Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Richard Cohen's Non-Apology

At the end of his column in today's WaPo, Richard Cohen offers this note about his previous ridiculous comments on the Plame scandal:

A clarification: A number of readers, some of them formerly of the CIA, got the impression from my last column that I don't consider the outing of a covert employee a serious matter. I do.

Unfortunately for Cohen, in the age of the Internet, there's no memory hole down which one's words can vanish. Here's where we "got the impression" from his last column:

This [i.e., leaking] is rarely considered a crime. In the Plame case, it might technically be one, but it was not the intent of anyone to out a CIA agent and have her assassinated (which happened once) but to assassinate the character of her husband. This is an entirely different thing. She got hit by a ricochet.

Cohen made it clear then that the outing of Valerie Plame was, in his estimation, "technically" a crime, though one committed with innocent intent and therefore not worthy of punishment. It's hard to see how we are supposed to square this with his new assertion that he considers it "a serious matter."

It's nice that the firestorm of protest over this absurd position has prompted second thoughts, but it's not enough for Cohen to blandly assert that readers got the wrong "impression" from the plain meaning of his words (as if the "misunderstanding" was our fault, not his). The intellectually honest thing to say would be either, "What I wrote is not what I was trying to say, and I'm sorry I confused people," or, even more to the point, a simple yet dignified, "I was wrong."

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