Retract This, Please, Part 3

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. Click hereand hereto read previous installments.

No. 9

“We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and–in contrast with Islamic countries–respect for religious and political rights. … [T]he West will continue to conquer peoples, like it conquered communism.”

–Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at a Berlin news conference, as reported by the Associated Press.

Chatterbox doesn’t speak Italian, but he’s pretty sure this isn’t a retraction.

[Update, Sept. 28: Agence France Press today reports that Berlusconi retracted his comments in a speech to the Italian Senate. From the news story, it sounds as though the apology was nearly as surly as the original remark. Berlusconi referred to the Italian reporters who initially tattled on him as “fools.” To read the entire apology in Italian, click here.]

No. 10

“There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.”

–Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer commenting Sept. 26 on Politially Incorrect host Bill Maher’s ill-considered remark, “We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly.” (Although Chatterbox does not condone or agree with this part of Maher’s comment, Maher’s subsequent observation–“Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly”–makes perfect sense, and in fact echoes an earlier Chatterbox item.) For Maher’s own retraction, click here.

Although no one questioned Fleischer’s right to disapprove publicly of Maher’s remark, many observed that he phrased it in an unnecessarily thuggish fashion that smacked of censorship. A letter from Phillip Day to Jim Romenesko’s Media News speculates that the White House “retracted” Fleischer’s “watch what they say” comment by removing it from the transcript available on the White House Web site. Was Fleischer’s pro-censorship remark itself censored? As this item goes to press, the transcriptis missing the phrase, “watch what they say.” Chatterbox will continue to monitor further developments.

[Update, Sept. 28, 9 a.m.: In today’s New York Times, Fleischer assistant Anne Womack tells Bill Carter and Felicity Barringer that the omission was “a transcription error.” Apparently, though, it isn’t the kind of transcription error that you correct because “watch what they say” is still missing from the Web site transcript!]

[Update, Sept. 28, 1 p.m.: In today’s briefing, Fleischer issued the following de facto retraction: “I stand by what I said about what he said, was unfortunate and should not have been said. But I understand, of course, in all times, it’s everybody’s right to say things, no matter how wrong they can be.” And yes, “watch what they say” is still missing from the Sept. 26 Web site transcript.]

No. 11

“What happened there is–they all have to rearrange their brains now–is the greatest work of art ever. That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for 10 years, completely, fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos. I could not do that. Against that, we, composers, are nothing.”

–German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, in a Hamburg interview quoted in the Sept. 19 New York Times.

That same day, Stockhausen issued a statement explaining that he considered the World Trade Center attack to be the work of Lucifer, whom he defined in Miltonian terms as “the cosmic spirit of rebellion, of anarchy. He uses his high degree of intelligence to destroy creation. He does not know love.” Stockhausen concluded by saying he was “deeply sorry if my remarks were misconstrued to offend the grieving families of the brutal terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.”

No. 12

“If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over.”

Rep. John Cooksey to a network of Louisiana radio stations on Sept. 17, reported Sept. 19 by Joan McKinney of The Advocate.

On Sept. 21, Rep. Cooksey apologized for his remarks on the House floor. He said, “I am sorry for any distress my statement caused, and I want [Sikhs and Muslims] to know that I do not approve of any harassment or violence against any American. All I intended to say was that if a person fits the established profile of a terrorist, that person should expect to be looked at closely by airport security, given the atrocity of September 11.”

Retract This, Please, Archive:

Sept. 17, 2001 : Ann Coulter (No. 1), Jerry Falwell (No. 2), CNN (No. 3)

Sept. 18, 2001: Don Wycliff (No. 4), Michael Moore (No. 5), Andrew Sullivan (No. 6), William Bennett (No. 7), Mary Steyn (No. 8)