A key element of the Washington Post’s 5,000-word account of Mitt Romney’s alleged high-school bullying is based on a second-hand account of a conversation with a dead man. Ben Shapiro of Big Journalism highlighted this crucial passage in Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz’s article:
Sometime in the mid-1990s, David Seed noticed a familiar face at the end of a bar at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“Hey, you’re John Lauber,” Seed recalled saying at the start of a brief conversation. Seed, also among those who witnessed the Romney-led incident, had gone on to a career as a teacher and principal. Now he had something to get off his chest.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help in the situation,” he said.
Lauber paused, then responded, “It was horrible.” He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, “It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”
Lauber died in 2004, according to his three sisters.
The fundamental problem with this passage is that it purports to convey exact quotes in a private conversation based entirely on the say-so of David Seed. The man who allegedly said those words – offered as evidence that he was permanently harmed by Romney – has been dead for years, and never spoke to Horowitz.
How, then, could anyone possibly verify the accuracy of the quotes? The dead man's relatives dispute the accuracy of Horowitz's article. Will the editors of the Washington Post hire a psychic and conduct a seance, calling forth the spirit of the dead man to verify their story?
If Horowitz gets fired for this (and one experienced news editor I spoke to today said this would be considered a firing offense in his newsroom), the epitaph on his career might well be, “John Lauber could not be reached for comment.”