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Posted by on Apr 7, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

The (In)Famous Schiavo Memo WAS Written By A GOPer

Forget all the conspiracy theories, partisan CYA and speculation: the Schiavo memo was written by a now-resigned GOPer.

The Washington Post reports:

The legal counsel to Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) admitted yesterday that he was the author of a memo citing the political advantage to Republicans of intervening in the case of Terri Schiavo, the senator said in an interview last night.

Brian Darling, a former lobbyist for the Alexander Strategy Group on gun rights and other issues, offered his resignation and it was immediately accepted, Martinez said.

This doesn’t sound like a Democrat or a member of the Mainstream Media trying to go after Republicans with fabricated documents to us, but then what do us weak-kneed political independents who aren’t wedded to any political party know? More:

Martinez said he earlier had been assured by aides that his office had nothing to do with producing the memo. “I never did an investigation, as such,” he said. “I just took it for granted that we wouldn’t be that stupid. It was never my intention to in any way politicize this issue.”

Martinez, a freshman who was secretary of housing and urban development for most of President Bush’s first term, said he had not read the one-page memo. He said he inadvertently passed it to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had worked with him on the issue. After that, other Senate aides gave the memo to reporters for ABC News and The Washington Post.

Harkin said in an interview that Martinez handed him the memo on the Senate floor, in hopes of gaining his support for the bill giving federal courts jurisdiction in the Florida case in an effort to restore the Florida woman’s feeding tube. “He said these were talking points — something that we’re working on here,” Harkin said.

The mystery of the memo’s origin had roiled the Capitol, with Republicans accusing Democrats of concocting the document as a dirty trick, and Democrats accusing Republicans of trying to duck responsibility for exploiting the dying days of a brain-damaged woman.

Conservative Web logs have challenged the authenticity of the memo, in some cases likening it to the discredited documents about Bush’s National Guard service that CBS News reported last fall.

Warning to bloggers on the right AND THE LEFT: avoid h-u-b-r-i-s. Look at each case individually. Your credibility is on the line. Remember The Boy Who Cried Wolf??

The unsigned memo — which initially misspells Schiavo’s first name and gives the wrong number for the pending bill — includes eight talking points in support of the legislation and calls the controversy “a great political issue.”

“This legislation ensures that individuals like Terri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy,” the memo concludes.

It asserts that the case would appeal to the party’s core supporters, saying: “This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.”

Yes, it proved to be important and the pro-life base became excited — and so did some 80 percent of Americans who, in across-the-boards categories, indicated in a poll that they wished Congress and the President had not injected themselves (and what people polled considered to be their political motives) into this issue.


TMV thanks the great new tabloid news site Sploid for the tip.

UPDATE: Americablog has this big collection of comments insisting the memo was all some Democratic plot — comments the quoted bloggers, columnists, talk show hosts and newspapers probably now wish they never said or wrote. A little caution before making allegations never hurt one’s credibility.

UPDATE II: In my time working on daily newspapers, I saw two of my employers make major errors on stories because editors jumped to conclusions. In both, the papers made sure they ran complete retractions and clarifications — since their publications’ credibiliy was at stake.

Sadly, in the case of the Schiavo-memos-are-a-Democratic-plot story, we’re not seeing that across-the-boards. Some are now attacking Martinez (who probably did indeed know more than he is admitting) and others are trying to shift the focus from their irresponsible assumptions and move into partisan attack mode to the Washington Post reporter…apparently figuring the best defense is a good offense. WRONG: in the case of media errors, the best defense is a genuine mea culpa, coupled with a declaration of intent to continue probing for truth…the moving on. Not a new attack on reporters or a Senator (even if the Senator seems disingenuous).

Crooks & Liars has more on what has emerged as a fiasco due to a combination of bloggers’ poor reporting and assumptions fueled by partisan stances. This is one instance where an editor-like gatekeeper would not have hurt.

UPDATE III: Knee-jerk partisanship and assumptions at their worst. Americablog gives you this transcript of Rush Limbaugh on the big Democratic plot to fake the now-proven-to-be-real GOP Terri Schiavo memo.

UPDATE IV: We’ve now had people from the center and one conservative blogger email me asking me if I could find the correction in this post — and I can’t. Really: all it takes is “we were wrong, but we’re diligent and always seeking the truth.” The linked post still seems on the attack with no correction. See our comments above about how newspapers handled errors quickly, the moved on — their credibility intact.

If blogs do NOT admit big errors why should people EVER trust blogs for anything but partisan attacks? Showing you put a premium on accuracy and source reliability IS important.

UPDATE V: Michelle Malkin gets it 100 percent right (and that’s partly because she comes from a newspaper background):

After John Hinderaker at Power Line first started asking necessary questions about the reporting on the memo, many on the Right jumped to conclusions that the memo was “fake” or a “dirty trick.” I concur that those who made such claims should issue clear retractions and corrections. And I urge those bloggers and pundits to do so.

But contrary to what the left-wing gloaters who have not bothered to follow the story until last night are writing, I have never made such claims, a point I stressed yesterday afternoon in an e-mail exchange with Post reporter Mike Allen.

Read her whole post including her email to Mike Allen.

Bloggers should follow her advice. And we’ll add this:

All that bloggers who hedge, avoid the issue, or go on the attack against reporters or the Senator to try and avoid admitting they made ideologically-fueled assumptions are doing is giving AMMUNITION to those in the mainstream media who contend that bloggers are people with computers, strong opinions and too much time on their hands who don’t bother to try and follow the meticulous standards of journalism that they DEMAND others follow.

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