Last week, I wrote a post on HuffPo's Eat the Press about a column written by Cathy Seipp for National Review, in which she called Al Franken a hypocrite. Here was her critical line: "Al Franken rails against audiences for not employing more minorities, and yet apparently couldn't find any non-white research assistants for his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them... or writers for Saturday Night Live when he was an executive producer there... or researchers and producers for Air America."
After Franken wrote a letter to NR rebutting those charges, which were drawn from a book by Peter Schweizer, I wrote that "every single one of those claims is demonstrably false" and concluded, "Meanwhile, on her very popular personal blog, Seipp admits she was wrong, apologizes for repeating Schweizer's erroneous claims, and says she won't trust the other stuff in his book either. Oops -- actually she does none of those things."
Compounding her errors, Seipp posted a snappy rebuttal to my item after Schweizer wrote a letter in response to Franken's. In it, she calls me a "twerp," quotes that last paragraph, and ends:
That's right -- I didn't. Because, after reading Franken's letter to National Review Online about my NRO column, and then Schweizer's response (just posted today, for those who follow these things), the whole dustup doesn't seem a matter of false facts but rather of interpretation. Anyway, now you can read both Franken's and Schweizer's versions and decide for yourselves.Seipp thinks the "dustup" wasn't a matter of "false facts." The facts would beg to differ, so let's slow things down.
I'm going to set aside the bit, in Seipp's original column, about Franken "rail[ing] against audiences for not employing more minorities." Franken disputes that characterization, but I think that claim is subjective (though I happen to disagree with it). The rest of the line I criticized from Seipp makes three distinct claims, drawn from Schweizer's book.
Here's the thing about Schweizer's response, which Seipp was so moved by: If you read it closely, he doesn't even bother to dispute Franken's claim that all the facts repeated in Seipp's column are wrong.
Franken said, contrary to the claim in Schweizer's book (repeated in Seipp's column), that he had a "non-white" researcher for Lies and the Lying Liars. Schweizer didn't dispute that. Franken said, contrary to the claim in Schweizer's book (repeated in Seipp's column), that he hired an African-American writer while he was a producer for Saturday Night Live (he was never executive producer, but never mind that). Schweizer didn't dispute that. Franken said, contrary to the claim in Schweizer's book (repeated in Seipp's column), that he has hired two African-American producers since working at Air America. Schweizer points out that one of these producers was hired after he finished his book; fair enough, though Schweizer seems strangely unconcerned with updating his book with accurate information for the upcoming paperback edition. Schweizer says that the other producer "didn't stay very long." In other words, he concedes there was another producer -- and thus, again, didn't dispute Franken's claim that his book was wrong on this point. (As it happens, the producer in question left to finish law school, not, as Schweizer's writing might lead you to believe, because of more unfortunate reasons.)
Now, Franken has written a rebuttal to Schweizer's response to Franken's initial letter (confusing, I know). As it happens, Franken takes aim at a number of other claims that Schweizer makes in his book. You should read it because it's entertaining, but it's not all that relevant here, since Seipp never repeated any of those apparently bogus claims, some of which you might charitably say involve matters, to borrow Seipp's words, "of interpretation." She implicitly lends her approval to all of those other claims by promoting Schweizer's book, but I'm not, nor was I ever, trying to hold her accountable for all of those other problems, since she's not Schweizer's fact-checker. Schweizer has tried to reformulate his argument against Franken -- tacitly conceding he was wrong to say Franken has hired only one minority in his career, Schweizer now says Franken didn't hire enough minorities -- and Seipp might be tempted to do the same in defense of her piece. I think that's a transparent dodge about the veracity of Schweizer's book, but for our purposes here, it would also be beside the point.
My criticism of Seipp was and remains this: She wrote a column that repeated false statements of fact. As I said in my original item, a responsible writer, upon discovering such problems, would admit that she produced something that (inadvertently or not) contained inaccuracies, apologize to the subject in question, and express some doubt about the other things contained in the source material. She persists in doing none of those things and continues to embarrass herself in the process.
Since Seipp appears not to grasp the problems I had with her column, I would suggest she go back and read her original piece, then read Franken's first letter and Schweizer's response. She doesn't even need to read Franken's most recent rebuttal because, again, Schweizer never disputed that every claim repeated in Seipp's column was false.
I won't resort to name-calling at this time, but suffice it to say, if there is a twerp in this scenario, I don't think it's me.