Editor's Desk

Isn’t It Rich?

Excuse games people play -- when they're not being offensive.

By 2.25.02

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KOFI SWEETENER: TAP Loose Canons columnist Jed Babbin sends in a Short Shot: "The 'London Times' reports that U.N. Secretary General (and Lil' Billy Clinton's surrogate commander in chief of all U.S. forces) Kofi Annan is warning against our possible attack on Iraq. Before I was in doubt. This clinches it. On to Baghdad! And don't spare the horses."

BLOCK THAT EXCUSE: Liberals say the darnest things, at least when they're caught red-handed. My favorite recent excuse comes from Michael Finkel, the "New York Times" contributor who fabricated a recent major offering from west Africa for the paper's Sunday magazine. According to the Washington Post," three years ago Finkel said in an interview he rarely takes notes but simply writes up his impressions each night after he returns home. But after the recent fabrication was discovered, he claimed he actually took copious notes, though the Times's note to readers had him telling the paper he wrote the piece without consulting his notes. So what happened to those copious notes? Finkel told the Post's Howard Kurtz: "In order to break through a writer's block I put my notes aside and attempted to write what I knew ... with a sense of flow and feeling." Then he added: "I know it sounds odd." If only Evelyn Waugh were around to build on this scoop.

SOMETHING BORROWED: Doris Kearns Goodwin's story keeps evolving. On Saturday the "New York Times" ran a major news story on Goodwin's new admission that recent revelations of Goodwin's unacknowledged "borrowing" from another historian barely described the extent of those borrowings. Now there are hints that "several" of her "new books" also contain "additional repetitions" from other authors. It's all too confusing for the nonscholar. But unlike last month, when Goodwin described her research method as a solo operation, this time she referred to a team of researchers who, for all we know, not only helped discover the "borrowings" but perhaps were also responsible for causing them in the first place. Not that Goodwin is blaming them -- the trick is to create just a whiff of possibility. In any case, Goodwin insists it was all accidental in the first place. Meanwhile, at least she's backed down from another excuse of sorts. Last time she said her new research method would include a scanner. No mention of it this time. Maybe one of those researchers informed her a scanner would only introduce new errors.

Much of the reaction to the latest on Goodwin focuses on her effort to release the story on a Friday so that it would be printed up on a slow-news Saturday. If that was her calculation, it only served to raise questions about her motives and thus added to the sense she faces growing problems.

Overlooked in the wake of Saturday's story was its revelation that in her earlier settlement with the historian whose book she had "borrowed" from without attribution Goodwin agreed to refer to that book in her new acknowledgments as "the definitive biography" of its subject. So now we have a historian praising a book not out of intellectual conviction but out of legal obligation. Sounds like a topic the American Historical Association should discuss at its next convention.

RICH IN LOVE: Joe Conason and Gene Lyons must have been asleep at the switch: How could they let Frank Rich have first adoring crack at David Brock's new memoir? The piece in Sunday's "New York Times Magazine" reveals Rich in all his splendor, smearing and slandering anything that moves and is thought to be right-wing. ("A Richard Mellon Scaife-financed talk-show bloviator and cut-and-paste writer" is how he describes William Bennett.) He seems forever stuck in 1994 or any of Bill Clinton's better years, still lashing out at conservatives as "gargoyles and lunatics." A depressing if telling commentary on a boomer big shot. Before Clinton came along, Rich was universally regarded as the most influential theater critic in New York. But for reasons best known to himself and his analyst, he gave it all up to become a political hack. In one of his early efforts he outed Brock as payback for Troopergate, which caused the "Washington Post" to comment that "few journalists have been subjected to an assault as scathingly personal as that mounted last week by Frank Rich." Rich may have lacked the staying power to do important work, but he compensated by making sure he and his crowd stayed in power. Good luck to all of them.

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About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.