James Fallows Uncovers the Sordid Truth About Goldblog (UPDATED)

The other day, Jim responded to the accusation that he was covering up for the various sins related to my first Norway post from the week before. In this same post he tells us about a blogging incident from his life that, if anything, is more ridiculous than my recent scandal. Read the whole thing. But here is Jim's summary of the Fallows-Goldblog controversy. Just in case you care.

...Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic put out an early item on the Norway deaths called "Mumbai Comes to Norway." It also assumed that al Qaeda was to blame. Many on the left have asserted with increasing rancor that I am a craven toady, loyal to the Atlantic's corporate interests above all else, for not lumping him with the Post column I criticized.

Here are the differences: Jeff Goldberg's initial posting, when I saw it for the first time, contained something the Post item did not: a "we can't be sure what's happening" paragraph, thus:

Of course, this could an act of right-wing extremism, perhaps in reaction to the rise of radical Islamism in Europe.  I'm as confused as the rest of you are about the authorship of these attacks. There have been early claims of responsibility by jihadist groups, followed by denials, followed by reports that a blonde "Nordic-looking" man was the one who opened fire on the youth camp. Was this "Nordic-looking" man an Adam Gadahn-type, or someone not motivated by jihadist ideology? Stay tuned.

Then, through the day, he kept updating his original post as new information came in, even as the Post item stood uncorrected and unchanged. Also, while he said in his first item that he hoped the event would not drive Norway out of Afghanistan, he was not using his assumptions about the event to attack people he disagreed with, unlike the Post column.

Was I alone in thinking that the Washington Post item was unusually egregious? No. Stephen Colbert talked about it, and had a picture of Rubin, on his first show after the attacks.

He also mentioned rush-to-judgment examples from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, but he said nothing about Jeffrey Goldberg. Presumably he had reasons other than being an Atlantic company-man toady for making that distinction. So I am proud to say that I show news judgment at least as sound as Stephen Colbert's. [Note to the aggrieved: this is a joke.]

A twist in this story emerged when a reader/blogger found a cached copy of an early version of Goldberg's first post, which did not include the caveat paragraph that I quote above and that was part of his post when I first read it. The assumption in that blog entry, which has spread to other sites, is: Goldberg posted an "al Qaeda did it!" item like Rubin's; he saw that things were changing and added a CYA caveat; but to really cover his tracks, he didn't label it as an "update," so as to give the false impression that it had been there from the start.

Jeffrey Goldberg has explained, in an update-update, that the initial lack of an "update" label  was a mistake rather than a deception. He was on the road, by car in upstate New York and Vermont, and was having trouble connecting. He filed the post, erased part of it inadvertently (this has happened to me) when adding later updates, and refiled it piecemeal. He says:

A number of readers have pointed out that my previous caveat give the impression that it was an instantaneous caveat, when in fact it wasn't. It was written a short while after the original post went up, and was labeled "Update" originally (I've since affixed the word "update" to it again. What happened was that I was driving and had connectivity problems, and so when I added further updates (below), I inadvertently erased the whole post, and had to rescue it from a Word document, but in re-posting that word document (or most of it -- I saved only most of it) I dropped the word "update," along with a couple of other things.

His critics assume that of course he is flat-out lying, and that I am his enabler in accepting the lie so as not to embarrass our company.

I don't like the general "he must be lying" assumption, and I have specific reason to believe his account of how things unfolded that day. I was corresponding with him on other topics that morning, and a recurring theme was how he was on the fringe of internet coverage and was going crazy trying to update a post. Also, our system logs changes, and any of us would be additionally crazy, knowing that, to pretend that something happened if it didn't.

So you can believe that he is lying to the world and to me, and that I am also lying about what I recall. Or you can believe that this was a mistake, and that I -- like the producers for the Colbert show -- thought that the Washington Post item deserved attention on its own.

But this raises a more general point about disagreement among members who coexist within the same journalistic operation:

The Atlantic was set up from the start to be a host and vehicle for diverse views. In the 30-plus years I have worked here, I have always respected the seriousness with which we try to approach issues, but I have never thought that the point of the magazine or web site was to publish only things that I personally agree with 100%. No one of us who has written for the magazine or web site agrees with everything that appears here. I could point out right now ten web posts and two articles I think make the wrong point. But this would be a sorry, homogeneous, and less valuable organization if we all thought and said the same thing.

On economics, a few of us here have views that are at odds with the views of a few others. On war-and-peace issues, there have long been deep differences within the staff. In 2002, Michael Kelly, then the editor, was among those most strongly advocating the need for an invasion of Iraq. (As everyone knows, he was serving as an embedded correspondent with the Third Infantry Division when he was killed in the first days of the invasion.) But that did not keep him from publishing, as a cover story, my anti-war article "The Fifty-First State" -- paired with Robert Kaplan's more supportive argument for the war in the same issue. There is no expectation that we are policemen for one another's views. Jeffrey Goldberg and I agree about many important things and have disagreed about others, including the Iraq war. Our jobs, and the jobs of everyone here, are to make our respective cases and let readers decide.

In this specific instance: on the merits, his item did not have the traits I objected to in the Washington Post's. And on the inclusion of the caveat, you either have to believe that we're both lying or assume that it was a mistake.

By the way, I will just repeat, there would have been no need for me to "cover-up" (if that generally was my thing) the terrible mistake (so-called) in the first post of assuming that al Qaeda or some related group (Ansar al-Islam, for instance) was behind the Norway attacks, because I still think it was a reasonable thing to suspect, given jihadism's track record of late, including (and especially) in Scandinavia.

UPDATE: A Goldblog reader writes: "What you don't answer in your blog today is whether you agree with James Fallows that Jennifer Rubin went too far in her post. Surely you must have changed your mind about this." Actually, on reading Jen Rubin and Fallows again, I do understand, and partially endorse, Fallows's original criticism of her. Not because she assumed it was al Qaeda that was responsible for the attacks in Norway, but because she pivoted off that first observation to score political points against, of all people, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Posting about the attack and positing theories about who did it, well, that's one thing -- but using a breaking story like that to make a narrow point about defense spending does seem to be a bit much.