Anatomy of a Smear Gone Very, Very Wrong

This note from the Daily Caller is perhaps the most awesome “correction” of the year the month the week:

An earlier version of this article reported claims made in a Princeton student newspaper article that appears to have been fabricated. Kirkpatrick denies the reporting from the Daily Princetonian and The Daily Caller has not been able to confirm it independently.

Reading this, you might think that a Princeton reporter turned out to have made up some facts, and after extensive investigation the Caller has ferreted this out and is letting its readers know. These disputed facts still might be true, mind you, but they can’t confirm them and the Kirkpatrick guy denies them.

Except for a few things:

  • The source is a spoof issue of the Princeton Daily News from 1990, which contains stories about Elvis, aliens, and the student government embezzling all the student fees and flying off to Rio.
  • The Caller has “not been able to confirm” its main charge because it didn’t happen.
  • And the best part: The Kirkpatrick in question is New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, who wrote a piece about Benghazi a few days ago that conservatives didn’t like. The Caller’s mistake was made in an attempt to smear Kirkpatrick by claiming that he posed nude for Playgirl 23 years ago.

This is the kind of thing that I’d normally ignore, but it’s just too breathtakingly half-witted to pass by. Does the Caller seriously think that even the part of the story that’s true—that Kirkpatrick streaked through campus as an undergrad—could possibly call his Benghazi reporting into question? This has to be the lamest smear ever, and you, my loyal readers, deserve to know about it. Dave Weigel has all the details if you want to bask in the entire glorious idiocy of the thing.


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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