THE GRYPHEN FILES: E-MAIL TO JESSE GRIFFIN

Just sent this e-mail:

To start with Griffin, don’t lecture me about libel. Screw you, you miserable little pissant. I didn’t work my way up — starting with a $4.50-an-hour staff writer job at a 6,000-circulation weekly in 1986 — so some random loser could lecture me about libel law.
I spent more than two decades with a copy of the AP Stylebook And Libel Manual within arm’s reach, and I know the difference between facts and bulls***, a distinction you seem to have trouble making. And you want to lecture Dan Riehl about “integrity”? When he told me that, I was half tempted to risk Dan’s wrath by just going off on my own, but there are more important things to consider and I wouldn’t want to make Dan angry, so I waited.
You made a serious mistake when you published that Palin divorce rumor, Griffin, and your idiot friend Zaki made another serious mistake by pretending to have confirmed it with “multiple sources.” What you did, to borrow a term from military science, was to surrender the initiative to your enemy.
Even if Todd and Sarah had been ready to call it quits Saturday morning (and since my sources apparently aren’t as good as yours, I have no way of knowing), you handed them a perfect weapon of revenge, which they can now use at their discretion. All they have to do is not file for divorce, and they make you a liar. And if they decide to sue your a**, I’m thinking you don’t want a jury trial, so the folks in the jury box can see them every day, sitting in the front row holding hands all lovey-dovey.
Idiot. The other day I was telling my wife I’d have loved to have seen you try to file that “story” at The Washington Times some night when Geoff Etnyre was the M.E. in charge. You and Zaki would have been fired on the spot.
Working at a real news organization, as opposed to the idiot crap you and Zaki do, requires responsibility to others — colleagues, bosses, advertisers, owners and, above all, the readers. As much as I love playing the Internet joker since quitting the Times in January 2008, I try to make it clear to readers the difference between when I’m being serious and when I’m just clowning around. After all, I’ve got a serious career as a freelance journalist, with a wife and six kids to worry about, and even if most blog readers “get it” when I’m just joking, misunderstandings can sometimes cause trouble.
Let’s talk a little bit about “sources,” Griffin. Until I came to Washington in 1997, I’d never worked for a newspaper that allowed what we call “blind sourcing,” the anonymous “senior administration official” and so forth. Well, Washington is a different game (and I’ve got the knives in my back to prove it), so I had to learn how to deal with this “sources said” stuff.
One of the basic rules, insisted on by our Old School editor-in-chief Wes Pruden, was that you couldn’t hang a story entirely on blind sources. You had to have something else — some kind of document, or an official who was willing to go on the record and “put his name on it” — or else it looked like you were just peddling gossip.
It didn’t matter if the reporter knew that the story was right. Without something concrete to anchor the story, the reader might get the impression you were, to quote a highly-placed Republican source, “making stuff up.” You owed it to your readers, and to the reputation of the paper, to get something or someone into that story that would let them know for sure they were getting the real deal. Otherwise, you couldn’t publish it. And woe unto the poor schmuck on the national desk (alas, it was sometimes me) who signed off on a story where the reporter failed to “back up his lede.”
It was for many years my honor to edit the work of such fine reporters as Jerry Seper, Audrey Hudson, Stephen Dinan and Ralph Z. Hallow. Ask any of those guys how much arguing was sometimes required to get a story just right, so that when we printed 110,000 copies, nobody at the White House, Congress or the FBI could dispute our credibility. Ask those guys, and maybe they’ll tell you Stacy McCain is a clueless dilbert who doesn’t know good journalism from a hole in the ground, but that’s their right. It was their bylines on those stories, and if I screwed up the story by an editing error (the reporter’s worst nightmare) then my stupidity could damage their credibility.
Speaking of credibility, Griffin, you don’t have any. Given how wrong you were about the Palin divorce, you’ve blown whatever chance you ever had of being someone that people should take seriously. And given all the things you’ve written about Palin over the past several months, I’d guess the “malice” part of a libel action against you would be a lead-pipe cinch. But I’m not a lawyer, so that’s just a guess.
Mala fides, as the lawyers say, is a dangerous thing. There have been times when I’ve been assigned to do a story — and I wore two hats, doing both reporting and editing at The Times — involving persons or organizations I considered evil. And when you get a story like that, the trick is to do it Joe Friday style: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Like one of my first editors told me, “As long as you’ve got your facts right” — i.e., as long as the story is accurate — “they can’t touch you.” So if you’re doing a story about somebody you can’t stand, you tend to err on the side of caution. That’s another Old School editor’s maxim: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
But you don’t know that stuff, Griffin, because you’re a phony — and I state that as an objective fact. Sue me. You are trying to seem like you’re reporting news without actually doing the work. That’s as dangerous as mala fides, and when you combine the two . . .
Your bulls*** about “my best source” had some serious unintended consequences, Griffin. Among other things, you ruined my weekend. Frankly, I didn’t give a damn about what was going on in Wasilla. I was planning to spend the weekend chilling out so I could spend this week up on Capitol Hill talking to my sources on the IG investigations. Byron York beat me last week, which was my own fault, and now I’ve got to play catch-up.
Instead, I ended up spending all Saturday knocking down the bogus story from you and Zaki — the Woodward and Bernstein of Anchorage — which left me entirely frazzled. And then I got a call Sunday morning from Dan Riehl, and my weekend descended into the seventh circle of Hell.
Your “best source”? Let me make something clear, Griffin: If I ever quote an unnamed source, it’s with the understanding that, should any legal action result, my source will be willing to go on the record and testify on my behalf. There is a basic newspaper rule: If you publish something, and get a complaint from somebody who claims libel and starts talking about lawyers and lawsuits, the conversation is over. Have their lawyer talk to your lawyer, and if the lawyer says retract, retract.
A good reporter never burns his sources, but a good source never burns a reporter. If one of my sources doesn’t call me first with the big scoop, I feel insulted. But that’s probably just the notoriously touchy pride of a Southerner. (“Sir, you have impugned my honor!”) However, if one of my sources feeds me bogus stuff so that I end up putting my name on a story that’s wrong, you’d better believe I’m going to make him regret it. (“Pistols at dawn, you lying scalawag!”)
So when Sarah Palin gave me that quote denying the divorce rumor, she might not have known what she was getting herself into. As I wrote: “That worldwide exclusive quote from Sarah Palin? You can take that to the bank, baby. . . . After I’d filed that, however, I sent an e-mail containing the admonishment that now, no matter what happens, the Palins can never get divorced, as this would undermine my credibility.” I’m told she thought that was funny. Except, I wasn’t joking.
Right now, I’m about 60-40 between Palin ’12 and Romney ’12, but I’d prefer Palin, just because I might have a better shot at the “sources said” angle on that campaign. But if there’s any problem between the governor and the “First Dude” (and like I said, my sources aren’t good enough to give me the play-by-play, “if you get my drift”) they’d better not get divorced, or it’s time to kiss the White House good-bye. However scandalous an affair might be (headline: SARAH SHOOTS ‘TWO-TIMING WEASEL’) a divorce would make me look like a chump. Woe unto the source who makes me look like a chump.
By the way, Griffin, there’s one point you and I agree on: Republicans are too uptight about sex. I’ve been happily married for 20 years and, as the father of six kids, I always laugh when liberals suggest that being a conservative means I’m sexually repressed. More like irrepressible. Sometimes I joke around with my single friends, urging them to get married, lest they fall prey to the temptation of fornication. A joke, but serious, too. When God gives a guy as ugly as me a wife as good-looking as mine, it’s the kind of blessing I’d be a fool to reject. (“MRS. McCAIN SHOOTS TWO-TIMING WEASEL”)
One of my journalistic heroes is Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in his autobiography that, as a child, he was often admonished by his father with a Bible verse, Proverbs 22:29: “Seest thou a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings, and his place shall not be among ordinary men.” Like they say, claim the promise. Because I’m lazy by nature, God has relentlessly chastised me for that sin. Nothing good ever happens to me unless I sweat for it, like I’ve had to sweat since Saturday.
So far, I’ve stood before congressmen, senators, governors, attorneys general, first ladies and Cabinet secretaries, but never yet a president nor a king. Given that I’ll be 50 in October, I’m starting to get a little impatient. But live or die, I’m sure one day I’ll stand before a king. So I just keep working and praying.
Speaking of prayer, Griffin, on your blog you say you’re an atheist. Maybe you should pray to Nothing and see if that helps.

Good luck,
Robert Stacy McCain
Co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of
DONKEY CONS: Sex, Crime &
Corruption in the Democratic Party

P.S.: I CC this to my co-blogger Smitty, and will also publish it in its entirety on my blog, just so you can’t play cut-and-paste games on your own blog, Griffin.
P.P.S.: Is the name of your blog a play on words? One thing I could never resist is a double-entendre, but I’ll wait.

Wait, and keep watching Dan Riehl’s site. I spoke to Dan about an hour ago, and we agreed that when he goes with what he’s got, I’ll take a look at it and then decide what I need to go with. So Dan’s got the lead on this story now, and he’s the man to watch.

UPDATE: Dan Riehl goes live:

School-aged children who were PC literate apparently could have had access to information posted on his blog . . .
Because of this apparent portal between his MySpace real identiity and his “Gryphen” alter-ego, the allegedly anonymous Gryphen appears to have been out all along. . . .
The blog appears to have routinely displayed content such as describing then Governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin as wearing “f*ck me pumps” or debating the acceptability of such concepts as referring to former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as a “c*nt” . . .

Read the whole thing. Hey, how’s that “praying to Nothing” workin’ out for you, Griffin? What was it the Moe Lane said? Me, I can put anything on my blog. I’m a private citizen, a mere entrepreneurial journalist, First Amendment and all that. But a public-school kindergarten teaching assistant . . .? Not so much.

Oh, and good luck trying to flush it down the Memory Hole. We’ve got plenty of screen-capture JPGs.

Have a nice day! 😀

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