Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
Andrew Sullivan, October 2007, boastful and aggressive:
Answering Ezra Klein: I am glad we helped head off the Clinton-Magaziner behemoth. Proud, actually. My sin was to publish a major article by Elizabeth McCaughey called "No Exit" that posited that Hillarycare 2.0 would inevitably lead to the extinction of much private medicine. Ezra wants me to be "more honest" about this. I don't think it's fair to expose the internal editing of a piece but there was a struggle and it's fair to say I didn't win every skirmish. I was aware of the piece's flaws but nonetheless was comfortable running it as a provocation to debate. It sure was. The magazine fully aired subsequent criticism of the piece. And if the readers of TNR are incapable of making their own minds up, then we might as well give up on the notion of intelligent readers. The piece also won a National Magazine Award....
[Hillary Rodham Clinton] was not a victim. And Ezra Klein should be careful unless his view of what journalism is degenerates into something indistinguishable from Sidney Blumenthal's.
Andrew Sullivan, October 2009, whining, snivelling, and pleading:
McCaughey And Me: I said my piece about this on this blog a while back. I do not think it's professional to air the specifics of internal battles after the fact, and I take full responsibility for being the editor of the magazine that published the piece. I accepted an award for it. I stood behind it. In my view, it had many interesting points and as an intellectual exercize in contemplating the full possible consequences of Hillary Clinton's proposal, it was provocative and well worth running. But its premise that these potential consequences were indisputably in the bill in that kind of detail was simply wrong; and I failed to correct that, although all I can say is that I tried.
One key paragraph - critical to framing the piece so it was not a declaration of fact but an assertion of what might happen if worst came to worst - became a battlefield with her for days; and all I can say is, I lost. I guess I could have quit. Maybe I should have. I decided I would run the piece but follow it with as much dissent and criticism as possible. I did discover that she was completely resistant to rational give-and-take. It was her way or the highway.
I ensured that TNR ran a long and detailed rebuttal; and I also ensured, as a conservative steward of a liberal magazine, that we editorialized in favor of the Cooper plan for universal healthcare, which we did consistently. During that period, I also commissioned and ran dozens of pieces explaining the healthcare debate from the Clinton point of view.
Again, I take responsibility.
I was the editor; I threatened to quit on another occasion; it was my call; and I took credit for its impact; and did not criticize her (and praised her tenacity) subsequently. No one else is responsible.
In retrospect, it was not my finest hour. I think there was a fascinating and provocative piece in there - and I always viewed The New Republic not as a tablet of liberal stone, but as a place where liberalism should be unafraid of challenges to it, and where lazy liberalism needed to be given a work-out. I enjoyed driving many liberals a little crazy in the untraditional, experimental - and often conservative and libertarian - pieces I commissioned (although I did not originally contact or commission McCaughey). Yes, that was when I was as popular with mainstream liberals as I am with mainstream conservatives today.
But look: it was one piece in a magazine. It's being treated as if it were a turning point in history. Please. There's one reason the Clinton healthcare bill failed and it isn't Betsy McCaughey. It's Hillary Clinton.
When an editor publishes something that he admits that he knew at the time to be false--"[McCaughey's] premise that these potential consequences were indisputably in the bill in that kind of detail was simply wrong; and I failed to correct that, although all I can say is that I tried"--there should be consequences.
And I think there should be consequences for the Atlantic Monthly, and for other publications that continue to employ Andrew Sullivan.