Retract This, Please, Part 2

In times of national emergency, people can get excited and say or write stupid things. The present crisis being no exception, Chatterbox will keep a running count of these gasp-inducing statements and reprint them under the heading, “Retract This, Please.” Please note: lies are not what this feature is looking for. Outright falsehoods will continue to run not here, but under Chatterbox’s “Whopper of the Week” rubric. Rather, Chatterbox is looking for statements that any sensible person would regret.

A few readers have pointed out that Slate itself blundered badly last week in its “Breakfast Table” feature with this baseless and fairly loony semi-accusation by John Lahr:

“Perhaps it’s eerie serendipity, perhaps it’s my paranoia, but an acid thought keeps plaguing me. Isn’t it odd that on the day–the DAY–that the Democrats launched their most blistering attack on ‘the absolute lunacy’ of Bush’s unproven missile-defense system, which ‘threatens to pull the trigger on the arms race,’ what Sen. Biden calls today in the Guardian, his ‘theological’ belief in ‘rogue nations,’ that the rogue nation should suddenly become such a terrifying reality. The fact that I could even think such a thought says more to me about the bankruptcy and moral exhaustion of our leaders even in the face of a disaster where any action, in the current nightmare, will seem like heroism.”

For the record, Chatterbox does not believe the Bush administration engineered the suicide missions against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Lahr’s outburst is a reminder that even great Web magazines can, under the pressure of recent events, blurt out ghastly stuff. And now, with all appropriate humility, let us continue.

No. 4

“The normal work rhythm of a morning newspaper is such that the newsroom can seem almost deserted in the morning. … At the Tribune, that rhythm was replaced Tuesday by one that was uptempo all day long. In a throwback to the thrilling days of the industry’s yesteryear, the newspaper published two extra editions. … The story budget hammered out at an impromptu editors’ meeting had called for at least one wire story to supplement those that would be produced by Tribune staff writers. As it turned out, all of the stories were staff-written, a fact that put a grin as wide asIowaon [Managing Editor Jim] O’Shea’s face.”

ChicagoTribune “Public Editor” (and former editorial page editor) Don Wycliff, Sept. 13.

Perhaps regretting this comment, Wycliff wrote a follow-up Sept. 16 column emphasizing the sobriety of last week’s events. But this second column made no reference to Wycliff’s earlier paean to the joys of covering mass killings.

[Update, Sept. 20: Wycliff apologized  for the column today, calling it “wrong footed” and conceding that it was in poor taste.]

No. 5

“Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes’ destination ofCalifornia–these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!

“Why kill them? Why kill anyone?”

–Docusatirist Michael Moore on his Web site,, Sept. 12.

Moore has now removed the offending language from his Sept. 12 posting. Chatterbox retrieved the omitted passage from the Sept. 14 “Best of the Web” column in

[Update, 3:10 p.m.: On Sept. 17, Moore wrote that the Journal  took the language in question “out of context. … [D]o I have to explain satire to these people?” But if the Journal misconstrued a meaning that was obviously benign in the original context, why did Moore omit the passage?]

No. 6

“The middle part of the country–the great red zone that voted for Bush–is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead–and may well mount a fifth column.”

–Andrew Sullivan, the Sunday Times of London, Sept. 16. (Note: The “fifth column” reference is on this page.)

[Update, Sept. 19, 10:15 a.m.: In re his use of the term “fifth column,” Sullivan today posted on his Web site the following:

“I have no reason to believe that even those sharp critics of this war would actually aid and abet the enemy in any more tangible ways than they have done already. And that dissent is part of what we’re fighting for. By fifth column, I meant simply their ambivalence about the outcome of a war on which I believe the future of liberty hangs….I retract nothing. But I am sorry that one sentence was not written more clearly to dispel any and all such doubts about its meaning. Writing 6,000 words under deadline in the heat of war can lead to occasional sentences whose meaning is open to misinterpretation.”]

No. 7

“We pray and we fight. And it is right to fight. There is no theological or moral set of principles that I know of that have any respectability that argue that we cannot fight and that we cannot punish those who have done this great evil to us.”

–William Bennett on CNN’s Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer, Sept. 16.

Mennonites, Quakers, and other pacifist Christian sects will presumably be interested to learn that William Bennett doesn’t consider them respectable.

No. 8

“The post-Cold War interlude is over, an era of follies–OJ, Monica–and fatuities, a few of which Tuesday’s horror stories cruelly underlined: employees in wheelchairs, whom Bob Dole’s Americans with Disabilities Act and the various lobby groups insist can do anything able-bodied people can, found themselves trapped on the 80th floor, unable to get downstairs, unable even to do as others did and hurl themselves from the windows rather than be burned alive.”

–Mark Steyn, the Spectator (U.K.), Sept. 15.

Retract This, Please, Archive:

Sept. 18, 2001: Ann Coulter (No. 1), Jerry Falwell (No. 2), CNN (No. 3)