What happens when you are wrongly accused in a posting on the Internet
and you call to correct the false or misleading assertion?
This happened to me on Dec. 8 — not the first time — on a post on a website associated with the liberal Democratic organization the Center for American Progress (CAP) — an organization I strongly support and whose leader, John Podesta, is a close friend of mine of over 40 years.
The CAP-affiliated website, Think Progress, and the author of the piece, Eli Clifton, wrongly accused me of supporting the “coup” in Honduras in 2008 and of defending the military strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, who had been defeated in an election in the Ivory Coast. He did so in the context of criticizing my business partner, Josh Block, for accusing CAP bloggers of using language that was “borderline anti-Semitic.” And Clifton never called me first to check his facts before attacking me.
I talked to Clifton and sent him documentation — my congressional testimony before a congressional committee criticizing the illegal forced ouster of the Honduran president; and the public statement by the State Department official spokesman, P.J. Crowley, that I had been helpful working with State to try to facilitate a call between President Obama and Gbagbo to persuade him to leave the Ivory Coast peacefully and avoid bloodshed. He is a nice young man and seemed genuinely remorseful about the errors and willing to correct them, and I appreciated that and wrote a note to his boss expressing that appreciation.
But instead of publishing a correction and an apology, as I asked, Clifton only quoted me asserting the facts in defense of myself in a “corrected” post, rather than taking responsibility and “retracting” the false report and apologizing for the error of not calling me first to check his facts.
Compare that to the way The Washington Post handled a false post in its blogPost by Elizabeth Flock on Dec. 13. Flock had wrongly claimed that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had used the phrase “Keep America American” in stump speeches, and that this phrase was once a KKK slogan. In fact, Romney had stated, “Keep America America.”
Unlike Clifton and Think Progress, The Washington Post’s executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, bluntly admitted the mistake and apologized, stating: “[W]e apologize that the posting began by saying, “[s]omeone didn’t do his research when, in fact, we had not done ours.” He also criticized his reporter for not calling Romney’s campaign to confirm the facts before posting.
Besides not stepping up to the line himself to correct and apologize, Clifton surprised me with the way he wrote the story — as if it was mainly about Josh Block, and not corrections to the false assertions about my record.
After I told Clifton the facts on Honduras and the Ivory Coast, at the end of the conversation, he said, “by the way,” and asked me whether I agreed with Josh Block’s comments about CAP. I thought he was referring to Block’s statement — “either the lunatics are running the asylum or … CAP actually does support them” — a comment made by Block in the context of his having read a tweet from a CAP analyst that contained what he regarded to be a “borderline” anti-Semitic phrase.
I told Clifton that “I respect Josh Block but I 100 percent disagree with much of his language.” I was specifically referring to Block’s formulation of the choice between “lunatics running the asylum” vs. “CAP actually does support them [the ‘borderline’ anti-Semitic words].” In that context, I told Clifton that “impugning motives of people at the Center [for American Progress] and impugning [that] those motives are driven by anti-Semitism is, in my opinion, wrong.” (In fairness to Block, he points out that he also believed he made a distinction between CAP as a whole being anti-Semitic versus CAP taking responsibility for the “borderline” anti-Semitic words of one of its regular bloggers.)
I expected the “updated” post to be about the corrections and contain an apology. Imagine my astonishment when I saw the headline of Clifton’s “correction and apology” post: “Lanny Davis Rejects Business Partner Josh Block’s Smears Against CAP, Defends His Lobbying Work.”
First, I never used the word “smear.” That was Clifton’s characterization.
Second, Clifton’s headline was clearly misleading, making it seem that I had initiated a call to Think Progress to “reject” Josh Block’s “smears,” when I had not.
And third, most importantly, Clifton never asked me whether I agreed or disagreed with Block’s characterization of the CAP blogger’s words as “borderline anti-Semitic stuff.” What Block referred to as “borderline anti-Semitic” were the words of CAP blogger Zaid Jilani, who had tweeted:
“Waiting 4 hack pro-Dem blogger to use this … 2 sho [sic] Obama is still beloved by Israel-firsters and getting lots of their $$.” Had he asked, I would have said, “I agree with Josh Block on this — if anything, the word ‘borderline’ is far too weak. These words were clearly anti-Semitic.”
My answer is that I disagreed with Josh Block’s use of the word “borderline.” These are, by any definition, anti-Semitic words. “Israel Firster” is a classic anti-Semitic phrase, falsely stereotyping pro-Israel Jewish Americans as putting Israel first over American interests. The documented proof that this is the case: Jilani himself, who apologized (to his credit) and took down his Twitter feed. And to their credit, it is my understanding that CAP too repudiated these words, “Israel Firster,” to describe some pro-Israel Jews.
While I wouldn’t use the metaphor Block used about “lunatics” at an “asylum,” as I noted above, to refer to some of more extreme bloggers who write under CAP’s sponsorship, I would use a parent-child metaphor.
I respectfully suggest to my Democratic friends at CAP that it is time that the “children” who write for CAP blogs, who prefer name-calling and extreme personal characterizations to checking their facts and basing their opinions on confirmed facts, need more “adult supervision.”
[A personal P.S.:
Less than a week later, on Dec. 13, numerous false and misleading derogatory statements were published on another CAP-sponsored website, Campus Progress, by someone named Brian Stewart. Again, like Clifton, Stewart never bothered to pick up the phone to check his facts; indeed, he repeated the false assertion about my supporting the “coup” in Honduras — meaning he hadn’t even read Clifton’s piece a few days before in Think Progress. (Clifton said to me: “I guess we don’t read each other’s websites.”)
Fortunately this time, CAP’s leadership was willing immediately to step in require Campus Progress to post at least partial corrections of Stewart’s serial and multiple factual errors, amid his juvenile name-calling and personal attacks. But even so, the two revised “updates” of the Stewart post only quoted my corrections, rather than making corrections and apologizing themselves, as The Washington Post’s Brauchli had done.
This was not the first time that Campus Progress had published demonstrably false statements about me and had to subsequently correct them. One of its reporters (I believe her name is Kay Steiger) admitted to me she had posted a factually false accusation about me but explained she hadn’t called me first to confirm the facts because “I read it on the Internet — so I posted first, and then I called you.” (I am not making that quotation up). Yet another example of the websites and writers under CAP’s sponsorship needing some adult supervision.]