As I expected he might, Radley Balko has responded to my post about his Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking the credibility of a Mississippi medical examiner. In that post, I noted that Balko’s op-ed failed to disclose that the medical examiner was a central witness against Cory Maye, for whom Balko has been an unabashed and highly visible activist. In a companion post, I noted how Balko’s bias in favor of Maye was relevant in assessing Balko’s credibility on issues relating to Maye, as that bias had led him in the past to misstate the facts of a court precedent.
Balko’s rather intemperate response is here. He claims my post is “complete speculation” and “utter bullshit.” I look “foolish and obsessive” to suggest that he should have disclosed the Cory Maye connection in his op-ed.
We now know that the lack of disclosure wasn’t the Wall Street Journal‘s fault. We also know — and this, frankly, surprises me — that Cory Maye isn’t mentioned in the upcoming Reason article, either.
Balko asks why in the world he would fail to disclose this:
Think about it this way, and Patterico’s accusation is even weirder: If wanting to free Cory Maye is the “main reason” why I wrote an expose on Dr. Hayne in the Wall Street Journal, why would I have neglected to mention anything about Cory Maye in said article?
I don’t know what Balko means by the word “accusation.” Let me be clear: I’m not accusing Balko of omitting the information deliberately. I put that in bold because I expect he will claim that I am making that accusation, despite what I just said. So I want it crystal clear that I am not making the accusation.
But Balko is wrong to act as though the omission of the information could not possibly help Maye in any way. So, since he asked how the omission might help Maye, I’ll tell him exactly how. It’s relevant to why this needed to be disclosed. I already addressed one possible reason in my earlier post: because the omission
gives Balko’s piece a false veneer of extra credibility, because it appears to be the work of a neutral journalist, rather than what it actually is: a piece by an activist with a longstanding and well-established point of view regarding Dr. Hayne.
As I said in my post,
a reader may well respond differently to an article if the reader knows the author is an admitted activist, rather than a neutral journalist.
For example: Balko pointedly says in his op-ed that “Dr. Hayne declined repeated requests from me to comment.” That might sound vaguely suspicious to a reader who thinks Balko came to the story without preconceived notions. The reader might have a very different view if he knew that Balko has openly questioned Hayne’s credibility for months, on a case that has been very important to Balko’s career.
The same principle applies to the Reason article. If Radley Balko writes 5000 words about the chief witness against his cause celebre, and doesn’t mention the connection, that lack of disclosure confers a false aura of objectivity upon the article. Now, granted, that isn’t likely to fool anyone who already knows Balko’s work. But it might mislead, say, readers of the Wall Street Journal — or maybe even justices of the Mississippi Supreme Court, if they weren’t paying close attention. And that could benefit Cory Maye.
Now, if you want my honest opinion, I don’t think that’s why Balko omitted the information. I think he’s just blind to the need for disclosure. He doesn’t see how his bias for Cory Maye could be seen as having an effect on his credibility in writing about one of the principal witnesses against him. And now it’s being pointed out by someone he doesn’t like (me) — so he’s straining to downplay the need to disclose this information.
But really, it’s pretty clear that he should have mentioned it. Radley Balko is known for his work on Cory Maye. Dr. Hayne is one of the most critical witnesses against Maye. These facts should have been disclosed in a Radley Balko piece attacking Dr. Hayne. Period.
I’m sorry to have to be so blunt about it, but it’s not even really a close call, under the circumstances.
Again, I am not accusing Balko of doing this deliberately. I point out the possible benefits to Maye because 1) Balko is claiming that there are none, and 2) it demonstrates the need for the disclosure.
Balko takes issue with my claim that Cory Maye is the “main reason” he wrote about Dr. Hayne. The idea that Dr. Hayne is important to Radley Balko primarily because of Cory Maye is not “complete speculation,” as Balko claims. The reason I say this is detailed in my earlier post. Balko brought up Dr. Hayne on his blog numerous times, almost always in connection with Cory Maye. I’m sure Balko is also motivated to raise concerns regarding the other cases in which Dr. Hayne has testified. But Balko is the one who has explicitly said:
“Here’s hoping Hayne gets continued scrutiny from the state’s supreme court going forward, including when they sit to hear Cory’s case.”
. . . and then wrote two articles about Dr. Hayne that didn’t mention Cory Maye.
I wasn’t the first person to make the connection between Dr. Hayne and Cory Maye. Balko was — and he did so repeatedly, as I showed in my previous post.
By the way, Balko “sort of” admits that he got the facts wrong on the court precedent, as I argued in the companion post, by saying that I am “sort of” right. (How I am wrong at all, he does not say.) But, he says, my criticism is “rather lame” and focuses on a “minor detail” of “negligible importance to the broader point” — that the precedent is a good one for Maye. Reading his post, you’d think that I didn’t acknowledge that in my companion post. But I did. I explicitly acknowledged that “there is still a strong argument that [the Wheeler case] is a good precedent for Maye.”
I’ve already had at least one angry reader coming here from Balko’s site who revealed through his comment that he hadn’t read my post. I urge anyone who has come to this site from Balko’s to actually read my posts before you make up your mind. My posts, while pointed, were fairly restrained. I took no cheap shots. I stuck to the facts. I supported my arguments with evidence. I explained the relevance of the Cory Maye case to Balko’s op-ed, and even carefully noted that the omission might have been an editor’s fault (even though it turned out that it wasn’t).
Ultimately, I think Balko is getting so upset at me, not because I did anything to deserve his anger . . . but because deep down, he knows I’m right about this. He should have made the disclosure. It’s not the end of the world. But he should have done it.
UPDATE: I have a new post which gives another possible interpretation for why Dr. Hayne might have testified the way he did in the Edmonds case cited by Balko.
UPDATE x2: I have read Balko’s Reason piece on Hayne. My reactions here.