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27 November 2001


It's time to set the record straight on an old post of mine. Past time, actually, but last week was a little involved.

On 7 November 2001, former President Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University.

On 9 November 2001, the Washington Times reported on that speech, excerpting quotes in such a manner as to give the appearance President Clinton had given a "Blame America" speech. The article is no longer available on their website.

As the Washington Times is one of my regular reads -- and usually reliable -- I made a grave error and blogged the article without first reading the Clinton speech (not available at the time, but posted later that day) -- something that a number of libertarian/conservative bloggers also did. I used the headline "Can anyone tell me why Bubba is not castigated like Falwell, Robertson, and Maher?" Later in the day, I did read the Clinton speech, and I also read the OpinionJournal Best of the Web in which the editors noted that, after reading the transcript, they thought the Washington Times had been unfair. I blogged the transcript of the speech, with the headline "As OpinionJournal points out, the Wash Times may have been too tough on Bubba's speech." In retrospect, I probably should have added an additional comment here correcting my original post, which I now believe to be unfair (but once posted, I don't like to remove text from the site). I regret that I was not more careful.

Last week, Bryan Keefer at SpinSanity posted a good analysis of the whole affair that illustrates the perils of immediate blogging (not to mention the incestuousness of our little political blogging community). He noted how the Washington Times' unfair characterization quickly spread from Drudge to NRO Online to Glenn Reynolds to Andrew Sullivan (who later retracted the criticism) on the way to becoming conventional wisdom (despite being a mischaracterization) on the web and in print. Reynolds picked up on the SpinSanity criticism, but stood by his earlier remarks, contending:

At another time, Clinton's remarks might have sounded different -- but context is everything, as politicians are supposed to know. A war, and the aftermath of an attack in which thousands of Americans were killed, is just not the right time to be giving a speech that talks about America's historical shortcomings. Sorry, but it's just not.

No U.S. political figure who made remarks of this sort about any racial, ethnic, or national group -- well, national group besides American -- would get one one-hundredth the understanding that Clinton's defenders think he deserves here. Certainly Jerry Falwell -- whose stupid remarks weren't all that different from Clinton's taken in context -- didn't get much slack. He didn't deserve it. Neither does Clinton.

I feel even worse now, since I had originally compared Clinton to Falwell and Roberston. Falwell's comments -- the TEXT and CONTEXT -- are, I think, quite different than the former President's comments (TEXT and CONTEXT), as a careful reading of the speech should make clear. Further, I do not agree that context is everything (which, interestingly, is what deconstructionists and certain other postmodern literary critics contend), although I should point out that the broader CONTEXT of the excerpted TEXT the Washington Times found offensive in Clinton's speech was the argument that ultimately, terrorism is not effective and is easily defeated by right-thinking people. Neither the TEXT nor the CONTEXT of Clinton's speech, taken in their entirety, justifies the comparison to Falwell that I made or the original attack made by the Washington Times.

There are, of course, aspects of the former President's speech with which I disagree. But in some ways, it is a compelling speech, certainly worth reading and considering. I made the rare mistake of letting my overall impression of the man (my context) color my interpretation of what he said (his text) to the point of not even reading the whole speech before blogging about it. For any scholar, that's intellectually dishonest; for someone who considers himself a Straussian student of politics, it's a mortal sin.

I regret the error, and wish that I had been able to post this correction/retraction sooner.

[Posted @ 11:36 PM CST]

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