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June 24, 2006

Zengerle's sketchy sources

(Update: Welcome, Glenn Greenwald readers, here's my follow-up post on Zengerle's admission that he printed bogus emails.)

Lately, Jason Zengerle of The New Republic has been frantically trolling the blogosphere, insinuating that Kos rules the sphere with an iron fist.

We all need a little extra attention from time to time. Besides, trolling is a central plank of TNR's new business model. Zengerle's colleague Lee Siegel is driving up his hit count by saying of the liberal blogosphere: "It's hard fascism with a Microsoft face", and again.

It's all fun and games until someone starts fabricating sources. Glenn Greenwald notes that Zengerle claims that three sources sent him the same Steve Gilliard email. Unfortunately for Zengerle, the letter turns out to be a fake. Gilliard didn't write that letter and no such missive was ever posted to the Townhouse listerv.

So, how did Zengerle get ahold of three copies of the same fake email? The most charitable explanation is that he got egregiously burned by the same forger who sent him three copies of the fake, purporting to be different people. If so, Zengerle should burn that source, or if he doesn't know the source, admit that he'll publish anything from anyone. The second-most charitable explanation is that he got one fake email and lied about how many sources he had. The most disturbing possibility is that Zengerle fabricated the letter himself. It's time for Zengerle to burn his source, or resign. Somebody's gotta show Jason Leopold how it's done, and it might as well be Stephen Glass's old fact-checker Jason Zengerle.

Update: Jedmunds of Pandagon weighs in, and Steve Gilliard responds.

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Comments

Tom, honestly, you're smarter than this.

What shocks me is the utter failure of imagination by the same group of people who can conjure such elaborate Cheney-Rove theories.

This kind of random baiting is exactly the same thing that Zengerle is doing. Do you really want to end up in that box?

Concentrate on the facts. Zengerle somewhat randomly made several assertions that would have just been funny, if they weren't so loaded. He can demonstrate that he's an honest journalist through a simple disclosure. Or, alternately, he can cut and run, and not be taken seriously in the future.

Tom, what is so hard to understand about that?

Yes, and I'm sure that there was no backchannel co-ordination involved.

I electronically shred all of my emails from Cheney, and the Rovian mind-rays are shielded. You couldn't possibly know about our back-channel communications unless... unless... no, we can't be harboring moles in our midst! That would be so... Townhousian.

electronically shred all of my emails from Cheney, and the Rovian mind-rays are shielded. You couldn't possibly know about our back-channel communications unless... unless... no, we can't be harboring moles in our midst! That would be so... Townhousian.

Tom, Do you wish to talk about specifics, or keep babbling about fantasy? Your choice.

Tom, you might also note that Zengerle now admits that the email in question is phony. So, on to details, then? We all like to pay attention, don't we?

Tom, Do you wish to talk about specifics, or keep babbling about fantasy?

Let me babble fantasy for a moment - how about this, from the original post:

So, how did Zengerle get ahold of three copies of the same fake email? The most charitable explanation is that he got egregiously burned by the same forger who sent him three copies of the fake, purporting to be different people. If so, Zengerle should burn that source, or if he doesn't know the source, admit that he'll publish anything from anyone. The second-most charitable explanation is that he got one fake email and lied about how many sources he had. The most disturbing possibility is that Zengerle fabricated the letter himself.

Unranked, but described by Zengerle - he received an email with headers and footers blanked out (presumably to preserve a bit of the old confidentiality). The original source attributed the third email to Gilliard; two other sources confirmed the long emails from Stark and Greenwald and took the short one at face value.

As to whether that seems more probable than deliberate forgery by Zengerle, you make the call. As to whether that scenario is so improbable that we should never have put it in the mix with the three xcenarios on offer is also a matter of opinion (is my opinion in doubt?)

More fantasy, this time from Greenwald's original post (breathlessly titled ( Does The New Republic have a new Stephen Glass in Jason Zengerle?"):

Zengerle caused The New Republic to print a completely fabricated e-mail and then falsely attribute it as one Gilliard sent to the Townhouse list.

Assuming we all agree that the attribution to Gilliard was wrong, does anyone still insist this email was actually "fabricated", rather than simply misattributed?

If so, on what reality-based evidence?

Officially, I suppose I ought to be agnostic until Zengerle's primary source checks in. But if I had to bet, I would at least *identify* the possibility that his source copy/pasted some emails together and lost track of what came from whom.

The idea that it was "forged", or a "fake", seems a bit less likely.

(That said, Zengerle's source is not likely to admit he forged it, and I don't know how we can prove/disprove an assertion that the source copy/pasted it from some other email discussion. Whether that evidentiary barrier will be even a speed bump to Greenwald's supporters is not much of a mystery).

It's a false evidentiary barrier you erect, TM. Steve has explained it to you quite simply. Prove that the email exists.

Either the words comprising the contents of that email exist on the listserv or they do not. The contents of the entire listserv simply need to be searched by someone (anyone?) for that exact phrase, in the thread under question and in all previous threads. If it appears, then we need to know who wrote it and when and on what topic in order to have context to decide ill-intent as versus simple mistake. If it never appears in the entirety of the listserv, someone (not very astute about networks matters) made it up. It's really that easy.

Thus far, because of TNR's refusal to divulge, I think people are perfectly justified in assuming that either Zengerle was burned by a source or Zengerle is his own nefarious source. Either way, it is hardly the harmless event you are passing off.

Because of the accusations you and others have hurled around this weekend, the burden of proof that such an email ever existed (from anyone) on this listserv is, from an ethical perspective, on those of you doing the hurling.

Show us the email, the author, the header info including date and IP address. Then other members of the listserv can confirm whether it is genuine or not.

So, TM, prove that the email exists. I'm sure you of all people have the pull to get that accomplished--out of the hundreds and hundreds of co-conspirators on the listserv, surely there is one who would look favorably on such a reasonable request from you. Or are you just empty snark?

In the event that you need help on which listserv members to go to in order to get such information, I'm sure the original "three" sources would jump at the chance to rescue their own, as well as Mr. Zengerle's, reputations. At least one of them is on a terrible hook.

I doubt you would even need to know their identities in advance, although something tells me Zengerle might just spill if you nudged him gently, because he is the only person with a name who is currently on that terrible hook. Or you could just send up the TM bat-signal into the night sky, ala Jack "research my columns for me" Shafer.

And now Mr. Gilliard informs us that TNR has decided to take a pass on ethics.

Final score:

Source doesn't exist or source lied. Pretty much the same thing at this point.

Not looking good for TNR. Nothing claimed by them in the future warrants belief if posited on an unnamed source. If you are still among the 70,000, for pity's sake, what is keeping you? I can tell you from personal experience that it is one of THE most satisfying cancellations you will ever undertake. Later you will be mystified as to why you ever held out so long. A bracing breath of fresh air, believe you me.

Definitely a downer for Mr. Zengerle. Nothing written by him will ever warrant reading. Forever. In perpetuity. I'm told that's a long time.

If it never appears in the entirety of the listserv, someone (not very astute about networks matters) made it up. It's really that easy.

Gee, my world is much more complicated. In my world, folks sometimes clip emails from one page and paste them to another; they might even paste them for one listserv to another, or intend to and back out, or whatever.

Are you really saying that you can only conceive of two hypotheses:

(1) Someone else put that exact email on that listserv, or

(2) Either Zengerle of his source typed it themselves to buttress there story?

Wow, you must get utterly lost when folks try to explain to you how Rove manipulated the Niger forgeries.

As to this:

Because of the accusations you and others have hurled around this weekend, the burden of proof that such an email ever existed (from anyone) on this listserv is, from an ethical perspective, on those of you doing the hurling.

Well, Greenwald launched the 'Is there a Stephen Glass in the House' attack - does he have any burden to prove that, or is that the default assumption?

And what, I wonder did I suggest that was remotely comparable to that - that Greenwald was exaggerating the evidence and leaping to unsupported conclusions?

I will close with some devastating (yet empty) snark, as soon as something come to me...

Gee, my world is much more complicated. In my world, folks sometimes clip emails from one page and paste them to another; they might even paste them for one listserv to another, or intend to and back out, or whatever.

Gee, Tom, it's amazing how forgiving you can be... when it suits you.

Gee, Tom, it's amazing how forgiving you can be... when it suits you.

It's about the hypocrisy! Although off-hand (or even upon reflecton), I am not sure what sort of hard-line position you think I have held that differs wildly from this. Care to offer a hint?

Fascinating how Tom Maguire still has not addressed the fact that Zengerle has said that the Gilliard e-mail is false.

Why are you calling Zengerle a liar, Tom?

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