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My ‘Brian Williams’ moment

| Friday, February 20, 2015

This is a full disclosure correction and mea culpa apology in answer to a reader’s inquiry regarding content in the fourth and fifth paragraphs published in this column Feb. 6 (Birthday myths create Ronald Reagan’s ‘liberal’ legacy). In short, during my research I mistakenly credited Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley’s July 19, 2011 Congressional Record statement with comments actually published on ThinkProgress.org by Zaid Jilani on Feb. 25, 2011 in an article entitled, “FLASHBACK: Ronald Reagan Called Union Membership ‘One Of The Most Elemental Human Rights.’”

I then lumped the misattributed and paraphrased Jilani language with other Congressional Record content in my first draft that went nearly 200 words beyond my limit. Finally, pressed for time to submit the column by 6 p.m. but also catch a plane to South America a bit after midnight, I carelessly chopped the paragraphs apart in my final version. Jilani’s paraphrased material was left naked without attribution when I submitted the column, barely beating my deadline by 15 minutes.

My hasty sloppiness is no excuse, merely an explanation. Viewpoint deserves not only a diversity of opinions, but also the best-possibly written opinion pieces that are clear, correct and educational. We have all heard the old rhyming adage that haste makes waste, which according to “The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms,” dates back to 1575. John Ray’s 1678 proverb collection contains the entire phrase, “Haste makes waste, and waste makes want, and want makes strife between the good man and his wife.”

By rushing and presenting my imperfect submission, I tarnish many countless others whose dedication and time-consuming work contribute to our good wife, The Observer. A well-written 850-word op-ed piece usually demands approximately six hours to complete from the research phase to final submission. As a stickler for writing columns containing correct grammar and proper wording, such as “believe” rather than “feel” and “more than” instead of “over,” I should have caught my error not once, but twice. I should have color-coded the attributable text to prevent confusion. I should have proofread more carefully. That type of dual opportunity doubly upsets a writing perfectionist like me.

Factual purity is an essential element of opinionated journalism, especially with regards to politics or religion. Consequently, the most mundane political commentary can elicit compassionate responses without over-shocking our political sensibilities like the vitriol conservative commentator Ann Coulter oftentimes prefers. On Halloween, this column began with what I thought was clever imagery of a frightened White House on guard the weekend before the midterm elections against what it perceived were GOP ghouls circling above. An irate Republican reader interpreted it to mean that I was calling the GOP a bunch of ghouls. Rather than express his position for publication in the letters section, he advocated silencing the Capitol Comments column. In this case, even perfect writing was not perfectly read.

More than a week before my deadline, I began an outline that Reagan raised taxes nearly a dozen times and held sympathies for unions. For four hours the evening before the deadline, I skimmed the Congressional Record (112th Congress 2011-2012), particularly tributes in February 2011 that commemorated Reagan’s 100th birthday. Ironically, I noted that nearly all of the GOP’s current “anti-Obama” stands and rhetorical language could apply as anti-Reagan in light of today’s Fox News spin-zone benchmarks. Reagan’s record never did always perfectly align with today’s far right movement.

Predictably, most GOP members mentioned Reagan’s mythical anti-taxing stand — Reps. Lungren (Notre Dame Class of 1963 and a close personal friend of mine), Herger, Rohrabacher, Dreier, Wilson, Poe, Burgess, Matsui, Gallegly, Chambliss, Runyan, Wolf, Mack, Royce, Gingrey, Pence, Schock, Stearns, Smith and Sen. Kyle. Conversely, two Democrats challenged that Reagan revisionist legacy — Rep. Mike Quigley’s statement entitled, “The Reagan Myth,” and Sen. Harry Reid. Reid’s Feb. 7 statement on Page S581 juxtaposed Reagan’s inconsistencies, concluding that Reagan “was more beholden to simple pragmatism than stubborn principle.”

Beyond the Congressional Record, my research began with the Feb. 26, 2011 FreakOutNation.com’s “Ronald Reagan: Being In A Union Is A Basic Right.” I then read Randy Patrick’s March 14, 2011 column in TheNewerWorld.com entitled, “Reagan: pro-union Republican,” followed by ShoqValue.com’s “Ronald Reagan: ‘Where Collective Bargaining Is Forbidden, Freedom Is Lost,’” posted March 12, 2011 and briefly describing Reagan’s support of a Polish Communist labor union. Most importantly, it contained the link that brought me to ThinkProgress.org and Jilani’s stunning juxtaposition of Reagan’s anti-Communist priority over his anti-union sentiment, to the point that he embraced the far-left socialistic Polish union, Solidarity. I mistakenly attributed this interesting and unique description of Solidarity’s social control of the food supply to ensure that the masses would be fed, workers deciding their own holidays and other economic policies that are the antithesis of Reagan’s GOP-inspired legacy.

Without seeing the email to the editor, I hope it came from a scholar who recognized the Solidarity description rather than from someone whose political wrath subscribes my email address to conservative causes without my permission. A line from Reagan’s Iran Arms and Contra Aid Controversy speech, given March 4, 1987, best describes my citation intent: “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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