The Spectacle Blog

Research Rule No. 1

By on 6.11.08 | 4:04PM

Never trust the MSM. I broke my own rule yesterday while doing background research for my latest article about Bob Barr. Barr had told me that both his undergrad and graduate degrees were in international relations. I knew he'd attended the University of Southern California, but didn't know where he went to grad school. While Googling for that fact (answer: George Washington University), I came across an archived 1987 Atlanta Journal-Constitution profile that said, "Enrolling at the University of Southern California in 1965, he joined the Young Democrats and participated in rallies against the Vietnam War."

Arrggghhh. A story too good to bother checking it out, as they say. When Barr walked into Americans for Tax Reform's office this morning (to attend the regular Wednesday coffee meeting), the first thing he said to me was, "Where did you get that from?" He went on to explain that this bit of MSM disinformation was something he had had to debunk during his (unsuccessful) 1992 Senate campaign and again in his (successful) 1994 House campaign.

Yes, Barr said, he had indeed joined the Young Democrats his freshman year and continued as a member into his sophomore year at USC. But he was never part of the anti-war protest scene. His departure from the Young Democrats, Barr further explained, was encouraged by his (staunch Republican) parents who suggested that if he wanted to be a Democrat, he might be paying his own way through college. It was his parents, Barr said, who got him to read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the book he credits with inspiring his anti-big government philosophy.

So, having done my mea culpa for the kind of idiotic reportorial blunder I've spent years warning young reporters against -- never, ever trust the MSM -- let me now report some facts I witnessed first-hand today.

What transpires in the Wednesday morning ATR meetings is strictly off-the-record, but I can report that after leaving the meeting, Barr was greeted warmly by a conservative Republican Party activist who told him, "Kick their butts." Barr then went to the nearby studios of the BBC, where he did a 15-minute radio interview with James Coomarasamy. Citing George W. Bush's 2000 campaign criticism of "nation-building," Barr said Bush was right then, and wrong now. Nation-building -- which he described as a U.S. effort to "impose" a Western political system on Iraq -- "is doomed to failure," Barr said.

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