I owe John Dickerson an apology

UPDATE: Much as I appreciate John Dickerson’s attention to the previous item and this one, I’d like to note that there are other posts on the site as well.

I’m among the legion of critics who complain that institutional press retractions of or corrections to widely read stories are often all but invisible. With any luck, that won’t be true in this decidedly non-institutional circumstance.

My comments on Slate writer John Dickerson’s column expressing surprise and alarm at the president’s borderline catatonic performance in the Katrina briefing video were as broadly disseminated as anything I’ve ever written and were seconded by a number of very smart people whose opinions I respect. At issue was what I interpreted as an astonishing degree of credulity in someone who had been covering Washington and the administration for the better part of a decade. How was it possible, I wondered, that someone with that sort of experience could have been surprised that the president wasn’t living up on tape to the legend advanced by the White House, and often amplified in the press, of an inquisitive and engaged chief executive.

I concluded that Dickerson must simply have gone round the bend at some point and was in the first stages of recovery, but the more obvious answer is that it isn’t possible, and a number of readers suggested that it hadn’t actually happened and that Dickerson was simply resorting to sublety in making the point that the official legend is spurious .

Those comments, along with my own doubts about the possibility that a veteran Washington correspondent could really be that thick, prompted me to email Dickerson and invite him to respond. He declined, I think regrettably, to do so on the record, but that correspondence and some others with people who know him have been enough to convince me that I did indeed do a spectacularly bad job of reading him; when I wrote that “It’s tempting to think, or hope, that Dickerson is writing tongue in cheek, but …”, I should have stopped at the “but” and succumbed to tempation.

I question whether we’re in a situation in which subtlety is either warranted or effective. Clearly it was lost on me, at least in this instance, and on many others who have been saying for years what the Katrina briefing video so vividly illustrates. Dickerson’s defenders say he’s addressing that segment of his readership who still support Bush but may be open to persuasion. I now think that’s true. I also think it means he’s targeting a very small number of people, and I’m far very from certain that someone whose support for Bush remains predicated on the mythology Dickerson addressed is any more susceptible to his subtlety than I was.

But that’s beside the immediate point, which is that I got the story wrong. I apologize for that, both to Dickerson and to my readers. I hope that everyone who picked up my original comments will do me the same favor with these.


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5 thoughts on “I owe John Dickerson an apology”

  1. I don’t believe that you misjudged anything. I read Dickerson’s piece and your reaction. The idea that Mr. Dickerson was merely doing a bit of subtle persuasion on those(they read?!)who still believe Bush is more intelligent than a small soap dish. My gut feeling (using some Bush-like powers here)is that Mr. Dickerson, like most of our pathetic and pathological press, has evolved into so much of an insider, that he no longer works to fulfill journalism’s primary mission: to illuminate the truth. America’s press corps is part of the problem. I’m just a 60-year old man who has been around the block and I knew from day one of Bush’s 2000 campaign that he was a phony. I spotted him as a willing stooge, a stupid, arrogant man who was wholly unsuited for the job. If I knew it, how come other supposedly cognitive adults missed it? I know I aint that smart, so the only possible answers are…the press is in the tank, or they’re a bunch of morons.

  2. I wonder if there is a sublety here in this post that I’m missing. You never know sometimes.

  3. I admit to being someone that was “believed the hype” as it were. Or perhaps it was my natural inclination to think that the activist-side of the Left often over states its case. so, i really honestly thought that no one could be as dumb or as non-inquisitive as Bush was being portrayed to be. in fact, I thought that was his strategy. to seem like a dolt, so that people disregard him but meanwhile he’s really asking all the right questions and running the show. that seemed plausible to me. so Dickerson’s piece (and even George Will’s comments on the talk shows this weekend) have were a necessary reading of the facts at hand that have cut through the PR machine and are beginning to help me see where i was wrong and how Bush really is the guy the left has portrayed him for so long.

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