(updated below - Update II)
One of the most significant aspects of Thursday's judicial ruling ordering the release of 5 Guantanamo detainees is that it came from Federal District Judge Richard Leon. Leon is an appointee of the very President whose decisions on these detainees he overrode and whose evidence he rejected as woefully inadequate -- George W. Bush. It was Leon himself who ruled in the first instance that Guantanamo detainees have no right to habeas corpus -- the decision which the Supreme Court ultimately reversed in Boumediene.
Before Leon was appointed by Bush to the bench, he was a long-time right-wing operative. That such an emphatic repudiation of Bush's arguments justifying these detentions came from this judge -- appointed at the height of Bush 43's "War on Terror" popularity and power in 2002 -- underscored how unjustified the detentions were and how flimsy was the evidence on which they were based.
But readers of National Review and Andy McCarthy wouldn't know any of this. That's because, when McCarthy wrote about this ruling on Thursday and vehemently criticized it, he stated, falsely, that Judge Leon was appointed by Bush's father, not by Bush himself:
At issue are six Algerians, one of whom is identified as a member of al Qaeda. His detention was upheld, but Judge Richard Leon -- a Bush 41 appointee reputed to be generally sympathetic to the government -- has ordered the remaining five released.
In the right-wing choruses that rely on National Review for analysis, that is an important distinction, since Bush 41 is regarded as a soft and heretical moderate, while Bush 43 -- particularly when it comes to judicial appointments and "War on Terror" issues -- is viewed as stalwart and pure. The fact that it was a Bush 43 judge -- a real right-wing ideologue -- who rejected Bush 43's justifications for holding these men at Guantanamo negates many of the standard arguments used to demonize this decision, including the ones McCarthy went on to make.
Despite all of that, it's certainly possible, and I assumed it to be the case when I first read it, that McCarthy's false statement was unintentional and was just a good faith mistake. As a result, I emailed him on Thursday afternoon as follows:
From: Glenn Greenwald <email@example.com>
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2008 6:43:51 PM
Subject: CORRECTION NEEDED - Judge Leon
He's a Bush 43 appointee, not a Bush 41 appointee (as you said) -
He's a long-time and well-known lawyer in right-wing circles -- having served as GOP counsel to the Iran-contra Committee, to name just one episode.
By Friday afternoon, McCarthy had posted again on a different topic, but had not corrected his false statement, either in the original post or in a subsequent one. As a result, I emailed National Review Online's Editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez:
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2008 3:55:13 PM GMT -02:00 Mid-Atlantic
Subject: CORRECTION NEEDED
Ms. Lopez - A statement made yesterday by Andrew McCarthy is factually false. I notified him of this by email yesterday but he has made no ocorrection.
He yesterday claimed that the Judge who rejected the Bush administration's arguments and ordered the 5 Guantanamo detainees released -- Richard Leon -- was a Bush 41 appointee. He is not. He is a Bush 43 appointee, having been appointed in 2002:
Mr. McCarthy's inaccurate and still uncorrected post is here:
I'm sure you don't want to mislead your readers.
Since that email, Lopez has posted multiple times on all sorts of topics, but has not corrected McCarthy's false statement, nor has McCarthy. The false statement remains.
The original inaccuracy is not a monumental episode. It's the sort of error that is made routinely by everyone (though given how easy it is to verify, and given McCarthy's claimed status as an expert on legal matters, it's certainly quite sloppy). But what kind of magazine, once notified, just refuses to correct such a straightforward and clear factual error like that?
National Review has reacted this way to glaring errors in the past, such as when it allowed Michael Ledeen to falsely state in 2006 that he had opposed the Iraq War even though he had urged its commencement as clearly as could be right in the pages of National Review. During that episode, editors Lopez and Rich Lowry refused to retract or even address the lie Ledeen published despite an avalanche of emails requesting that they do so. McCarthy's false statement here is certaintly less substantial, but on some level, the relatively minor nature of the original error makes the refusal to acknowledge and correct it that much more pitiful and revealing of what National Review is.
UPDATE: A reader emails to ask how I can prove that McCarthy and Lopez read the email corrections. The answer, of course, is that I can't prove that, though this is my reply to him:
I considered that possibility, of course, and can't say it's impossible, but I consider it highly unlikely in the extreme.
First, it would have to be the case that both of them independently haven't checked their email for days -- 3 days for McCarthy and 2 for Lopez. That would be extremely unusual for people who write online.
Second, both of them have written posts since those emails were sent. They have been online. I highly doubt that, having been online, they just didn't bother to check their emails.
Third, for exactly that reason, I wrote in upper-case letters in the Subject Line: CORRECTION NEEDED. I get literally hundreds of emails every day. I am always behind in responding to them. But I always check my email inbox -- usually multiple times per hour -- precisely because that is how I get notified of tips and corrections. I guarantee you that's true for every blogger.
Fourth, if what you suggest is what happened, I'd say that is itself irresponsible. What's the point of publishing your email address for readers if you don't bother to check for days what you have been sent?
Fifth, as I said, National Review has done this before. When those who aren't within their ideological chorus point out their errors, they tend to ignore them. It's consistent with prior behavior.
Finally, if it's the case that they didn't check their emails, they should say so and make the correction, and I'll be happy to print that.
As I said, I don't think the original error is a big deal -- just garden-variety sloppiness. It's the refusal to correct it that is significant.
UPDATE II: On Monday morning, McCarthy has now posted a correction to Thursday's post, amusingly "thank[ing] the careful Corner readers who noticed the error." There are several points to be made about McCarthy's correction but I'll leave it as is. Good for him for correcting his mistake.