As you know, ABC’s Jonathan Karl created quite a firestorm this past week by publishing a “breaking” story about the Benghazi controversy that was an utter and complete fabrication.
Karl’s story purported to “prove” that the White House had made partisan hay with the Benghazi talking points in those first few days after the deadly attack on our consultate in Libya. In fact, Karl’s story, we now know, was a lie, fabricated by congressional Republicans who are out to get President Obama, and aided by Karl having intentionally misled ABC’s audience in his reporting on the matter.
I actually felt bad for Jonathan Karl, initially
I actually felt a little bit bad for ABC’s Jonathan Karl, and thus haven’t been joining in the vocal attacks others have lobbed at him over his fabricated story about the Benghazi emails.
All reporters mess up at some point. And Karl’s mistake was rather monumental, to be sure. Karl not only was lied to by a source, and printed the lie as fact, but he hid the hearsay nature of the lie and pretended that he was quoting White House emails that he had seen himself, when in fact he was quoting a GOP congressional source lying about what was in the White House emails about the Benghazi talking points. Quite a small fact to omit from a breaking new story.
Why not go after Jonathan Karl with a vengeance? Because he never struck me as particularly Fox News-y, so I was willing to not hang the man from the gallows for one mistake, regardless of how severe.
But now it might be time to go shopping for some rope.
Jonathan Karl’s bizarre apology-non-apology
On CNN’s Reliable Sources this morning, host Howard Kurtz read a new statement from ABC’s Jonathan Karl:
“Clearly, I regret the email was quoted incorrectly and I regret that it’s become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stands. I should have been clearer about the attribution. We updated our story immediately.”
-Jonathan Karl, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent
Was quoted? So now we’re using the magical passive voice, absolving he who did the quoting from all culpability.
Why didn’t Jonathan Karl verify the emails?
But putting the passive voice aside, this story isn’t a problem simply because the quote was incorrect. The story is a problem because ABC’s Jonathan Karl not only trusted a partisan source with a clear agenda to harm the President, but Karl didn’t even bother verifying the hearsay quote that he was quoting as anything but partisan hearsay.
Karl claims his source wasn’t allowed to copy the emails and send them to him for verification. Was the source allowed to leak the emails to Karl in the first place? No. So why would Karl accept the “gosh, it would be morally wrong of me to break the rules” from a source who was already breaking the rules by talking to Karl?
But what’s more, did Jonathan Karl respond by saying, “fine, I’ll come over and look at the emails in person”? If he did, the source said no, and rather than telling the source “I’m not printing this until I see the emails,” Karl went ahead anyway, and rather than, at the very least, disclosing in his story that it was a partisan source, and that he was quoting hearsay rather than emails he’d actually reviewed himself, Karl cleaned up the story and misled ABC’s audience in an apparent effort to exact maximum damage on the Obama administration.
Jonathan Karl’s mistake goes far beyond getting the quote wrong
You see, Karl didn’t just “quote incorrectly,” unless by “quote incorrectly” he meant, literally, he put quotation marks around something that shouldn’t have had quotation marks around it. In his initial story, Jonathan Karl said that he had seen the White House emails in question, and he hadn’t. Here’s how Karl referred to the emails at the top of his story:
“White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department.”
Reviewed by ABC News.
Karl then went on to quote the White House emails that he’d “reviewed,” leading the reader to believe, understandably, that the quotes were accurate, since Karl had actually reviewed the emails himself.
He was told what the emails supposedly said by a Republican congressional source who had every incentive to lie. And rather than be somewhat skeptical of the source, and demand to see the emails in person before running the story, Karl ran the story anyway, got it wrong, and now is trying to downplay his multiple journalistic errors, which include lying about having seen the emails in question and thus giving ABC readers and viewers a false sense of the veracity of the reporter and the story.
As a result, we had a media, and congressional, feeding frenzy for a week blasting the administration for playing politics with the lives of US diplomats, since the Benghazi “smoking gun” had finally been found. And it hadn’t.
So for Jonathan Karl to now go all passive voice on us about emails “quoted incorrectly,” and to suggest that his error was – what, a typo maybe? – rather than him having misled ABC News’ readers and viewers because he didn’t do his due diligence when dealing with a partisan source with a clear agenda, and then to suggest that his only regret about having lied to ABC’s audience is that his lie has distracted from the larger, in his mind, “valid” story is pretty reprehensible.
The fact that congressional Republicans who are conducting the Benghazi witch hunt felt the need to leak information, and then lie about it, in order to buttress their case might perhaps suggest that even they think their case is lacking. But not Jonathan Karl. He thinks the story “entirely stands.”
Then again, Jonathan Karl thinks having a partisan source with an axe to grind paraphrase emails over the phone is the same thing as him having personally “reviewed” those emails. So maybe Jonathan Karl has a different definition of “entirely stands” than the rest of us do.
Jonathan Karl could learn a thing or two about humility from Howie Kurtz
I know a lot of folks have been enjoying their Howie Kurtz schadenfreude the last few weeks. I disagreed with them, for the same reasons I didn’t want to, and had no plans to, initially go after Jonathan Karl on all of this. People mess up occasionally, and I’m willing to forgive if they come clean (at least the first time). But it’s ironic that Karl gave this apology-non-apology to Kurtz. Howie apologized for his mistake. Clearly, fully and immediately. Where is Jonathan Karl’s mea culpa?
It sure isn’t this:
It’s one thing to mess up, monumentally. It’s another to refuse to come clean after you’ve been caught. The former could, generously, be ascribed to error. The latter is intentional, and deceitful.
I love ABC. I grew up with ABC. ABC was my news channel. Now I don’t trust them.