The Urban Legend That Could

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
July 6 2000 10:07 PM

The Urban Legend That Could

(Continued from Page 1)

Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online: Goldberg's July 1-2 column, like Jacoby's, did not acknowledge the existence of the phantom e-mail. In an e-mail to Chatterbox, Goldberg said he knew about the e-mail, and acknowledged the similarity:

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If the 'structure' of my column was too close to the e-mail's, I guess that's unfortunate, but my column had a lot of original content that was different than the e-mail's and I checked out everything I used.

This is, of course, not quite as good as clarifying the debt before your column runs, unprompted by a reporter's query, as Jacoby did. And neither Jacoby nor Goldberg did as well in the disclosure department as Landers' "Ellen in New Jersey." However, a year before writing this column, Goldberg wrote another column that not only acknowledged the phantom e-mail but reprinted it, Ellen-in-New Jersey style. ("If it turns out to be false, please don't hold it against me," Goldberg hedged at the time.) Goldberg's dishonesty is mitigated by the fact that he'd cited the phantom e-mail before. But it's also compounded by the fact that he never correctedhis earlier column after he "checked out everything I used."

Honesty score: D

Goldberg wrote: "Nine died from wounds received in battle." This echoed the phantom e-mail, but Chatterbox noted with interest that Jacoby toned this down to "Two were wounded in battle," which agreed with an analysis by E. Brooke Harlowe, assistant professor of political science at Susquehanna University, that's linked to the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society's urban legends page. Chatterbox asked Goldberg to give up his sources. One was a July 1999 Washington Times article by Matthew A. Rarey that appears to have borrowed language ("wounds or hardships") from the phantom e-mail; one was a July 1999 letter to the editor of the Bergen County Record by Clifton J. Salkins that includes lengthy passages lifted verbatim from the phantom e-mail; one was a July 1999 article by Richard Skidmore in the Los Angeles Daily News that is a slightly beefed-up rewrite of the phantom e-mail; and the fourth was a 1995 speech by U.S. Rep. Stephen Horn that also seems to be derived from the phantom e-mail (three statistics, including the nine who "died in battle," come in exactly the same sequence).

Accuracy score: C

Michael Kelley of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: Kelley is Chatterbox's new hero. His July 2 column began: "Declaration signers don't need cyber-hype." Kelley related receiving the e-mail, initially being "really hooked," but eventually smelling a rat. His column then proceeded to enumerate various errors, including several that Chatterbox missed.

Honesty score: A

Accuracy score: A

(Incidentally, this Michael Kelley shouldn't be confused with the Michael Kelly--no "e"--who writes a column for the Washington Post and somehow also finds time to edit both the Atlantic Monthly and National Journal.)

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