed, say something like that. I am sure that, if hooked up to a lie detecter, Weisberg would say he agrees with me. I am sure he would not stand by his claim about what Summers's said if hooked up to a lie detector. There is no doubt in my mind that Weisberg is being dishonest.

Or to put it another way -- I think Weisberg's post contains an interesting mix of accuracy and originality. And if you know exactly what I mean.

(note also the citation for a fact not in the public record -- cite to prove a claim is true, don't cite if it is clearly true and one might be given credit)

That is a very classic non denial denial. Note that Weisberg asserts that this is a denial of the specific claim that Summers said "

update II The Icing on the Cake. I have now read to the very end (reproduced below)

should no longer be treated as a "controversial" journalist as much as a disreputable one. His fellow journalists no longer trust him. Readers shouldn't either.

Correction, Sept. 22, 2011: Because of a production error, the article originally featured a photograph of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill with a caption identifying him as Ron Suskind.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps with better production assistants who don't draw attention to a journalist's conflation of two different co-authors

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