Over the weekend Glenn Greenwald had an interesting 'Kosola' post in which he rode a good point to a laughable conclusion, downplaying key evidence along the way. His good point? There was some problem with one of four emails quoted by TNR writer Jason Zengerle; three emails, attributed to Kos, Mike Stark, and Glenn Greenwald himself, were not in dispute, but a fourth email, ostensibly from Steve Gilliard, had no clear provenance. Steve Gilliard apparently did not write it, so who, we all wonder, did?
The absurd conclusion to which Greenwald effortlessly leaped, in a post titled "Does The New Republic have a new Stephen Glass in Jason Zengerle?", was that the bum email was "fabricated". Let's let him tell it:
Zengerle caused The New Republic to print a completely fabricated e-mail and then falsely attribute it as one Gilliard sent to the Townhouse list.
Completely fabricated? Surely other explanations are in play? Evidently not - Greenwald is wedded to the "fabricated" charge:
It is difficult to see how Zengerle's claim about his sources could be true, to put it generously. It is highly unlikely (to put it mildly) that three different sources would send Zengerle the same fabricated e-mail and falsely tell him that it was sent by Gilliard to the Townhouse list.
Well, I called him on it, pointing out that his original post gave very short shrift to the fact that Zengerle cited three other emails that were not in dispute. My not-so-bold point:
Mr. Greenwald's more complete hypothesis seems to be that Mr. Zengerle had two genuine emails and fabricated a third. Somehow that seems to change the balance of probabilities a bit, especially since the "fake" email makes the same point as the two authentic ones - why, one might wonder, would Mr. Zengerle bother to gild the lily with a fake email supporting two real ones?
Now, I erred in declining to offer some alternative hypotheses of my own; evidently, some readers on the left have failures of the imagination with anything other than a Rovian-led conspiracy involving Cheney, Halliburton, and oil. However, it struck me as perfectly obvious that much less nefarious scenarios would be more plausible, and I described one in my own comment section. Just to jolly the discussion along I'll repeat it, typos and all, right here:
What I have been saying is that the presence of two legitimate emails changes the likelihood pf various scenarios that include a bum email.
For example - suppose Zengerle simply confused a header and a footer on a forwarded list of thirty emails. In that case, all three emails are "authentic", but one was not by Gilliard, but instead by another Clownhouser. That would hardly change the thrust of the Zengerle article.
Of course, someone who did not realize that two authentic emails were part of the story might not hit upon that hypothesis. And someone reading greenwald's post might not realize that two emails were legit.
I am not, Greenwald's distortions notwithstanding, saying that a fake email is irrelevant; I am saying two or three real emails make the fake story a bit harder to understand.
A shorter version would be, never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence. Now, I did not think I was blazing a trail of insight here - Occam's Razor is well known and encourages simple explanations, folks can get glitched up in their email, and so on - but little did I know...
Which brings us more or less up to speed. Jason Zengerle has admitted that the "Gilliard" email can not be attributed to Mr. Gilliard, but he has not been able to get ahold of his source to resolve the confusion. Mr. Zengerle does explain that, yes, he had three sources, and yes, the first source did send him the email. At this point, I suppose the adherents to the "fabrication" theory will want to explain either that Mr. Zengerle is lying (backed, presumably, by his editor); or that for reasons unknown the mysterious primary source provided three genuine emails and one short, deliberate fabrication. (For completeness, I should note that Greenwald is pretending (point 4) that the "Gilliard" email is substantially different from the Stark and Greenwald emails; link-clickers can judge the absurdity of that claim for themselves).
Well. The opening question was, "What Would A Weasel Do"? Glenn Greenwald has chosen to double down by pretending that I was making a different point and minimizing his own "fabrication" charge. Note the disappearance of the Stephen Glass insinuation from the lead of his follow-up post:
On Friday, I wrote a post stating -- based on abundant evidence I had compiled that was indisputable and conclusive to all but the most fact-free eyes -- that an e-mail published by Jason Zengerle on the website of The New Republic was fraudulent. The e-mail was one purportedly written to the Townhouse list by Steve Gilliard, and it was clear that Zengerle's claim was false because no such e-mail was ever sent. Zengerle's silence over the weekend led a variety of right-wing bloggers and their commenters to spend the last two days calling me a liar, mocking my claims, giddily exchanging juvenile jokes with one another over my paranoia, and generally insisting that my accusation was false and baseless.
Jason Zengerle finally responded last night and, in doing so, confirmed that every single thing I said was, in fact, true:
Every single thing he said was true except for the bits that weren't. Bits such as "It is difficult to see how Zengerle's claim about his sources could be true, to put it generously." Bits such as "The e-mail was simply fabricated by either Zengerle or his sources." Never mind. Matt Stoller has corrected his lead, but Greenwald opted to bury his.
Greenwald is firing at a number of targets in his latest, so let me pick out his charge against me:
Tom Maguire - in a post entitled "Glenn Greenwald's career in comedy," he wrote:
Somehow that seems to change the balance of probabilities a bit, especially since the "fake" email makes the same point as the two authentic ones - why, one might wonder, would Mr. Zengerle bother to gild the lily with a fake email supporting two real ones? And does it seem "highly unlikely (to put it mildly)" that Zengerle would have three sources confirming two genuine and one fake email? . . .
What a tangled web we weave.
Maguire's characteristically glib, evasive and substance-free attack on my integrity then, as intended, led some of his commenters to say -- without contradiction -- things such as this: [blah, blah, blah...]
"Characteristically glib" - I like that. As to "substance-free", hmm, perhaps we are seeing a small symptom of substance abuse here.
Well. His complaint against me seems to be that some commenters piled on. Welcome to the blogosphere.
But if he would be diligent enough to tell me just what it is I got wrong, that would be lovely - how can I be both "substance-free" and wrong? A time for choosing! And since he has decided that the key evidence of my Evil Heart can be found in my comments section, I exhort him to weigh my comment cited above. Seemed clear to me.
Oh, well - what else would a weasel do? He would willfully mischaracterize the attacks upon him:
And there are plenty of others who, needless to say, followed along, applying a whole range of derogatory attributes to my credibility and judgment this weekend for having pointed out that the Gilliard e-mail is fake and, beyond that, that TNR's journalistic behavior in printing it was questionable at best.
No, I did not question whether the "Gilliard" email was accurate, a point which seems to have confounded him. I questioned his judgment in insisting on his
alien abduction fabrication theory. And how is that theory working out? At this point, we have a strong denial from Zengerle and not even a whisper of a plausible scenario from Greenwald as to why the mysterious source might want to have forwarded three longish emails and then fabricated a fourth.
Let's see - a weasel would build a nest of straw:
All weekend, people who had no evidence or proof whatsoever that the Gilliard e-mail was authentic were insisting -- in the face of waves of evidence to the contrary -- that the e-mail was authentic and that I was a liar, a moron, a hysteric, etc. Their desire for the e-mail to be authentic, and for me to be wrong, swamped any assessment of the evidence.
I am sure that in this wonderful wide world, someone can be found to match that description. But I don't think there were many, not at my site anyway.
I find this interesting, from Greenwald:
Personally, if I told my readers that another blogger was lying or was drowning in paranoia when making certain claims, only for those claims to turn out to have been true all along, I'd be quite eager to retract my accusations and apologize for them as clearly and prominently as I could.
I look forward to his acknowledgment that the Stephen Glass insinuation was over the top.
And I'll stop here:
Maguire pathetically continues to insist that I really was wrong, and Maguire right, and that Zengerle's confession that the Gilliard e-mail was fake somehow does not really support my claim.
Hmm, I'll glumly accede to a certain pathos in trying to talk sense to these people, but - I stand proudly by my Not-So-Bold position that Zengerle's denial that he fabricated the "Gilliard" email does, in fact, undermine Greenwald's insinuation that Zengerle did fabricate it.
As a bonus, I stand by my view that Zengerle's claim to have three sources, one of whom sent him the emails and two of whom verified them (however sloppily) does, in fact, undermine Greenwald's insinuation that Zengerle is lying about his sources.
MORE: Folks who enjoy watching a lawyer double as a psychiatrist will enjoy the balance of Greenwald's post, in which he diagnosis the Delusional Right on the basis of this incident. I am not a shrink myself, but I think he is projecting here:
They swarmed together to make assertions which were plainly false and for which they had no proof, and then used their groupthink to confirm the rightness of their claims (they wallowed in an orgy of incestuous links to one another, all of which were evidence-free and reasoning-free -- not to mention wrong -- as though the endless references to one another constituted "evidence" which justified their accusations).
Let's put that alongside this UPDATE IV from Greenwald:
UPDATE IV: In light of the difficulty (most of it intentional) which some are having in understanding the relevance and implications of Zengarle's publishing a fake e-mail, I highly recommend this post from Lindsay Beyerstein, who spells it all out as clearly as can be.
The no-doubt-charming Ms. Beyerstein then breaks down the possibilities for us:
So, how did Zengerle get ahold of three copies of the same fake email? The most charitable explanation is that he got egregiously burned by the same forger who sent him three copies of the fake, purporting to be different people. If so, Zengerle should burn that source, or if he doesn't know the source, admit that he'll publish anything from anyone. The second-most charitable explanation is that he got one fake email and lied about how many sources he had. The most disturbing possibility is that Zengerle fabricated the letter himself. It's time for Zengerle to burn his source, or resign.
Well, Greenwald and friends can group-think this all they want, but I think they ought to at least identify the fourth-most charitable explanation - someone got tangled up in his email tree.
UPDATE: Jeff Goldstein delivers a handsome apology to the sad and aggrieved Glenn Greenwald. (Well, I liked looking at it...).