By: E&P Staff
More than two days after an inflammatory quote used by a regular Washington Times columnist was shown to be fabricated — it was attributed to Abraham Lincoln, no less — the newspaper still had not removed it from the article, nor carried a correction. Finally, on Friday fternoon, it pulled the entire Frank Gaffney, Jr. column.
Then, on Saturday, it ran this correction: “Frank Gaffney’s column in the Tuesday Commentary pages of The Washington Times included a quote erroneously attributed to Abraham Lincoln.”
Before that, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) cited the quote on the floor of the House on Thursday in the debate over the Iraq war “surge.” He took it to be true, apparently. Rep. Young added, referring to Lincoln: “He had the same problem this President has, with an unpopular war. The same problem with people trying to redirect the commander in chief.”
Young’s spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, said the congressman took the quote directly from The Washington Times column. “Now that he’s been informed these are not the actual words of Lincoln, he will discontinue attributing the words to Lincoln. However, he continues to totally agree with the message of the statement,” Kenny told The Washington Post.
On Wednesday, E&P and some political blogs pointed out that conservative Frank Gaffney, Jr., opened his latest column on Tuesday morning with this: “Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.” ? President Abraham Lincoln.
He continued: “It is, of course, unimaginable that the penalties proposed by one of our most admired presidents for the crime of dividing America in the face of the enemy would be contemplated ? let alone applied ? today. Still, as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate engage in interminable debate about resolutions whose effects can only be to ‘damage morale and undermine the military’ while emboldening our enemies, it is time to reflect on what constitutes inappropriate behavior in time of war.”
One problem: Lincoln never said it. But that didn’t stop the newspaper, and Gaffney, from refusing to correct the record — as of Friday morning — or remove the quote from the top of his column. Later Friday, the column disappeared completely from the paper’s site and a correction ran the following day.
Brooks Jackson at FactCheck.org, the Annenberg Public Policy Center group, had studied the sudden appearance of the quote last August. Why? He had found that his Web search “brought up more than 18,000 references to it.”
He reported: “Supporters of President Bush and the war in Iraq often quote Abraham Lincoln as saying members of Congress who act to damage military morale in wartime ‘are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged.’
“Republican candidate Diana Irey used the ‘quote’ recently in her campaign against Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, and it has appeared thousands of times on the Internet, in newspaper articles and letters to the editor, and in Republican speeches.
“But Lincoln never said that. The conservative author who touched off the misquotation frenzy, J. Michael Waller, concedes that the words are his, not Lincoln’s. Waller says he never meant to put quote marks around them, and blames an editor [at the magazine Insight] for the mistake and the failure to correct it. We also note other serious historical errors in the Waller article containing the bogus quote.”
Jackson later provided this update: “Candidate Irey retracted the quote and apologized hours after this article appeared.”
Waller wrote to Jackson concerning the 2003 article: “Oddly, you are the first to question me about this. I’m surprised it has been repeated as often as you say. My editors at the time didn’t think it was necessary to run a correction in the following issue of the magazine, and to my knowledge we received no public comment.”