Update on Zywicki, Measure 37, and Quotations

In a prior entry, I crticized the use of a quote in a Volokh.com post by Todd Zywicki. I suggested that the quote was suspect, given a number of factors.

Investigation has revealed that the quote is actually drawn from a real e-mail. (I have received a copy of the e-mail in question). To the extent that my earlier post may have implied that the quote Zywicki used was fabricated, I was wrong on the facts. Given the factual support for the existence of this particular quote, some of my rhetoric was overbroad and inappropriate. I posted too quickly, and should have done further investigation myself before making some of my statements.

That said, I believe that many of the underlying concerns of my original post remain accurate, for reasons that I’ll state below.

In the original post, I summarized my argument as follows:

So, to recap, the “quote” is:

(1) A good example of how liberals talk in libertarian fantasyland.

(2) Anonymous.

(3) Drawn from an opponent of the alleged quote.

(4) Originally set out in a set of paragraphs decrying Measure 37 opponents as “extremists.”

(5) Originally set out to be a target of ridicule, and

(6) Uncorroborated.

Based on these facts, I’m going to suggest that, absent documentation to the contrary, it is highly likely that the quote is bogus.

I have now received documentation showing that the quote is clearly drawn from a real source. Thus, per the terms of my original post (which contained an explicit assertion that my position would change if shown documentation), I make no further claim that the quote is bogus.

I hope, however, that the larger point I was trying to make isn’t lost in the issue of whether this particular quote was correct or not. My broader argument was to question whether bloggers, who are quick to criticize the mainstream media for sometimes being loose on corroborating facts, should subject themselves to the same kind of criticism. Perhaps we as bloggers should be skeptical of the material we quote and use in our posts.

The quote at issue had many fishy indicia, and what I hoped to suggest is that we as bloggers can be great bogus fact detectors when we want to criticize the mainstream media, but we can readily push aside our bogus fact detection mindset when we’re whisking out our own posts. Ironically, I’m just as guilty of this myself, as I should have done further investigation on the veracity of the quote. Nevertheless, my point is that the quote sure smelled bogus, and I was trying to act in the blogging tradition of questioning something that struck me as highly suspicious. Whenever I use quotes that I think could be dubious, I will try to point out some of my doubts about the quote. Blogger skepticism is one of the great features of the blogosphere, and bloggers should unleash this skepticism on themselves too, not just on the mainstream media.

The quote seemed bogus then, and given the same facts I would make the same call again, ten times out of ten. I don’t trust advocacy groups to be honest with facts (recall that I previously took the AFJ to task for a deceptive definition of courts “controlled by the extreme right”); I don’t have high confidence in anonymous quotes, particularly those that are held up for scorn; I have strong reservations about quotes that seem to play too closely into the quoting party’s hobbyhorse.

In addition, while my original assertions were overbroad, the quoted language is not without real problems. My own and Todd’s investigatory efforts led me to the quote’s source, and as far as I can ascertain, the quote is not in fact drawn from a lawyer bringing the suit to overturn the law, but rather from an independent lawyer not involved in any organized efforts against the ballot measure. Thus, as presented at both Volokh.com and Bizzyblog (as a quote from one of the lawyers involved in the Measure 37 lawsuit), the quoted language appears to be misleading.

Finally, I should note that having seen the e-mail in question, I have serious reservations about whether it is being used out of context. At the very least, there are real questions here, though it may be possible for reasonable minds to disagree on this point. Pending further discussion and analysis, I may post more on that topic.

But for the moment, enough time has passed, and it’s time for me to publicly acknowledge the factual errors in my original post.

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6 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    But for the moment, enough time has passed, and it’s time for me to publicly acknowledge the factual errors in my original post.

    Maybe I’m still asleep, but what factual errors? You made the perfectly reasonable observation that the process by which the quote was obtained, was unreliable. The process was unreliable. If we relied on that process for source information, we’d be wrong as often as right. So I don’t think you made any factual errors, and the criticisms of your original post remain valid.

  2. Tom Blumer says:

    I appreciate the “acknowledgment of factual errors in the original post.”

    I made it crystal clear in my original post that it was a “They said that he said” situation. If, based on your skepticism of “advocacy groups,” you wish to discount the reliability of the statement, that’s your choice as the reader.

    So a dubious reader could choose to remain dubious. But one attempting to assert, as you did, that the quote is “bogus” (meaning “made up,” with no “maybe” present in your original post’s title) is assuming the burden of proof when he makes that assertion. If you don’t have the proof, you’re the one being irresponsible, at least in the title, not the person who relayed the comment and clearly indicated its source.

    That said, I mischaracterized the quote by assuming it was from a lawyer for the M37 opposition, instead of another lawyer, and, based on another e-mail from Mr. Myers, I have clarified that matter at the original post:


    This is part of the “self-correction” built into the blogosphere that the mainstream media all too often blows off. So I appreciate your raising the issue, and your indirect contribution to my post’s accuracy, and to helping me and my readers get closer to the truth, which is what I hope we are all pursuing.

  3. Lame-detector says:

    This is a nice, DanRatheresque non-mea culpa.

    You fired too fast and were wrong. Leave it there instead of saying “I fired too fast and got it wrong, but it was a circumstance in which I might have been right and, if you really parse it carefully, I could be half-right after all.”

  4. Tom Blumer says:

    Wrong? Please. The quote is R-E-A-L.

  5. Lame-detector says:

    [Tom, the “you” at the beginning of my post referred to Kaimipono D. Wenger, not Tom Blumer. I agree with your point. I was annoyed to see Kaimipono refuse to fully acknowledge his carelessness and error.]

  6. Kaimi says:

    Umm, L-D, what part of “I was wrong on the facts” is anything other than an admission that I was wrong on the facts?

    I suggest you turn your attention to Mr. Zywicki’s original post, which still contains uncorrected factual misstatements (that I’ve pointed out to him in e-mail and in this post).