Retract This, Please, Part 2

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Sept. 18 2001 4:42 PM

Retract This, Please, Part 2

In times of national emergency, people can get excited and say or write stupid things. The present crisis being no exception, Chatterbox will keep a running count of these gasp-inducing statements and reprint them under the heading, "Retract This, Please." Please note: lies are not what this feature is looking for. Outright falsehoods will continue to run not here, but under Chatterbox's "Whopper of the Week" rubric. Rather, Chatterbox is looking for statements that any sensible person would regret.

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A few readers have pointed out that Slate itself blundered badly last week in its "Breakfast Table" feature with this baseless and fairly loony semi-accusation by John Lahr:

"Perhaps it's eerie serendipity, perhaps it's my paranoia, but an acid thought keeps plaguing me. Isn't it odd that on the day--the DAY--that the Democrats launched their most blistering attack on 'the absolute lunacy' of Bush's unproven missile-defense system, which 'threatens to pull the trigger on the arms race,' what Sen. Biden calls today in the Guardian, his 'theological' belief in 'rogue nations,' that the rogue nation should suddenly become such a terrifying reality. The fact that I could even think such a thought says more to me about the bankruptcy and moral exhaustion of our leaders even in the face of a disaster where any action, in the current nightmare, will seem like heroism."

For the record, Chatterbox does not believe the Bush administration engineered the suicide missions against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Lahr's outburst is a reminder that even great Web magazines can, under the pressure of recent events, blurt out ghastly stuff. And now, with all appropriate humility, let us continue.

No. 4

"The normal work rhythm of a morning newspaper is such that the newsroom can seem almost deserted in the morning. ... At the Tribune, that rhythm was replaced Tuesday by one that was uptempo all day long. In a throwback to the thrilling days of the industry's yesteryear, the newspaper published two extra editions. ... The story budget hammered out at an impromptu editors' meeting had called for at least one wire story to supplement those that would be produced by Tribune staff writers. As it turned out, all of the stories were staff-written, a fact that put a grin as wide asIowaon [Managing Editor Jim] O'Shea's face."

--ChicagoTribune "Public Editor" (and former editorial page editor) Don Wycliff, Sept. 13.

Perhaps regretting this comment, Wycliff wrote a follow-up Sept. 16 column emphasizing the sobriety of last week's events. But this second column made no reference to Wycliff's earlier paean to the joys of covering mass killings.

[Update, Sept. 20: Wycliff apologized  for the column today, calling it "wrong footed" and conceding that it was in poor taste.]

No. 5