Declan Mccullagh, blogging at CBS News, decides to just stop making sense and start smiting right-wing bloggers. Shorter Declan: I'm too lazy to establish the facts myself but right wing bloggers who rely on the NY Times are lazy and don't have the facts.
He leads with a falsehood:
It seemed to be a perfect example of a tasteless political fib: Michelle Obama invoking a heart-wrenching but untrue story about her daughter Sasha's medical woes.
What? His links include the Jammie Wearing Fool, who is credited with starting this story last Sept 18. Did the Jammie Fool say Michelle was lying? Noooo, he said that, given the reported discrepancy between the stories told by Barack and Michelle, one of them must be lying. Clues included his post title:
Tale of Two Obamas: Who's Telling the Truth About Sasha's Meningitis?
The basis of the Jammie Fool's claim was a perfectly clear statement by NY Times reporter Jeff Zeleney describing the speech (my emphasis):
In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare.
In her speech Ms. Obama is ambiguous about Sasha's final diagnosis. Could this just be an accident of speechwriting, or is it ever so slightly possible that White House wordsmiths chose to dance around the truth in order to avoid directly contradicting her husband, who has declared repeatedly (March, July, Sept) that Sasha did have meningitis?
Is it ever so slightly possible that Jeff Zeleney, as a big time reporter for a big deal newspaper, actually got some clarification from the White House Press office before publishing? When reporters followed up last March the White House was clueless, but perhaps they are up to speed now, since it appears that Sasha is going to be a recurring prop during the health care debate:
The White House could not confirm Friday [Mar 28 2009] which type of meningitis Sasha developed or other details about the illness.
Well - Mr. Mccullagh is also at a big time news organization and on the same side of the aisle as Jeff Zeleney. Three weeks have passed - how did Mr. Zeleney respond to Mr. Mccullagh's requests for clarification or justification for Zeleney's reporting? I haven't noticed a correction in the Times - are they standing by Zeleney's "reporting", or did he just fail to clean the wax out while pretending to listen to Ms. Obama's speech? Incredibly, I don't notice any coverage of this point by Mr. Mccullagh, either - is it possible that he never contacted Zeleney? [Per the Jammie Fool, Mccullagh only quoted the Zeleney passage in an an undeclared revision to his article about other people's honesty and accuracy).
Well, then, after Mr. Mccullagh contacted the White House for clarification, how did they describe Sasha's medical situation? That seemingly critical detail seems to be missing from his story, too. Please tell me he contacted the White House - Mccullagh knows Zeleny is wrong, he knows the right wing bloggers who put their trust in a Timesman are wrong, but how does he know it - surely he is not relying exclusively on a vague statement made by Michell that does not contradict her husband?
Mccullagh closes with this exhortation:
Perhaps it's a simple tendency to assume the worst of their political enemies, but whatever the case, the meningitis interlude isn't exactly an example of how online political commentators are trying to seek out the truth. Rather, it shows that even today, a lie can get halfway around the blogosphere before the truth has a chance to turn on, boot up, and log in.
What is the truth and why does Mccullagh think he knows it?
IF I HAD TO BET: A week after the Times coverage the Anderson book about Michelle and Barack came out. No one seems to care that Ayers was a major contributor to "Dreams of My Unrepentant Weatherman", but Anderson did mention this about Sasha:
The author maintains that it was only the fact that their younger daughter, Natasha, always known as Sasha, contracted meningitis aged three months, in September 2001, that brought the couple to their senses and convinced them that they should stay together.
Sasha was rushed into hospital and diagnosed with meningitis. Obama and his wife spent the next 72 hours taking turns to sleep by their daughter's cot while she battled a virus that can be fatal for babies.
I think it is possible that Barack was wrong about Sasha's diagnosis, Michelle was deliberately vague (Mr. Family Guy looks somewhat dreadful if he is wrong about his daughter's disease that he is exploiting), and Zeleney printed the actual facts, presumably after requesting clarification. That said, whatever Sasha did or did not have, two days of testing in a hospital had to be scary for the parents and upsetting for the child, and Barack Obama's point about the importance of nurses would stand.
I think it is more probable that Barack was specific and correct about Sasha's meningitis, Michelle was accidentally vague, and Zeleney was confused.
But for Mccullagh to turn that into a story about sloppy right wing bloggers and lecture people about "truth" without making any effort to establish the truth is not merely absurd; he is also potentially turning his back on a good story. Sorry, call it an interesting story - for CBS, a story that makes Obama look silly is no good at all.