Dahlia Lithwick recently published a blog post that reprinted an e-mail from a famous legal figure. That figure has retracted an important part of his e-mail. How she chooses to notify readers about that retraction will be a test of her honesty and integrity.
In a recent Slate blog post, Lithwick published a letter from Walter Dellinger arguing that the Linda Greenhouse conflict of interest was no big deal, because hey, everyone has views, and Greenhouse (he claims) does an amazing job of setting those views aside and getting her facts right. Dellinger ended his letter with a passage that I had read as accusing Ed Whelan of intellectual dishonesty:
So the critics must actually know better. Which is why Emily and Dahlia are so right that it is very wrong to dignify these attacks as if they were honest complaints that deserved an answer.
Dellinger since wrote Whelan and retracted that passage, admitting that 1) he had never read Whelan’s criticisms; 2) he did not mean to call Whelan dishonest; and 3) more people than not agree that Greenhouse’s conflict is substantial. Here are some key passages from Dellinger’s retraction:
Dear Ed — In a posting last week on Slate, I included a sentence that could easily be read to call in question your “honesty.” I had no such intention and I write to you now to recall that defective passage. The issue involves criticism of Linda Greenhouse for “bias” and the New York Times’ (in my view) tepid defense of her work. I concluded that the Times was “wrong to dignify these attacks as if they were honest complaints that deserved an answer.” I regret that last hastily written sentence. Since you have been a central figure in this debate, readers would naturally assume I was referring to you. In fact, I had not even read what you had written on this subject. . . . While I disagree with your position on the relevance of a spouse’s role, your position, I believe, has far more adherents than mine.
Ed says: “I thank Walter for his retraction, and I trust that Dahlia Lithwick, who posted Walter’s original observations, will call his retraction to the attention of Slate’s readers.”
Ed’s trust is touching, but may prove misplaced. I have perused the blog where Dahlia’s entry quoted Dellinger. There is no notification of Dellinger’s retraction yet. Will there be? I don’t know. I think it’s 50/50 — and if one appears, I suspect it will be in the form of an update to the old post, and not as a new post that people might actually read. Even if it’s a new post, it’s overwhelmingly likely that the post will contain snarling sarcasm that undercuts the force of the retraction.
I could be wrong. Dahlia does have flashes of intellectual honesty amongst her usual routine of slanting the facts to support her liberal position. I’ll be watching closely to see how she handles this. It will say a lot about her character.
UPDATE: I e-mailed Dahlia, and she said she hadn’t seen it. She says she’ll post something in the morning. I really hope the post surpasses my admittedly low expectations.