HH: Eric Black, welcome back.
EB: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
HH: Now you’re referring to me as your new best friend on your blog, and I hope that’s genuine, Eric.
EB: Well, I appreciated all the time you gave me the other day, but I wasn’t in appreciation of all the things you said about me, so I have kind of mixed feelings.
HH: Well, you might not appreciate today, either, but I’m awfully glad you came back. I think it’s important, and I want to continue on the conversation on a number of different things.
EB: Okay, well, I have a few questions that are follow ups to our conversation of last week, so…
HH: Okay. Well, let me go first and get my stuff done, and we’ll go as long…we’ve got plenty of time. We’ve got 45 minutes, so we’ll make sure we cover everything.
EB: Well, what if we take turns?
HH: Nah, because that’ll destroy…you know how an interview goes. I’ve got to make sure it paces right. So just…I’ll tell you what. After 15 minutes, I’ll let you ask a few.
EB: Okay, all right. If you promise I’ll get all my points covered, I’ll cover yours.
HH: You betcha. Absolutely.
HH: And we may even put them on the air.
HH: Okay, Eric Black, first point. Last week, in Black part 1, you basically confessed that the Star Tribune is a left-leaning newspaper that shills for Democrats.
EB: I don’t recall confessing that at all.
HH: Is that an unfair characterization of what I said? Of what you said?
EB: It’s a fair characterization of what you said.
HH: But is it an unfair characterization of what you agreed to, or confessed?
EB: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. The transcript exists. People can check it. But I remember you loading up a question with aspersions against the Star Tribune, and I remember starting my answer by saying I wanted to make that by answering the question, it’s clear that I’m rejecting the premise of your question.
HH: Yeah, you actually didn’t do that, and I just use that as a set up for our return to the Wetterling conversation.
HH: Since the time we talked, Bill Sammon, Morton Kondracke, CNN’s political analyst, and I believe an analyst for NPR have all said that Patty Wetterling lied in her ad. Does that ad continue to run, Eric Black?
EB: I haven’t seen it today, but as far as I know, it does, and I believe it does.
HH: And have you changed your opinion on whether or not what she said is a lie?
EB: No. I’m sticking with my characterization of it as an exaggeration, and I noted that you had Howard Kurtz on the day before you had me on, and you read him the ad, and he called it an exaggeration. You accepted that from him, but not from me. I wish you would explain why.
HH: I’d be happy to.
EB: He also wrote a piece about it the same day that my piece ran in the Washington Post, and he also didn’t call it a lie, and I also called him to ask him about that. And he said that in his years of writing ad watches, he’s never used the word lie that he can recall.
HH: And the reason is, he doesn’t set himself up as the “Truth Squad.” He does do ad watches, but when you’re going to say that you know the truth, I think when you’ve got CNN, NPR, Bill Sammon, Morton Kondracke all saying it’s a lie, that that creates a great deal of evidence against the proposition it’s an exaggeration. But I don’t blame Howard for what he doesn’t claim to be. He doesn’t claim to be the truth squad. He claims to be a media columnist who’s covering a media story. Now you claim to be the truth squad, so just…I know I’m not going to get you to budge here, but for the record, you just don’t think that it’s a lie for her to continue to assert, even though on CNN, I don’t know if you saw the interview on CNN, Patty Wetterling admitted that there were no Congressional leaders who had confessed to a cover up.
EB: Well, that’s what I said.
HH: But given that she says now that there are no Congressional leaders, and the ads say Congressional leaders confessed to a cover up, doesn’t that make it a lie, Eric?
EB: Well, I’m not going to use that word, and I’ll be happy to look at the links that I’m sure you’ll send me, in which NPR and CNN and the others that you named have used the word lie. I’d like to see the context in which it emerges, because it’s a rare thing.
[Editor’s note: Eric, this insert is the relevant portion of the interview Hugh conducted with Morton Kondracke and Bill Sammon on Friday, October 6, 2006]
HH: Let me read to you the central claim in an ad run by Patty Wetterling, Democratic candidate for the 6th district in Minnesota, which is considered to be the edge of the Democratic attack on Foley. Her central claim, released on Wednesday, still playing, “Congressional leaders have admitted covering up the predatory behavior of a Congressman who used the internet to molest children.” Morton, is that a lie?
MK: Yeah, of course it’s a lie. They haven’t admitted any such thing, nor would they.
HH: Bill Sammon, is that a lie?
BS: Yeah, and you know, not only…Pelosi and Howard Dean in the last two days both said yeah, we want to investigate the GOP cover up. In other words, they’re saying we’ve already convicted them, you know, and found them guilty that they covered something up. But we want to investigate that. So there is this rush to judgment. Look, if Denny Hastert did something wrong, he ought to be held accountable. I just don’t think he ought to be run out of town on a rail in this mob mentality that has gripped this city. It’s very unseemly, it’s very ugly. The feeding frenzy, I think, if it gets too much…if it goes on for too much longer, is going to turn off voters, and there could even be a backlash against Democrats.
HH: And would…
EB: I will agree with you, Hugh, that campaign truth squad is the best title. It’s not something I chose. The one I like, which is on every one of those stories, was thought up by my colleague, Doug Tice. It’s called ‘Is That A Fact,’ in which we basically are saying we’re fact checking the ads. I don’t know if you consider that to be quite as outrageous or arrogant…
HH: No, actually, actually, there is no fact to exaggerate there, because there is no confession. But I did…I think that would be better.
EB: Yes, I’m just trying to get to the fact that you’re making so much of the fact that the tag that was put on this series was campaign truth squad. I think you’re perhaps taking it a little too literally, but I have never been thrilled with that title. Others around here haven’t, either. And maybe we should change it, and if that would take care of the problem for you, I’d be willing to have that conversation back here.
HH: Or it could be campaign left-wing reporter opinion squad (laughing).
EB: I’ll put that in the hopper and see who salutes.
HH: (laughing) All right. Let me ask you about today, or actually yesterday’s story on Wetterling and Bachmann that you wrote. It begins, “17 years ago this month, 11 year old Jacob Wetterling was biking home from a convenience store in St. Joseph, Minnesota, when he was kidnapped by a masked man.” That story is clearly important to any story about Patty Wetterling. After a race for the same district two years ago, in which that was prominently discussed, and indeed as part of her campaign message that she’s a child advocate seared by tragedy, should it lead a Star Tribune story on the election less than a month before the vote?
EB: Well, obviously, I must think so, because I wrote it in my lead. It was used to set up the question of whether a tragedy like that, however much sympathy it engenders, is a broad enough base for a Congressional candidacy, and that’s a question she has to answer over the course of the campaign.
HH: But a month out…I could understand that six months ago, ten months ago, when the campaign began, or when Klobuchar decided to go for Senate. A month out, would it be fair for some critics of the Star Tribune to think that you are abetting what is clearly a very sympathetic personal story by leading with it late in the campaign cycle?
EB: Well, critics of the Star Tribune can think what they want, and I wouldn’t…I’m not going to call them unfair unless I hear the details. I’m well aware that fairness is in the eye of the beholder, and there are many people who complain about the fairness of things that I’ve written. I don’t…I reject the argument you’re making now, or at least, I disagree with it. I don’t think that this was particularly a puff piece, or a valentine for Mrs. Wetterling, any more than the Bachmann profile was of her. I gather you’re prepared to walk me through, paragraph by paragraph, and show me the error of that impression?
HH: No, actually. No, I’m not. I just…I thought it was odd to lead this late in the campaign with a biographical story which is the most compelling part of her narrative, because it is so tragic. Now I do want to ask you, though, I’m unclear of this. I tried to do some research. You quote Ms. Wetterling deep into the story. I don’t know, was it on the jump page, by the way, when you quoted her as saying I cannot win?
EB: I don’t recall which page it ran, but it was down in the story, yes. I’m sure it was in the jump.
HH: Yeah, okay, so it’s on the jump. Did she also say I’m too liberal for the district?
EB: No. That’s generally the construction that Republicans have put on it.
HH: But she never said that herself?
EB: I believe what she said was that it’s the only district in the state where her negatives are higher than her positives.
HH: And she did not put that down to her liberal ideology?
EB: As far as I know, this is…the reporter who wrote that story works for the St. Paul paper, the story in which she said that, and I relied on his story, and I read it back when I first quoted it, and no, she did not…she did not call herself a liberal. She does not call herself a liberal, and she did not attribute it to her liberal ideology, I believe, but you’re asking me to remember something I read a while back.
HH: Okay, I just…
EB: But the follow up comment was that it was the only district in the state where her negatives were higher than her positives. She has since said that, you know, this was frustration born of the race she had just lost, and it’s a statement she made, and her opponents have used it against her, and will continue to use it against her, and have every right to do so. And I don’t have any trouble calling her a liberal, even though that isn’t what she calls herself.
HH: Okay. Turning over to Klobuchar for a second, there is a great controversy over her latest ad called A Shame, including an allegation made at Kennedy V. Machine that the advertisement is a direct violation of ethical standards she has sworn to uphold as an admittee to the Minnesota Bar. Have you investigated those allegations, because you have been covering her ads?
EB: No. You read the ad watch piece I did on that ad, didn’t you?
HH: Yeah, I’ve got it right here.
EB: Yeah, okay. So that’s…I got a tip that one of the people in the ad did not have a case that had been prosecuted by Klobuchar’s office, which when I first heard it, was…set me back, because certainly, watching the ad, I had the impression that all of these were satisfied customers of her office on the basis that she had prosecuted the perpetrators in the cases involving their loved ones. I was taken aback again when I learned the full story of why that man was in the ad, and I wrote what I wrote. I guess you’re prepared to describe it, but it was a strange case for me in my experience as an ad watcher, because of…what she didn’t disclose in the ad was that this was the father of a boy who’d been killed by a drunk driver, and he’s quoted in the ad as saying she cared enough to do something about it. And I think anyone watching the ad would assume that what she did was prosecute the driver. In fact, she was not in office at the time of the crime, and the driver was prosecuted by her predecessor. What she did with that man, that in his view, showed she cared enough to do something about it, was to work with him to get a law passed in the legislature making the DWI’s into a felony.
HH: That part, I think, was covered, and I think also your conclusion that it’s an unjustified and a deceptive ad, correct?
EB: My conclusion was that that portion of the ad led people to a misimpression, and that it’s therefore misleading in that sense. But it was an odd one for me, because instead of sort of trying to cover up something that you would expect her to hide politically, the missing information was something that one would assume she’s proud of.
HH: But given that it misleads in a campaign context, do you think that’s deceptive?
EB: Well, you have the story in front of you, and I don’t. What words did I use?
HH: I don’t think you used deceptive. I’ve got a lot of stories in front of me, so I don’t think you used deceptive. Do you think that’s a fair characterization of the ad?
EB: I wish you’d read me back the characterization I made of it, because I tried to think hard before I chose the words. You’re looking at it, I’m not.
HH: It says Amy Klobuchar’s most recent television ad about her record as a prosecutor dealing with crime misleads viewers about her relationship to one of the cases featured.
EB: Okay, so misleads was the word that I chose.
HH: I know that, but I’m asking you again, so that the audience can hear how the reporter thinks this through. I think it’s deceptive, and it has to be intentionally so, because these things are not easy to produce, Eric. Do you think it’s deceptive?
EB: I think the words mislead and deceptive are very close cousins, and I’m trying to think if there’s any important difference between them. It misleads in the sense that it leads people to an incorrect conclusion, and therefore, if they go to the incorrect conclusion, they have been deceived in some sense.
HH: That’s what I mean, because mislead is, in fact, a term lacking, or at least possibly lacking mens rea, as we say in the law, an intention to mislead is deception. Do you think she intended to deceive?
EB: Well, it’s kind of like the situation that separates you from me on the Wetterling ad. I don’t claim to be able to see into her consciousness to know whether there was an a-ha moment in the making of the ad, where she said let’s mislead. It’s complicated by the fact that the deception, as you prefer to call it, was about something that was not politically damaging. It makes it harder to even guess. But she did acknowledge, and so did the man in the ad, that people watching that ad probably got the impression that what she had done was prosecute the drunk driver, as opposed to what she had actually done, which was to work with him on a felony DWI law.
HH: Now there is a second aspect of that ad, which has to do with the fact that Amy Klobuchar has made statements about litigation in an extrajudicial setting, while that case is pending. This is what the Minnesota…the Kennedy V. Machine blog has brought up. Have you studied that issue yet?
EB: No, I am unaware of it until you raise it for me now.
HH: Does that make…does that interest you? Does that intrigue you? Would that be a story?
EB: I would…if I had the basis for it in front of me, I would ask a legal ethics person what they saw in it.
HH: Will you go and look at that, Eric Black, at Kennedy V. Machine? It’s posted October 9th at 6:59PM by Harry.
HH: Great. Now I want to turn to Ellison, and then I’ll take your questions. Have you looked over the Strib’s coverage of the Ellison race?
EB: Well, you asked me about this last week, and as I told you, I haven’t been heavily involved in the coverage of that race, but you know, and so, I’m probably not going to be able to give you the level of detailed answers that you’re hoping for. But I’m generally aware of it.
HH: Do you think that from what you’ve read about…have you read the Weekly Standard piece by Scott Johnson on Louis Farrakhan’s first Congressman?
HH: Would you read that?
HH: It was published on…this week, October the 9th, 2006. I understand that there is today a story about Ellison by…actually, it was yesterday by your colleague, Jean Hopfensperger, is that correct?
EB: Hopfensperger, yes.
HH: Yeah, and it summarized a lot about him, but there was also a story, I think it’s the same one, that brought up Alan Fine’s divorce record. Have you read that story?
EB: They were separate stories.
HH: Did you read that divorce story, though? I know that.
EB: It wasn’t a divorce story. It was a story about the charges against him for domestic assault.
HH: Yeah. Did you read that one?
EB: Yes, I did.
HH: Did you have information about that months ago?
EB: Yes, I was…at the early stages, after Fine had announced, I took over for a colleague who had to leave town, and writing the first sort of introductory piece about Fine. It didn’t really have a political persona in Minnesota, so I took over for a colleague in mid-stream, and she had already done the basic query of the computer records that one would do in such a case, and alerted me to the fact that there was an arrest on there. And so, I was aware of that. And when I met Fine and interviewed him, I asked him about it. And I didn’t end up putting it in my story.
HH: What made it newsworthy this past Sunday, that did not exist when you did not put it into your story months ago?
EB: Well, the story’s had a significant evolution over time, and I was not in the final discussions of the story that just ran. But at the time when I first heard about it, he told me that the charge was bogus, that his wife had retracted it, that there was nothing do it, and that the record had been expunged. And I was able to confirm all of that. I didn’t know at that time that subsequently, she had claimed that her retraction was insincere, that she had done it in order to get him to…not clear whether it was to get him to keep supporting the family, or whether it was to get him to go to counseling. That’s what the story this past weekend said. And so, that she had told the police that she didn’t mean it, when in fact, she did mean it. And so, that turned it back…you know, at the point at which I had more control of the story, it was basically a charge that had been retracted by the only person making it. Later, it turned back into a story, in which the person making the charge was unretracting it. So that’s…I suppose, put it back under consideration.
HH: Now this is actually right into the guts of journalism, Eric Black, and so I’m very curious about this. Who originally gave you the expungement record?
EB: On the first round…well, you’re testing my memory. But on the first round, he didn’t give me the expungement record. He’s making the claim now that he gave us…I believe he’s making the claim that he gave us the expunged records. He never gave me the expunged records, but on the…in a subsequent conversation, he gave me one page which was simply an indication that the record had been expunged, but not the substance of the document that was expunged. Did you follow that?
HH: Yup. And who gave you the information about his original arrest?
EB: That is something that you get as soon as you put his name into a database search. It comes up. It’s a…we have a database that has driving violations, and everything else, and it showed the arrest.
HH: And do you think it’s right to report an expunged arrest?
EB: Well, no. I didn’t report the expunged arrest. But it went beyond that. There was a charge filed. For journalists, very often, that’s the key moment when something goes from not being reportable to being reportable, when a charge is filed. This one is complicated by the fact that it’s several years ago, and that it was withdrawn. But there was a charge filed.
HH: So wasn’t it…would it be rational for some people to conclude that this story is intended to punish Fine in the most vicious way possible, because he’s running against Ellison, the preferred candidate of the Strib?
EB: Well, I don’t…I’m not going to say that. I don’t have that opinion. I don’t think that. It’s not really a serious from you, but it obviously is your opinion. If someone chooses to believe that, of course, they’re entitled to their belief. It’s not the case that Ellison is the chosen candidate of the Strib, and we’re subjected to these kinds of accusations for a great many things that we do. But you might as well…instead of trying to get me to agree with something disparaging the institution in which I work…
HH: No, that wasn’t…it wasn’t actually that. I said, would you agree it would be rational for someone to conclude that this was a hit?
EB: Oh, so you want me to put myself in the place of someone who has concluded that, and decide whether or not I think that person is being rational or irrational?
HH: Well, you’re the truth squad.
EB: Yeah, okay. I thought I already took care of the truth squad issue. Anyway, I wouldn’t call someone irrational who had that suspicion. They, you know, they wouldn’t have…they wouldn’t be privy to everything that led up to it, but there’s a great deal being disclosed about it.
HH: Now there is, about Ellison, Keith Ellison is a Democratic candidate for Congress. He will be the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress if he succeeds, and there’s a lot of criticism of the Strib’s coverage of the Ellison/Fine race, including the one we’ve just been through. Now the one thing that struck me is that recently, very recently, Ellison was on…the beneficiary of a fundraiser that as its featured guest, had the Council on American-Islamic Relations executive director Nihad Awad fly to Minneapolis, and host the fundraiser for him on August the 25th. That was not reported on until several days after Ellison won the September 12th primary. Was that a significant omission in the Strib’s coverage?
EB: I can’t help you on this one. I don’t know anything about the circumstances when the Star Tribune knew about it. I just don’t know anything about it. You’re basically…you’re trying to get me to go deeply into a race that I’m not covering. As I mentioned earlier, I was pinch-hitting briefly for a colleague who had to leave town for a medical emergency, when I did the first Alan Fine piece. But the 5th district race has been covered by others, and it doesn’t seem useful to put me in the position of having to explain and justify decisions that I didn’t help make, and that I don’t know the details of.
HH: But as an objective matter, if the Strib had known about that fundraiser, would that have been a significant factor, because CAIR’s a not uncontroversial organization, obviously, for the paper to have reported at the time it occurred.
EB: I don’t know of any reason why they would intentionally…well, of course, you think you know the reason why they would have intentionally withheld it. I don’t know how newsworthy it was considered at the moment that they first learned about it, and I don’t know the moment that they first learned about it. But the relationship between Ellison and CAIR is a legitimate topic, and it’s been covered.
HH: But should it…if it was known to the paper, Eric, ought it have been covered prior to the primary?
EB: Yes, I think that if there was an established relationship between Ellison and CAIR that the paper knew about, there should have been some mention of it before the primary. Was there none?
HH: No, there wasn’t. Now the last thing about the Ellison…again, I understand your handicaps here. You’re reading these stories more than a news consumer would, but you’re not writing them. But would it in the context of this race matter that Ellison has given a speech at the 2000 fundraising event for the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild, which was a fundraiser for former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah, after her apprehension in St. Paul, for the murder of a police officer in 1975? And if the text of that speech was available, would that be newsworthy? Should the Strib publish that?
EB: You threw a bunch of facts at me all at once, and I’m getting kind of worn out on having to comment on other people’s news decisions.
HH: My last one. But again…
EB: You were completely legitimate in asking me to explain the word choices that I have made, and believe that I wrote. But really, your audience would be deceived if they think that I am the person who can explain everything that the Strib does on a story…
HH: I’m not asking for that. I’m asking for your judgment as a reporter, that if you knew that Ellison goes…a Congressional candidate goes, gives a speech at a far left group to raise money for Kathleen Soliah, is that newsworthy? It doesn’t mean does it appear in the Strib. You’re not the editor. You’re a reporter. But does your reporter’s instinct say wow, that’s a story?
EB: Yeah, I think that it is a story, that his relationship to Soliah…I think I’ve read about it. I don’t know, I don’t recall the details of the story, and I don’t recall when it ran, or when people knew about it.
HH: Okay. Now I’m about to turn over the questions to you to be fair. But here’s my proposition to you. We went through three campaigns. The Wetterling campaign, which we began last week, and my characterization the truth squad’s operations here as completely faulty, the Klobuchar ad which you don’t want to call deceptive, you want to call it misleading, and which has been covered only in part, even though there are resources out there to cover it all, and hopefully, you will, and then the coverage of the Ellison campaign, both the decision to run an attack piece on Fine this weekend, and the just terrible coverage, which isn’t yours…you don’t have to defend anything that’s not yours, but the horrific coverage of who Ellison is, and what his association with the Nation of Islam is. Given that all three of those stories, as I have set them up, and you can quarrel with them, end up favoring Democratic candidates in a newspaper purportedly objective, can you at least understand why I, and everyone else from the center-right, believes the Strib, whether consciously or unconsciously, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the DFL?
EB: Can I understand it? Oh, I can understand it, because I’ve been in this business a long time, and there are bias watchers who are always looking for evidence that will confirm what they already believe. And in my experience, it is very often based on a selective reading, that there is a great deal of what I call confirmation bias, where once you develop the belief, you only look for evidence that confirms it. It was represented in my previous conversation with you, where you’re only interested in evidence of liberal bias. And if anything that might be construed as liberal that the paper does, is in any way offset by something unliberal that it does, you have no interest in it, which is how the confirmation bias can work. You just…it’s selective perception, it’s confirmation bias, it’s selective outrage. And so yes, I’m well aware that we are frequently accused, as you accuse us. I’m also aware, and perhaps you are aware, that we are often accused of the opposite bias. I know how hard I try to be fair. I’m a big boy, I get criticized, I don’t care for it, but I’m used to it. And I also have come to understand that fairness is largely in the eye of the beholder, and people who want to perceive my work as unfair are probably going to do it, and I appreciate if they give me a chance to explain myself before they come to a final conclusion, but they don’t always. And often, they’re not persuadable anyway. And maybe I sometimes am unfair. I just know that I’m trying to be, and so that’s my reaction to the overall. Yes, I’m well unaware that there are people. I do not consider them delusional, who think that the Star Tribune is riddled with liberal bias, and hear from them all the time. But there’s also a growing chorus that thinks that we are…have gone over to the right, and they read the coverage of the same races that you’re looking at, and they find plenty of evidence for what they want to believe is their bias. And we hear from them all the time. You probably…maybe you think they are delusional. I’m just used to it.
HH: I just point out that in the three major races that I brought up, there are stories in the paper with which there are great quarrels, and that it does tend to, like a cancer cluster, raise eyebrows. One last question, I’ll turn it over to you. I want to just go back to where the Ellison arrest record came from. Can you…you mean, if you’re sitting at a computer right now, you could pull up the Fine arrest record? Could you pull it up on a computer from anywhere?
EB: Well, it’s a database that we have access to. I don’t know if you have to pay for it or not. I could find that out for you. But it is…there is a database that we have access to, and if you want to do a basic check on someone, you put their name in, and a few other identifying characteristics, and you will get certain information that’s public information that’s maintained by the government.
HH: Including an expunged arrest record?
EB: I don’t have much experience with expunged arrest records, but the arrest showed up. And when we asked the police for the arrest report, which would have been helpful in understanding what had happened that night, we were told we couldn’t get the record, because it had been expunged. So…
HH: And so you actually, you personally, Eric Black, saw it on a computer screen?
HH: All right. Your questions for me?
EB: Okay. Well, I’ll just piggyback on the last thing you said, because it’s an example of one of the things about the way that this conversation goes. You are now assuming that you have somehow proven the case against me on the Wetterling/Bachmann race. Your big…your first big point is that I wouldn’t call the ad a lie. And you’re not troubled by the fact that Howard Kurtz used the same word for it that I used. You’re not troubled by the fact that anybody else might look at the ad and call it anything other than a lie. You have…on the day that I wrote my story, saying that it was an exaggeration, which I think most people who are looking at it fairly would hardly take as a compliment. On that day, you posted on your blog that it was evidence of still no integrity of the Star Tribune, but it was about me. So basically, you were saying that I have no integrity on the basis that something that I call an exaggeration, you consider a lie. And when I explain to you that very seldom is the word lie reached in an ad watch piece, you basically had no use for it. But it was interesting to me that you didn’t scourge Kurtz for it. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t have a tag run on his pieces that say campaign truth squad, but he is quite an experienced ad watcher, and I assume if he thought that something had risen to that level, he would have said so. So I would be interested to hear you explain more about why it was okay for him, and not for me.
HH: Well, I think I did explain that. I think that you folks undertook a special role, a role that said we will tell you when there is truth, and when there is falsehood, and that you label your column that. Now you might regret that label, but that’s what you say you are doing. And when someone says, and makes up, and admits to making up a blatant mistruth, that’s a lie. And I believe if you’re going to call yourself a truth squad, the opposite of truth is lie. And so I think you have a special obligation, and you’re the beat reporter. Howard’s a media columnist back in D.C., doesn’t follow it, doesn’t do it quickly. I asked him on the air, I got his opinion. But when I went through it more carefully with Bill Sammon and Morton Kondracke, they both just said, oh, yeah, that’s a lie. And so, it may be Howard deserves some more criticism for that. But it’s not Howard’s job, and it doesn’t go to his integrity when he holds himself out not as a truth squad guy, but as a media column. You guys are holding yourself out as truth squad’rs. I’m a lawyer. If you hold yourself out as a lawyer, you’re lying, because you’re not. I assume you’re not. I think you’re not a lawyer, right? If you hold yourself out as a truth squad, and you do not call lies, lies, I think that’s a question of integrity. Now I will say this. A lot of people who know you have written to me and said oh, no, Eric’s a lefty, but he’s a lefty with integrity. Lileks came on this show and didn’t even call you a lefty, just said he’s a reporter with a lot of integrity. Don’t question his integrity. I’m not questioning your integrity. I’m questioning it in this context. You should call a lie a lie, if you’re going to call yourself a truth squad.
EB: Please, don’t say that you’re not questioning my integrity, when you’ve…
HH: I am. On this issue, I am.
HH: On this issue, I am.
EB: All right. So I have trouble imagining an audience that’s hearing this that understands how much importance you’re attaching to the little tag that runs with the stories, campaign truth squad. I’m not comfortable with it. I’m pretty sure I don’t know the truth. One of the problems I have with you is that you’re so sure you do know the truth. I consider myself to be involved in a permanent quest to get a little closer to the truth, and to bring out facts, and to listen to both sides of an argument. So calling it campaign truth squad is not the greatest title. But the amount of importance you’re attaching to it is crazy. What’s up with that? You know what it is. It was the result of a five minute brainstorm, and nobody had a better idea. And then after the first couple ran, somebody said we should come up with something better than that, and I guess we never got back to it. The title that I go by, and I don’t call it on my blog the campaign truth squad, is “Is That A Fact.” And that’s of course a little by wry, and it suggests that it’s about what’s a fact, and what’s not, and that’s not a perfect title, either, because in many cases, we have ads that are very factual, but still are misleading. I don’t know…we could just call it ad watch, but frankly, I don’t think I need to negotiate the name of it with you. I think that you are attaching an absurd amount of importance to the cute name that somebody stuck on it the first time one of these pieces ran, and you imagine that we are making some giant claim to the world that we know the truth, when it seems to me that you’re the one that does that on a regular basis, and I certainly admit that I don’t know the truth.
HH: Well then, I think you ought to change the name, but I also think that you ought to go back and look at the ad, Patty Wetterling’s ad, which has received earned media, meaning a repeat on major, major networks, over and over again, asserts that Congressional leaders admitted to covering up child molestation, which she herself has said on CNN she has no evidence for, which her campaign manager told you. To call that an exaggeration…and I’ll go right to the core here, lacks integrity, because it is not, in an ordinary worldview of anyone, anything that can be defended, Eric Black. And what you’ve done is you’ve worked yourself onto the precipice now of saying exaggeration is the same as lie, or that that ad is not other than untruthful. And when you set yourself up in the media to be an objective, impartial weigher of what’s right and what’s wrong, and what’s truth and what’s false, and you don’t call a lie a lie, and you don’t report on…and not you, but your newspaper…doesn’t report on Ellison’s association, doesn’t report on his fundraisers, doesn’t report on his radical speeches, when Amy Klobuchar’s ads get a light dusting over, and parts that may be obscure don’t get brought forward because you’re not lawyers, I think you’ve got a systemic problem. But I especially think that you’ve got a real problem with that. Now let me ask you something. Did…
EB: When that shows up on the transcript, I want to just understand. Did you just say that calling something is…an exaggeration is calling it true?
HH: No, I’m saying that calling something…
EB: I think you did. I think you did.
HH: …an exaggeration is much less damaging than it deserves. As I explained to you in our first interview, if I say I’ve been fishing, and I caught three fish, and I caught two, that’s an exaggeration. If I haven’t caught any fish, or better yet, I haven’t even been fishing, that’s a lie. Patty Wetterling is lying. She is lying to the people of Minnesota, she is lying to the country by the repeating of her ad on national media. And you don’t care, and you’re a reporter.
EB: I care very much about my integrity and my reputation, which you keep attacking. And I care very much about the words that I choose, that I put in the paper under my own name. And I chose that word, and I’m defending it. But it is really pretty bizarre to me that the difference between calling something an exaggeration, and calling it a lie, when many other people who have scrutinized the same ad have said the same thing, is an issue that calls my fundamental integrity into question. It’s bizarre to me. It seems to me that you’re determined to conclude that there’s something wrong with my integrity. You really don’t care what the facts and arguments are. And that’s how it feels to me.
HH: Let me give you an example, Eric. If you’re a doctor…
EB: I do…I also think it’s fairly arrogant of you…
HH: Well, that’s okay.
EB: …to be the one to decide the one word that can be used, and anybody that doesn’t use…to choose to the word that you use, is a moral cretin. And I also think that…
HH: I didn’t say moral cretin.
EB: No, I said moral cretin. You said a person of no integrity. And which, I don’t know, I guess they’re in the same ballpark. But yeah, I think you’re making…you keep implying that the word exaggeration is some kind of high praise for the ad. If I was what you say I am, I would have either given the ad a complete pass, or I would have said it was true.
HH: Actually, no you wouldn’t, because that would be too bald. Again, a liberal reporter confronting a problem for a liberal candidate does not consciously step up and say a-ha, I will cover up for her today. What kicks in is the screen. What kicks in is the blocking tackle, to protect Patty Wetterling from what should appear in your newspaper, which is Patty Wetterling’s ad is lying about what Congressional leaders have said. They have not said that, and in fact, I still don’t believe that the CNN interview, with which she admitted to not having any source for that…Eric, you want me to move off on exaggeration. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s a lie. And does it matter when people lie? Let’s start there. Does it matter when people lie?
EB: Yes, it does, and when you have information sufficient to conclude that a person, with knowing intent, has perpetrated a falsehood, it’s a very serious matter.
HH: Okay. And so if in fact a reporter sees a lie and doesn’t call it a lie because of a stubborn attachment to what they wrote in the first instance, does that call…I know you’re going to deny that that’s what you’re doing, but if you could be proven that that’s…would that reporter lack integrity?
EB: My new best friend, I’ve never called any public statement a lie that I can think of, but I’ve seen ones that were much closer, because there was much more evidence in my mind that the person had been confronted with the evidence of the falsehood of what they were saying, and continued to maintain it. I have. I’ve seen closer cases. I’ve seen cases where I seriously considered it. You’re not going to get me to be embarrassed about this. I think we’ve discussed it to death. By the way, last week, I mentioned to you that the George Will column on that day said that Hastert had confessed a cover up. You said you weren’t going to call George Will a liar until you looked into it. Have you looked into it now?
HH: I have, and just give me a second. I’ll find it. I have the column right here, which is why I began the story, the interview today by asking you if in fact you had confessed to the Star Tribune being a liberal newspaper, which you had not confessed to. And in fact, my assertion of it was wrong and silly. It was a set up, because what George Will wrote was, “It is difficult to read that as other than an accusation. He seems (Hastert) to be not just confessing a cover up, but also complaining that the cover up was undone by bad manners.” That has nothing to do with what Wetterling said. It is not a commentary on what Wetterling said. I think actually, though you may not have intended to, you misled me and my audience into believing that he believes that Hastert confessed to a cover up, and that Wetterling’s ad was appropriate. He didn’t comment on Wetterling’s ad.
EB: No, he wasn’t commenting on Wetterling’s ad, he was commenting on what he thought Hastert had said.
HH: And that has absolutely no probative value as to Wetterling. It’s about my opinion of what you said about the Strib is dismissed by you. I’m dismissing George Will’s opinion about what Hastert said as just inane. But in any event, he didn’t comment on the Wetterling ad.
EB: Oh, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest he was commenting on the Wetterling ad.
HH: That’s what I thought you were doing.
EB: Well, go back to the transcript. I think what you’ll find…I don’t think you’ll find anything that suggests that he was commenting on the Wetterling ad. I said that in his column that day, he said that Hastert had confessed to a cover up. And if it’s a lie to say that he has confessed to a cover up, you need to call George Will a liar.
HH: He did not say that. He said he seems to be not just confessing a cover up, but also complaining that the cover up was undone by bad manners. He did not say, and again, you’re going to words here. If he had said, Hastert has confessed to a cover up, I would call George Will a liar. He didn’t say that.
EB: He said he seems to have confessed to a cover up.
HH: He seems to be not just confessing a cover up. But that is a qualifier of estimable, of very crucial importance. And if you had said that she seems to be lying, I wouldn’t be giving you a hard time. But you won’t even go there. You said she’s exaggerating. And Eric, she has admitted she doesn’t have the predicate. On CNN, she has admitted there are no Congressional leaders who have confessed. Her ad says there are Congressional leaders who have confessed. If she said Congressional leaders seemed to be confessing, that would not even be an issue. Then, it would be an opinion. She made a bald statement of fact, broadcast around this country a thousand times, probably. And you’re standing by the idea that it’s an exaggeration. People can draw their own conclusions. You seem like a nice guy. But you’ve got a blind spot on this one.
EB: Yeah, okay. Well, I think you’re a little overheated about it, and I think that you believe that you know exactly the one word that can be used, and that anyone that uses a different word is just wrong. I think that…I think that even her saying that on CNN, although I’d be happy to see the transcript, is agreeing with you and me. So I agree, and you agree, that Congressional leaders have not confessed to a cover up, or admitted, is the word in her ad. If she has now said that, then she has taken back what she said in the ad. Does that prove that she was lying when she first said it, or that she exaggerated, and now realizes it, and would like to refine what she said? There’s a few ways to look at it. I’m interested in it. The next time I talk to her, I’ll ask her if she’s taken that back. I could write about it some more. The idea that what’s been proven is a knowing, conscious lie, well, I think you’re obsessed with it, and have decided to make it an issue of my integrity. And it’s your show, it’s your audience. They’ll believe what they want to believe. To me, you’re just overwrought on this subject.
HH: Okay, that’s fair enough for you to believe. I think it’s just an interesting thing. Now I also wanted to provide to you…you asked me if there are any Republicans that I had trouble with. Remember?
HH: Lincoln Chafee and Bob Smith. I wish I’d remembered at the time. I want Lincoln Chafee defeated. I’m glad Bob Smith lost when he ran for re-election four years ago.
HH: One from the left, one from the right. Why? Because they did not represent themselves honestly in the course of their campaigns. Lincoln Chafee, especially, has distorted, and absolutely confused the public as to who he is and what he believes, and purposefully obscures that, and I think the media’s complicit in that as well. Bob Smith left the Republican Party, came back, and I thought was obscuring what he did, and what he said at the same time. It’s one standard. I just want people to be truthful. And when they lie, I think you ought to call them on it, especially when you’ve set yourself up for that job. Any other questions for me?
EB: Yes. I also asked you if you were aware of any lies that were in any Republican ads this year, and you said no. You weren’t interested in those. You aren’t interested in ads. You were interested in the story of the day. But I wonder upon reflection, have you discovered any lies in any Republican ads?
HH: I think that Lincoln Chafee’s entire campaign is built upon the lie that he’s a Republican.
EB: (laughing) Well, I would say that doesn’t quite count.
HH: (laughing) Oh, boy oh boy. You know what? He is out there every day proclaiming himself…you know what else is a lie? Jim Jeffords lied to the American people. Jim Jeffords lied to the American people when he ran as a Republican, and then switched parties after getting re-elected. That was a big lie. That’s got no integrity to it. I said so at the time, I’ve said so again and again. You ought to let your yes be yes, and your no be no. This is way too complicated. Most people, I think, listening to this, except for your trolls and my trolls at our comment boards, will come away thinking not what you think they’re going to come away thinking. I think they’re going to come away thinking gosh, why can’t he just call a lie a lie?
EB: Yeah, well, I have a very high standard for that word, and…
HH: But why?
EB: Well, as I mentioned in our previous interview, it’s sort of the nuclear weapon of ad watches. It also suggests knowing intent. I believe, I believe…you are a lawyer, and I am not. I believe that under the common law, calling somebody a liar is in the category of fighting words, something so incendiary that you have to take it into account if somebody gets slugged for it. Am I right about that?
HH: Well, the Chaplinksy Decision, in which fighting words doctrine has developed, has never been honored since, and it really doesn’t exist as an exception to First Amendment law.
EB: I don’t bring it up as a matter of law, I bring it up as a matter of illustrating how incendiary the term is, and how carefully it should be used.
HH: Don’t you…do you read your own comments? Talk about incendiary terms, you read the comments at your blog by some of your lefties in Minnesota?
EB: Well, you’re not going to hold me accountable for their…
HH: No, no. But I said do you read them?
EB: I try to keep up, but the threads get kind of long, and I have a lot of work to do. So I’m racing through them late at night, and I see plenty of stuff in…
HH: They’re incendiary…those are real fighting words. Those aren’t calling someone’s ad a lie.
EB: Yeah. No, I wish we could elevate the discourse, and find ways to disagree substantively, factually, civilly, and actually look for common ground. But I don’t think that someone who brings the level of certitude that you do, which I’ve called arrogance in this conversation, is contributing to that. I do think in many…in some ways, you are fair. In other ways, you are not. But you are certainly not, as you described yourself in that previous interview, objective. I don’t know what…
HH: Oh, I’m certainly objective. How am I not objective?
EB: Because you have acknowledged that you allow your partisanship and ideology to color your thinking in what you say and write.
HH: It colors my analysis. It doesn’t color facts. Facts are stubborn things. I’m with Dennis Prager, my colleague, who says I prefer clarity to common ground. I prefer clarity to agreement. I want people to understand what the facts are. And I put those facts out there, and I give you the opportunity to put them out there, and then we’re going to argue, because common ground that is simply papered over milkshakes do not advance the public good at all, and that’s not what…by the way, Pulitzer, and when he got this whole modern project going, was not about finding common ground. He was about reporting hard facts. The hard fact is there are no Congressional leaders who admitted to covering up for a child molester. That’s a fact. The fact that she says that there are is a lie. Pulitzer would be deeply embarrassed by your standard. I think any serious journalist is, because this squeamishness, I think, undermines the very project that journalism is supposed to be about. Not the analysis, but the reporting of facts.
EB: Yeah. When I was on, on Friday, and you started asking me questions about what party I’m in, and who I vote for, and I declined to answer, and I gave my reason as I think the norm of journalism that reporters who write about politics are expected to keep those matters confidential. You told me I was making it up, and there was no such norm. Do you recall that?
EB: You cited Dean Nicholas Lemann of the Columbia School of Journalism.
HH: No, no, I didn’t. I cited my visit to the Columbia School of Journalism. Lemann believes in the standard you believe in, but it’s not a standard that is anywhere applicable to all journalists as part of a creed. It’s not like the Hippocratic Oath.
EB: I did ask Lemann, and he did tell me that he’d been over that with you. I would say that someone reading that transcript would assume that you were relying on Lemann for an authority, but now you say that you weren’t. You were just relying on the fact…you just happened to mention his name in passing, because he was at Columbia when you were there.
HH: No, because I wrote a profile of him, in which he defended the standard that you set forward. I’ve talked about it repeatedly on this show. This audience knows that Nick is part of the ‘don’t declare’ crowd, but that there are lots of journalists who are not part of the ‘don’t declare’ crowd. And I’ll give you the question right back. I got lots of e-mails about that. Why is it when financial journalists are writing, they have to disclose, if not disqualify themselves from any company in which they have an investment or an interest? It’s a conflict, right?
EB: Yes, they’re supposed to…they shouldn’t own those companies. And if they do, they shouldn’t write about it.
HH: And so why is their standard of conflict of interest different from yours? If you’re voting Democrat every single year, Eric, why should you have the right to conceal that from the public when a financial reporter has to disclose what he owns, or she owns, in terms of investments?
EB: Well, I tried to explain this to you last week. I am troubled by the norm that we’re describing. I was simply describing a norm that exists, that is very powerful within the profession in which I’ve spent my adult life, and I gather you have not.
HH: Oh, I spent 19 years.
EB: And I know what the norms of the business are, and you said I was making it up.
HH: I’ve been in it since 1989. So I’ve been in the business a long time. Not as long as you, but I bring to it different experiences, which perhaps make me better at it, in that I’ve been in government, and I’ve been in private practice of law, and I’ve been an academic. I have not always been cloistered in a newsroom, breathing the air that circulates without any windows being open.
EB: Yeah, well, I’m willing to agree that spending your whole life working for a newspaper may limit your thinking in certain ways. But it probably makes you a minor expert on what the norms of the business are, and you are not an expert on that, and you pronounce on it, even though
EB: …well, anyway, I did go to the trouble of calling Nick Lemann, of course, and now he said what you said he would say.
EB: And I also asked Howard Kurtz when I had him on the phone, I said has Hugh Hewitt ever asked you who you voted for, or what your abortion position is? And he said no, and I wouldn’t answer if he did. And I said well, I had an exchange with him in which I said it was a norm of the business that people who write about politics weren’t supposed to disclose, and he said I was making it up. What do you think? And I’m looking at the quote he gave me. “It is absolutely common practice for working journalists to keep their opinions to themselves, so that they don’t appear biased in their work. That doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions. But news organizations discourage them with good reason from broadcasting them to the world.” Now I’ve already confessed to you that I have questions about these norms. But I’m working within them. I have expectations on me as a result of my chosen profession. I’m looking for a better way, and I talked on Friday about the fact that there…if the alternative is so-called objective journalism, as practiced now, and the other alternative is freely allowing bias to color our analysis, I’m looking for something better than both.
HH: Now I have given you a number…I’m glad Howard believes that. That’s the majoritarian view clearly. And in fact, the editor of his newspaper doesn’t even vote as a result of his heartfelt desire not to do that.
EB: Thanks for bringing that up.
HH: But it is not a written down ethic. There is no…in fact, I would welcome from you a citation to a commonly recognized, binding ethical guidelines. In the Bar, we have our rules of professional responsibility, which you may not violate. There is no such norm in journalism. It is a practice that protects the guild. And some depart from it, as did Dana Milbank, as has Thomas Edsall, as have other people who have participated on this program. Some stand by it like the disgraced Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize-winner who went sock puppetry on his blog, and ended up being discharged from his duty. But he hung onto the very same point that you’re trying to hang onto. My argument is with that standard. It’s an argument I had with Nick Lemann, it’s an argument that I’ve had with you, it’s an argument I have with all of the guild that don’t want people to know that you’re all left wing, that if we got all of you into one room, we would never find five out of one hundred who had voted for George W. Bush, five out of one hundred who were pro-life, five out of one hundred who were vigorous defenders of gun rights. And as a result, the world in which you live cannot even check itself. I mean, I…
EB: I wish you were a better listener, because I keep trying to tell you that I share, at least I have some doubts, about the value of this norm. I’m trying to tell you that there is such a norm. It’s powerful. I’ve worked for three newspapers. On all three of them, it was clearly understood that if you wanted to write about politics, you didn’t do anything that exposed your partisanship or your ideology. And if you did, you would have to write about something else, or you’d just have to leave the paper, or leave the business. But chances are, you would be allowed to write about something other than politics. It’s a powerful norm. I’m not celebrating it. I’m not praising it. I’m looking for something better.
HH: I’m looking for a word.
EB: I’m a little different than most of the people in…
HH: I’m looking for a word. You’re not under an obligation, ethically. You’re living in a culture that requires that in many places. Isn’t that what you’re trying to say, that your cultural…
EB: Well, when I used the word norm, this is what I’m going for. Maybe it means something different to you. I’m saying it’s an understanding of the people within this craft, that this is the way the game’s going to be played. And if you don’t play it, you won’t be able to write about politics.
HH: And if there are exceptions to that, what are they? Are they losers? Are they mavericks? Are they people that ought to be driven from the business, because they are honest with their readers?
EB: Well, you cited Thomas Edsall. He actually no longer works for the Washington Post, and is no longer in the category that you need him to be in to work for you.
HH: Actually, he does, because he is at the New Republic as a senior writer, and he’s a professor of journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism, and you’ve just introduced Nick Lemann into the category of authority on this. So he’s equal to, and in fact…
EB: No, no. Wait, wait, wait. It was when he was a reporter for the Washington Post that he would have been subject to this norm. Maybe he defied it. I don’t know. But as a writer for the New Republic, the rules are different. It’s not a magazine that’s holding itself out at the same level of non-partisan impartiality as newspapers do. And professors at journalism schools are certainly free to say what their politics are. They just better teach their students that they…
HH: Dana Milbank on this show told me he voted for Chuck Hagel.
EB: Yeah, well, I’d be happy to have a conversation with him about why that was. I don’t disrespect him for doing it. You keep missing this part of my presentation.
HH: I’m just saying it’s not a norm. It’s a majoritarian, cultural product which is honored, not honored anywhere else in the newspaper, where you get thrown off if you don’t disclose about finance. You’ll get thrown off if you even write about anything that touches your personal life, correct? I mean, I know a lot of reporters. I’ve been in this business, not as long as you, but I’ve been doing reporting, and I know the rules about stories. If you have an interest in the outcome of something, you have to get off, or you get fired. True?
EB: I’m sorry. I was distracted. You’re asking me whether a business reporter who wants to write about…
HH: No, no. Just generally speaking, a reporter, if they write about something in which they have an interest, and they do not disclose that interest to their editors beforehand, they will be fired, correct?
EB: The interest would have to be either economic or something else concrete. It cannot be their private convictions.
HH: And why is that? Why do you trust them…why don’t you trust them to write fairly about financial matters, when you don’t write…or about a company in which they have a spouse? For example, you don’t get to write about a company in which you…
EB: Look, look, look. How many times do I have to explain this to you. I’m not…you can’t make me defend this norm. I’m skeptical of it.
HH: Well then, break the norm.
EB: I would like to be more open. I’m looking for a better way.
HH: Break the norm.
EB: I have some ideas about doing that. I write a blog now, and on the blog, I’m able to speak in a much clearer voice, not by taking positions ideological and partisan positions, but in a much clearer voice, because on a blog, you can speak like a blogger. And when you’re writing for the paper, you have to speak in that disembodied reporter voice that you’ve been reading your whole life. You’re so aware of what I’m saying. I don’t know. Are you asking me to quit my job, or get myself pulled from political coverage? Because I just keep explaining it to you. There are…there would be those consequences.
HH: No, that I didn’t understand. And I’m glad to hear that. Do you mean to tell me, if you discussed your position on abortion, that the Strib would remove you from covering abortion?
EB: I think so.
HH: And if you discussed your opinion on tax matters on the air, that they would…
EB: Let’s just get right to the chase. If I identified myself with one of the political parties, or endorsed a candidate, that I couldn’t write about that candidate. And if I became identified with one of the parties…
HH: Oh, I agree with that. That’s fair enough. How about telling me if you’ve ever voted for a Republican not presently on the ballot, who ran for president? Why would that disqualify you from anything?
EB: Yeah, well, I’ll try to get some guidance from senior people here about how far I can go without getting pulled from my beat. But for now, I think I’ll just stick by my statement. It’s what I’ve learned, it’s what I’ve done. I can’t believe how obsessed you are with this, but…
HH: It’s what’s killing American journalism. I love journalism. The bias in American journalism is killing it dead. That’s why the L.A. Times is below 800,000 in circulation. It’s why your paper is struggling. It’s because nobody believes you people. That’s why…and you’re killing a vital institution in a free society, because it’s all left wing. That’s why I care about it. And you don’t give good news. You don’t objectively report. I read your story on Iraq, for example. And again, we’re out of time here. Eric Black, will you come back again? We’ll talk about Iraq. I just see your bias everywhere. And I don’t think you see it. I don’t think you have any clue about it.
EB: I told you what I think about that, which is that people will find the bias that they’re looking for. And I’ve also confessed to you more than many journalists will do, that it is not impossible to completely shield your work from whatever your underlying convictions are. And that’s the tension that exists. I don’t favor the complete alternative where everybody…every story that a person writes has a little tagline on it, where it would say what party they’re in, and who they’re planning to vote for. I’m looking for something better, and I have some ideas about how to get there. And when those ideas are developed, I’ll come back on, and we can brainstorm them together.
HH: I will look forward to that. If I do not get the entire interview in today, it is because live television shot in my studio showing massive explosions in Baghdad. And if it is a major development, I will have to cover that, Eric. I hope you will agree with me that breaking news takes precedence over academic discussions and campaign stuff?
EB: I do, but I assume that when you say if you don’t get it all played today, you’ll eventually get through it all?
HH: Yes, it will all be on the air, and it will all be posted as soon as we transcribe it. Eric, thank you. I apologize if I’ve offended you. I have to tell you what I think, though, and I think honesty matters. I think that you should go back to the Wetterling ad, and that not to do so is a major problem.
EB: Well, we agree that honesty matters.
EB: And I do take umbrage at having people publicly questioning my integrity.
HH: That’s fine.
EB: And I’ve given you enough chances to take it back. I guess I figured out by now you’re not going to.
HH: No, not on that. It is a specific criticism. I’m sure you’re a wonderful guy like everyone told me, but I don’t think you can defend not correcting that story. And by the way, one last thing, if I believe that, and if you believe that about someone, if you genuinely believe they should correct a story, and you think you’ve presented the argument, and they won’t correct the story, would you question their integrity?
EB: Yes, I would.
HH: All right. We agree.
EB: Do I get the last shot here?
HH: Oh sure. Absolutely.
EB: Yeah, I just remembered something else that you said the other day that was so amazing. You analogized me to an athlete who’s been paid to throw a game. And so the reasons that I might occasionally look like I’m being fair to a Republican, or a conservative, is because I’m just trying to maintain my credibility so that at the key moment, when the game is on the line, I could blow the basket and not have it be obvious that I was throwing the game. Do you recall that analogy?
HH: Yeah, but you’re misrepresenting it.
EB: And I would like…
HH: Because I would not accuse you of that. I don’t think you do that. When we were talking about that, and I read that on your blog that you brought that up, I was talking about how bias doesn’t have to be endemic every single day. You were saying look at all my work. Look at all my work, and then come back and tell me that I’m biased. And I was saying, that doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean that a game isn’t fixed, because it wasn’t fixed from start to finish. It was fixed, because the shot clanged off at the right moment. It did not intend, and if you took it at that, I apologize for that. It was simply a demonstration that to be biased doesn’t mean you have to be biased in every story, just like to be fixing a game doesn’t mean you have to blow every shot.
EB: No, but to accuse someone of partisanship, and then have no interest in whether they may have treated both parties alike, makes no sense to me. And you should be embarrassed to be claiming this.
HH: No, again, that’s just simply irrelevant. The ad, the most important ad in America, is the Wetterling ad. To discover whether or not you have covered the Wetterling ad appropriately does not require understanding Eric Black. I don’t need to know anything about you, except that you wrote that story, and you stand by it.
EB: Except your crazy analogy of the athlete who’s been paid goes way beyond your criticisms of the…
HH: No, it doesn’t, because you’re not hearing me. What I said…that was…you had demanded I go read everything, and that would prove that you weren’t biased. And I said, my response is, that would no more prove that you were biased than if I went and saw 1,500 games in which a basketball player played. But the one time he clanked a shot proved that he fixed it. It doesn’t have anything to do with you at all. It’s an analogy.
EB: You just got it backwards. It’s like saying that if the athlete blew the shot, that’s proof that he was fixed.
HH: No, it’s not. It’s if the athlete fixed the game…oh, gosh. We’re way off into the tall weeds now. I’ll let people go read the transcript.
EB: It’s a deal.
HH: Eric Black…
EB: Have a good rest of the day, and I’ll listen over the next few days to try to hear how you parcel it out.
HH: Thank you.
EB: Thank you.
End of very long interview.