Thursday, August 11, 2005

High dudgeon

The Cornerites -- notably Jonah Goldberg -- are slapping their flippers together today over this George Will column excoriating Jimmy Carter. Will called the former president a "recidivist fibber," which, I suppose, is better than calling him a traitor.

To those uninitiated in this whole matter, Will was in 1980 already a columnist for The Washington Post. He also was very close to Reagan. No surprise, I suppose. But what he then did was help candidate Reagan prepare for a debate with Carter, prepping him, coaching him, what have you [Will claims to have asked only one question, on Israel]. Will then went on Nightline to talk about what a wonderful job Reagan had done, indeed, telling Ted Koppel that the candidate had performed as a "thoroughbred."

Clearly, this was not a major media scandal, [In "The News At Any Cost," Tom Goldstein characterized it as a "sideshow -- a misjudgement...not a misdemeanor] but it should have been obvoius to Will that it was wrong of him to offer his services to the candidate and then turn around to, essentially, praise his own handiwork. What's interesting is the way Will chose to deal with the incident at the time it was revealed. Instead of apologizing or stating he was unethical to have offered his services, Will intead dismissed the complaints and offered this weak non-apology in a column from July 10, 1983:
"Would I accept a similar invitation again? Wild horses could not drag me. This, for three reasons. First, some of the questions now being raised seem to me to have merit. Second, it makes so many people anxious. Third, my relationship with ABC is now formal and different. (Then I generally appeared in a semi-debate format with a more liberal person.)

"Some of the questions now being raised seem to me to have merit." Such a lame mea culpa has not since been uttered. And he wouldn't do it again because of his relationship with ABC? What nonsense.

Now to the issue at hand from today's column. Apparently, someone from the Reagan camp had spirited away from Carter a briefing book -- one that Will dismissed then and now as inconsequential. Well, who knows? The issue now is that Carter claims that it was Will who had a hand in taking the book, but has not fessed up to it. Will, in today's column, lights into Carter, saying of him "The role of ex-president requires a grace and restraint notably absent from Carter."

Oh, and here's the latest apology: "my participation in his debate preparation was as inappropriate as it was superfluous." I don't know if Carter is embroidering his story or if Will is telling the truth, but I think it's interesting that it's taken Will 25 years to note how "inappropriate" his actions were. Call him a recidivist ass-coverer.

A note: I would also put into this category of misdemeanor the group of journalists who coached John Kerry in 2004 [for some reason, I can't find a link]. It is not a reporter's job to tell a candidate what he or she can do better -- indeed, it is supremely unethical to do so. I recently experienced a similar situation in which a defense attorney asked me what she should focus on for her closing arguments, and what was the weakest part of her case. I politely declined, saying it was not my role to do so.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 12:16 PM

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