"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wWednesday, March 06, 2002

CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL: And it might not hurt one's credibility much either. Take the recent case of Michael Bellesiles' book Arming America, which has now been shown to be substantially fraudulent. Read this crow-eating piece by Books & Culture editor John Wilson. He notes that he, along with a whole string of four-star reviewers was "badly wrong in my judgment." As evidence mounted that Bellesiles had misused and/or falsified much of his documentation Wilson "hung my head in shame" for having allowed himself "to be seduced by the thrill of a thesis that overturned common wisdom." Further: "I didn't practice reasonable skepticism in the face of Bellesiles's provocative claims."

Wilson was not only wrong but "badly wrong," and he went wrong by attempting to overturn the wisdom of the great unwashed masses. This snobbery, he admits, obscured his job as a reviewer. As apologies go nowadays, this approaches genuine contrition. Does one's opinion of Wilson go up or down in response to these admissions? And would one be more likely or less to trust future content from Books & Culture (at which, full disclosure, I'm on the masthead)?

I mention this because Slate's Jack Shafer issued a similar apology in yesterday's edition of the online magazine. After laying out in vivid detail all the reasons that Slate was "duped," as he put it, by a supposed CEO of a European auto manufacturer into publishing a few diary pieces, Shafer said that the fraudulent articles were going to be retained (though labeled as such) "in the interests of transparency, and as a reminder to ourselves that we've failed your trust." His magazine "apologizes to its readers and promises greater vigilance in the future."

No fuss, no muss, just "boy did we elf that one up," a chronicle of the reasons why they elfed that one up and what I assume is a genuine pledge to fix the problem to keep from elfing it up in the future. As cloying as this sounds, the honesty is almost refreshing.

posted by Jeremy at 2:05 PM