Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another unacknowledged edit by Jeffrey Goldberg

The more evidence turns up about Jeffrey Goldberg’s revisions of his controversial post “Mumbai Comes to Norway,” the worse his journalistic lapses look and the less satisfactory his explanation appears.

I came across a site that mirrors his Atlantic blog, perhaps using his RSS feed. It preserves two versions of his “Mumbai” post – one with “UPDATED” in its title (from late in the evening of July 22), and the other without (evidently captured earlier that afternoon at 3:22 PM ET). Here is the text of the earlier version:

I'm following news of the Norway attacks like the rest of you, and am curious to see, among other things, Norway's response. I hope it is not to pull troops out of Afghanistan; this would only breed more attacks. So, why Norway? It doesn't seem likely, on the surface. There are many countries with more troops in Afghanistan than Norway; and there are several countries whose newspapers have printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. My first reaction is two-fold: 1) Jihadists did this in Norway because they could. Norway is pretty well-known among homeland-security types for being among the softer, less-defended countries of the West, and 2) Norway is making moves to expel a jihadist called Mullah Krekar, who is one of the founders of Ansar al-Islam, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that operated in Iraqi Kurdistan with some help from Saddam's intelligence services. This could be a message about his coming deportation.

Of course, asking the question, "Why did jihadists attack (x)?" could lead people to believe that these sorts of attacks are responses to particular events. They are not. At the deepest level, they are responses to Western existence. I know that this sort of statement sounds too Bushian for some people, but I tend to think that many hardcore jihadists -- i.e. ones who are willing to murder innocent people -- develop a deep desire to murder infidels, and only then go looking for specific places to do this murder, and only then gin-up weak rationalizations for the murder. In other words, the list of ostensible grievances is endless.

This version differs from the original piece, posted half an hour earlier. The second paragraph is longer; everything after “Western existence” was added after the original post went up. Notice that this addition is not labeled an ‘update’.

This calls into further doubt Goldberg’s explanation of events. When he learned that I’d turned up evidence of an unacknowledged update to “Mumbai” in which he added material down through its third paragraph (with its alternative theory for the Norway attacks), you may recall, Goldberg quickly added an update to “Mumbai” stating:

(a) that he appended the ‘caveat’ in the third paragraph right after he originally posted “Mumbai” (“I wrote it almost right after I posted originally”)

(b) that he did initially label this addition as an ‘update’

(c) that a subsequent revision of “Mumbai”, because of obscure technical difficulties, accidentally deleted the update label in (b)

This new evidence is hard to square with that story. (i) It shows that there were at least two updates before the third paragraph was added, not one nearly immediate update as Goldberg implied. (ii) The first of these revisions (some 10 to 30 minutes after the original post) was not in fact labeled as an ‘update’, nor was the title of the post. (iii) A further revision (appending the third paragraph) came more than half an hour after the original post, not quickly as Goldberg said. So Goldberg’s account of his revisions of “Mumbai” is in tatters. We also have clear evidence that Goldberg did append some material to his original post without acknowledging the revision.

It’s also worth underlining that Goldberg’s first inclination after he wrote “Mumbai” was to go back to expand and emphasize the unequivocal blame he was heaping on jihadists. So the third paragraph, whenever it finally was added, was an even greater reversal than it had originally seemed (when we didn’t know of this first unacknowledged update).

Notice too that the clause Goldberg inserted surreptitiously in the first paragraph (“if this is jihadist in origin”) is not present yet in this first revision of “Mumbai”. That means very likely it was inserted at the same time as the third paragraph was added. In other words, it’s even clearer now that the inserted clause was meant to work together with the third paragraph in helping to deflect criticism that he had rushed to judgment.

As always, it will be interesting to see whether Jeffrey Goldberg attempts to explain the ever-widening confusion about the history of his revisions of this extraordinary post.

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