Matt Welch on the Washington Post's Deficient Apology
By David Henderson
Using “not entirely” in this case is like saying Rocky was “not entirely” about loan collections.
On a blog called EconLog, I generally stick to economics. But occasionally I make an exception to deal with other issues. One is media bias, because I think the issue is so important.
Recently Matthew Sheffield wrote an op/ed in the Washington Post titled “Where did Donald Trump get his racialized rhetoric? From libertarians.” In it, he wrote the following:
There had always been some sympathy for racism and anti-Semitism among libertarians–the movement’s house magazine, Reason, dedicated an entire issue in 1976 to Holocaust revisionism and repeatedly editorialized in defense of South Africa’s then-segregationist government (though by 2016, the magazine was running articles like “Donald Trump Enables Racism”).
Reason editor-at-large Matt Welch wrote a great response to this hatchet job. Of course he focused on the job done on Reason, not on other people against whom Sheffield wielded his axe. Here are three key paragraphs:
The entire case for Reason’s allegedly institutional pro-apartheid bias rests on three pieces written not by an employee of the magazine, but by a single South African freelancer, Marc Swanepoel. As I indicated in my post, I disagree strenuously with what Swanepoel wrote back when I was in elementary school. But even he described the apartheid regime as a “dictatorship,” and called for the abolition of “omnipotent government, whether in black or in white hands.” To repeat: Reason never editorialized, let alone “repeatedly,” in defense of the apartheid regime. Sheffield and the Washington Post need to correct the record.
Nor is it true that Reason “dedicated an entire issue in 1976 to Holocaust revisionism,” as Sheffield parrots from another misfired Ames attack. That February 1976 issue, as Nick Gillespie pointed out at the time, was surely not the magazine’s finest hour, but the theme was revisionism-revisionism (i.e., challenging popular storylines Americans tell themselves about the country’s pristine motives for going to war), rather than questioning the veracity of the Holocaust. “That scurrilous topic is not the focus of any of the articles in the issue,” Gillespie wrote; instead the pieces were about things like what Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about Pearl Harbor, and whether any actors other than Germany played a role in starting World War II.
It is true that, in Gillespie’s words, “the inclusion of contributors such as James J. Martin, who would go on to join the editorial board of the contemptible denialist outfit the Institute of Historical Review, is embarrassing,” as is the presence of Gary North (who would “later be excoriated in this 1998 Reason article for arguing in favor of violent theocracy and the stoning of gays and others”). But it is not true that that was an “entire issue” dedicated to “Holocaust revisionism.” Sheffield and the Post should correct.
So the Washington Post did correct, kind of. Here’s the correction:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Reason’s 1976 special issue on revisionism and its coverage of apartheid South Africa. It included articles about Holocaust revisionism, but was not entirely dedicated to the Holocaust. Also, while the magazine did run several articles defending apartheid, it did not editorialize in favor of the system.
Now Welch has responded to that. He leads as follows:
When I dealt with corrections in my first journalism job 30 years ago, at UC Santa Barbara, we hippies used the then-industry-standard practice of quoting the original erroneous material, explaining why it was wrong, then appending at the bottom of every correction this phrase: “The Daily Nexus regrets the error.” It may have been formulaic, it may have sounded just a wee bit like a hostage note, but the purpose of the exercise was to snip out the lie like the cancer it was, reinforce the empty space around it with the healing goo of truth, and continue our participation within a culture that holds as aspirational values basic veracity and honesty above all.
He then considers how the WaPo correction measures up. These next lines are classic:
Now look back at the Post’s correction text again: It included articles about Holocaust revisionism, but was not entirely dedicated to the Holocaust. Nope, there was one paragraph in a 76-page issue pointing to works about Holocaust revisionism, you sarcastic, imprecise aspersion-casters. Using “not entirely” in this case is like saying Rocky was “not entirely” about loan collections. The Post has created yet another error while “correcting” the old, and should correct its correction to reflect that. It’s really not that hard to click on the link, fellas.