Didn’t take long for the jackals to turn on left-wing news site Truthout.org and writer Jason Leopold after a week went by and their "scoop" of an indictment of Bush political guru Karl Rove turned out to be little more than wishful thinking.
Late Friday afternoon, Truthout executive director Marc Ash issued what he openly called a "partial apology" for the story that didn’t pan out:
On Saturday afternoon, May 13, 2006, TruthOut ran a story titled, "Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators." The story stated in part that top Bush aide Karl Rove had earlier that day been indicted on the charges set forth in the story’s title.
The time has now come, however, to issue a partial apology to our readership for this story. While we paid very careful attention to the sourcing on this story, we erred in getting too far out in front of the news-cycle. In moving as quickly as we did, we caused more confusion than clarity. And that was a disservice to our readership and we regret it.
As such, we will be taking the wait-and-see approach for the time being. We will keep you posted.
While some of Truthout’s readers defended the web site’s actions, the naysayers quickly weighed in on the web site’s bulletin board:
"I was rejoicing at the prospect of Rove’s indictment. But in your haste to be first, you broke a cardinal rule of journalism: get it right. This author seems to have a checkered track record in that regard. Plus your "partial apology" is … limp to say the least. A lot of people trumpted the news and you let us down."
"For your own good you NEED to retract Leopold’s story, tell and post Leopold’s sources (or report that he refuses to and will no longer be seen on your site,) then you need to explain your own vetting and editorial review. I work at a high school and our high school students would know to do as much. I know your egos must be bruised, but you’re OVER, FINISHED, if you don’t handle this right. And remember I say this as a supporter, I WANT YOU TO MAKE IT THROUGH THIS."
The faithful on Democratic Underground went into a full feeding frenzy on Ash, Leopold and Truthout honcho William Rivers Pitt.
A few examples:
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Everything published by you will be met with skepticism by a great many people from many people. Perhaps not everyone, but enough that you’ve now lost a great deal of stature, and will take Much accuracy in the future to ever hope to rebuild it."
"The non-apologetic apology with the non-explanatory explanation bothers me almost more than the story being wrong. I’d still support truthout if they would just level with their readers and do it quickly."
"What does "getting too far out in front of the news cycle" mean? They had double, triple sources here. For days, they were standing vehemently behind this story. What the heck happened? Sorry guys, I’m not joining the ‘that’s okay, we forgive you’ club.
"I’m not sure an apology from Mr. Pitt would be enough after the abuse he dished out. He has a history of melting down, then offering apologies after saying terribly hurtful things that cannot be unsaid. I admit it. I was waiting to see if the pattern would be repeated and was upset and disturbed when it was. Damn."
On both sites, Truthout still has its die-hard supporters but — like Conservative Republicans who feel betrayed by George W. Bush — they now question their earlier strident defense of the Leopold story.
At Salon’s War Room, Tim Grieve always had his doubts:
The last we heard from Truthout, its editors were still standing by Jason Leopold’s story — the one that cited sources as saying that Rove has already been indicted. That story initially said that Fitzgerald told Rove’s lawyers last Friday that he had "24 hours" to get his affairs in order. Then the story was changed to say "24 business hours." Then Truthout’s Marc Ash said that — notwithstanding the fact that it was in the second paragraph of Leopold’s story — "the 24 hour thing" wasn’t that important at all. "That does not mean that at the end of that 24-hour period, Fitzgerald is obliged to hold a press conference and make an announcement," Ash wrote. "It just means that he has given Rove a 24-hour formal notification. Fitzgerald is not obliged to make an announcement at any point; he does so at his own discretion, and not if it compromises his case. So we’re all stuck waiting here. Grab some coffee."
Ash wrote those words Wednesday, long after "24 hours" had passed and just before "24 business hours" would, too. We’ve all had a lot of coffee since then. As for Leopold? The last time we heard from him, he was promising to "call every vet in a 20-mile radius" around Robert Luskin’s home in the hopes of disproving Luskin’s claim that he was taking care of a sick cat rather than meeting with Fitzgerald last Friday.
Grieve’s comments came before Ash posted his "partial apology" late Friday afternoon. In Washington, several of the nation’s best investigative reporters spent the week trying, in vain, to confirm Leopold’s story before concluding it was based on speculation, not fact, and wishful thinking, not truth.
"It’s not the first time my editors have had me chasing one of Jason Leopold’s red herrings but I sure as hell hope it’s the last," one angry reporter told us Friday night. "Why anybody continues to hire this fucking nutcase is beyond me."
What remains to be seen is whether or not Leopold, who has left a long trail of burned bridges, questionable sources and tarnished reputations, conned the editors at Truthout or if they, anxious to nail a known enemy, knowingly joined him in a sloppy excuse for journalism.