Friday, February 23

Frank Gaffney or 10,000 Monkeys Typing--Which Would Get Something Right First?

So last week Frank swallows a bogus Lincoln quote which, if you've read the great man's actual words above you will likely agree didn't sound anything like Lincoln and should have given anyone with a passing familiarity with them pause stopped any halfway-honest reader in his tracks. But Frank was using a certified "Conservative" source--one which could not be bothered to correct the error when it appeared--and so had no earthly reason to spend five seconds double-checking it, when he would have tumbled onto FactCheck.org debunking it six months ago.

[The "quote", just for the record: “Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.”]

The Moonie Times reportedly took two days to get around to pulling Frank's column, though it's still available at Town Hall, if that tells you anything about Gaffney's commitment to accuracy. So this week offers up a steaming bowl of mea culpa, right?

Well, funny you should mention it, because Frank seems to have learned contrition from Dick Cheney, back when the two warhawks were serving in 'Nam:
I began this column last week with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln in which harsh treatment was deemed warranted for congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military. It turns out to have been a paraphrase of our 16th president's attitude toward those who engage in such behavior, rather than a direct quote.

Well, no. It was a statement of the author, Insight contributor J. Michael Waller, who now says it appeared as a quotation due to an editor's error (or intent), though a couple of factors argue against that explanation. There's certainly no cogent basis for the claim that it paraphrases, approximates, or even halfway resembles Lincoln's personal views. And had Gaffney been interested enough to investigate his mistake, instead of finding a way to rewrite it, he'd have known that.
I regret the error and should, instead, have used the following, verbatim excerpt from a letter President Lincoln wrote in June 1863, as Robert E. Lee's army was on the march north to the fateful battle of Gettysburg. Mr. Lincoln wrote this letter after the arrest of a leading Confederate sympathizer legislator (or "Copperheads" as they were then known), U.S. Rep. Clement L. Vallandigham, Ohio Democrat. It forcefully explains the commander in chief's thinking about the latitude the Constitution affords to "silence" anti-war "agitators" whose conduct "damages the Army" and threatens to leave the nation without the military means to "suppress" its enemies...

Well, no. Vallandigham was not a Representative. He was a former Representative, having been (handily) defeated in 1862. Vallandigham was arrested, not by Lincoln or with his knowledge, and not for treason or sabotage, but for violating General Order #38, issued by Ambrose "Most Incompetent Union General Who Did Not Write Ben Hur" Burnside as Commander of the Department of Ohio, which had provided the death penalty for overt acts of treason and declared that "the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy...will not be tolerated." Burnside hadn't bothered to consult anyone about the order, including an attorney. Vallandigham made a speech in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on May Day, in which he claimed, for one, that Republicans were prolonging the war for political purposes. He was arrested by Burnside's men on May 5th, convicted by military tribunal on the 15th of violating the order and sentenced, not to hang, but to close confinement for the duration of the war. Vallandigham had refused to plead, arguing that the military court had no jurisdiction over a private citizen.

Lincoln, unaware of the arrest until after the fact, did issue his famous expression of support ("Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier-boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?"). Lincoln's comments demonstrate a clear recognition that the two situations were matters of very different legal jurisdictions, but not his desire to avoid having civil courts take the matter up nor his awareness that Vallandigham was now becoming something of a cause célèbre, and his words from jail, widely reprinted in both anti-war and moderate newspapers, were a hundred times more damaging than they'd ever been before. Lincoln, as he was frequently able to do, got out from under: he managed to find the possibility of using "exile" under Burnsides order, and Vallandigham was eventually escorted to Tennessee. (This is the reason why "exile" turns up in that phony quote, and why Waller's latter-day explanation rings hollow; exile made sense in a Civil War, but what sense does it make today?)

Of course all this simply circles around the bullshit factor which should have been obvious any of the few hundred times the "quote" was picked up by the Right: throughout his presidency Lincoln dealt with serious opposition in Congress and throughout the nation. He could have hanged two dozen Congressmen if that were really his attitude, and uncounted numbers of Southerners who were actually committing treasonable offenses. Of course in the actual event--and though he obviously stepped into illegality several times during the conduct of the war--Lincoln had the wisdom and the patience to find common cause with any number of people, in and out of public life, who differed with him on the war or the question of slavery. But that's not the sort of accomplishment they praise at the Moonie Times, is it?

4 comments:

KathyR said...

"Making nice" doesn't sell newspapers.

Although, from what I understand, there isn't much that does sell newspapers these days.

Kathy said...

People buy newspapers for the ads.

D. Sidhe said...

That's okay. News corps sell papers for the ads. All the rest is empty posturing anymore. News stories and columns and comics, and even programming, is just content which exist only as a sort of feed that's scattered on the field during a pheasant hunt. The reporters are the feeders, the advertizers are the guys blasting away at the startled birds, the news corps own the ranches. Us readers? We're the birds. We exist to be delivered to the advertizers by the newssellers. Kinda sucks, really. The least they could do is offer us better enticements than, say, Jonah Goldberg's column and John Stossel's specials. The *very* least they could do is correct themselves when even the *dead birds* have to jump up and down and point out they screwed it up.

The funny thing is, you used to be able to count on a newspaper or program, if nothing else, to get the quotes right most of the time. Fuck context or fairness or accuracy of what is actually contained in the quote--if you lie to a reporter, you could expect to see your lie in print word for word. They were even nice enough not to try to find out if you were lying, even if they maybe suspected you were. But at the very least, they'd write down what you said.

They're not even bothering with stenography anymore. Now they just offer their opinions and pretend they're the readers' and they're, you know, just sayin' what everybody's thinkin', am I right?

These days what makes it into print is presented as self-evident. Obviously, of course, George Bush is trying to protect us from the terrorists, and obviously that's his job, and obviously the nation agrees that that's his job. The underlying assumptions are never proven, or, really, even asked. It's like a poll where they don't tell you what the questions were or who was asked.

I had some kind of point there, but it's been a shitty week and I don't remember what it was, which, not incidentally, is why I'm not a nationally syndicated columnist. I can't be bothered to put much effort into it. But then, apparently neither can Mr Gaffney, so maybe I should be trying to get his job.

Thanks for being here, Doghouse. I needed some normal to get back to. And normal is in increasingly short supply, to judge by the idiots at Insight, Townhall, and the Moonie Times.

John Protevi said...

You are a great writer, Doghouse. I always say that after reading you and I'll say it again today.