Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Life and Death of a Fake Quote

So when Frank Gaffney of the Washington Times, the Moonie-Wingnut joint business venture that is responsible for more political fiction than David Borowitz, wanted a heavyweight quote for his anti-anti-escalation editorial, he looked no further than our sixteenth president, Honest Abe:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged. — President Abraham Lincoln

Of course, there was just a slight hiccup with that: Lincoln never said any such thing. Or for that matter, anything even remotely close enough to create confusion.

Strikingly, it was the lead to another op/ed piece they ran in 2003 in their Insight magazine:

"Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged," that's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the War Between the States.
-J. Michael Waller, "Democrats Usher in An Age of Treason." Insight magazine, 23 Dec. 2003.(Courtesy of

After that piece ran, the quote was passed around from rightwing blog to rightwing blog. Most likely, Gaffney picked it up from one of them and put it in his article.

But the excuse story still fails the sniff test. When Fact Check first tried to put a long overdue death to this last hear, this is what Waller had to say:

The supposed quote in question is not a quote at all, and I never intended it to be construed as one. It was my lead sentence in the article that a copy editor mistakenly turned into a quote by incorrectly inserting quotation marks.

-J. Michael Waller, email to, Aug. 21, 2006

What happens if you take out the quotation marks? You still have him attributing something to Lincoln that Lincoln never advocated at all.

But even this is not the greatest problem with it. To quote Waller:

I'm surprised it has been repeated as often as you say. My editors at the time didn't think it was necessary to run a correction in the following issue of the magazine...
And there you have the greatest problem with The Washington Times. It seems that Reverend Moon and George W. Bush are not only equally delusional, but also equally reluctant to admit mistakes.

The New York Times is far from perfect. Almost every day, they run a ton of corrections. And when someone peddling fiction such as Judith Miller or Jayson Blair comes along, they eat their crow prepared well done over a flame pit.

But when someone at the Washington Times makes up drivel out of whole cloth, it goes unmentioned. Even now, there is no correction on their website regarding the Gaffney article. It's still there in its original form.

Untouched by truth, unblemished by well-deserved humiliation, the words of Gaffney and Waller are still there, uncorrected and unacknowledged.

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