The Martinez Schiavo memo:
    Not really that hard to figure out

It all makes sense. Harkin saw the memo, but didn’t want to embarrass Martinez, who was on his side of the Schiavo matter. Some other Republican gave it to a Democratic colleague out of disgust, and doesn’t want to be known as a turncoat.

Sen. Tom Harkin has now confirmed that the Republican talking points on the Schiavo affair — the ones that the right blogosphere and wingnut press have been charging were a Democratic dirty trick abetted by the liberal media — were, in fact, given to him by Sen. Mel Martinez. Martinez has admitted as much and (as is his standard practice) chosen a staffer to scapegoat for it.

You might expect the reaction from the right-wing bloggers and other purveyors of the “liberal media bias” idea to be “Ooops! We overstepped on this one. We’ll be more careful next time.” But while you’re at it, you might as well expect a pony, too.

John Hindraker of Powerline, his dreams of Rathergate II in ruins around him, has come up with a defensive line of even-more-than-normal silliness: “Why didn’t Harkin speak out earlier”?

The answer isn’t far to seek. Harkin, let’s recall, was on the feed-Terri side of the question, like most of the leadership of the disability-rights community. He had no reason to want to embarrass Mel Martinez, who was leading his side of the fight. But when the Washington Times ran a story yesterday triumphantly reporting that all 55 Republican Senators denied having seen the memo and that only Harkin among the Democrats said that he’d seen it — along with a headline using the word “fake” and an assertion by Robert Bennett of Utah that the whole thing was an “invention” — Harkin was forced to choose between having his own credibility questioned and fingering Martinez, who had already gone on record denying that he’d ever seen the memo.

So Harkin did finger Martinez, who admitted that what Harkin said was true while continuing to express confusion as to how such a naughty memo could have found its way into his pocket.

It’s virtually certain that Harkin was not the source of the original ABC and Washington Post; stories. According to CBS, the memo got into the press because a Republican Senator who received it was outraged enough to share it with a Democratic colleague, whose staffers then gave it to the press, or who shared it with someone else’s staffers who gave it to the press.

The pattern isn’t hard to figure out: the outraged Republican surely doesn’t want to be known within his (or her) caucus as a turncoat, and is maintaining a discreet silence modified only by a simple exculpatory “No” to the Washington Times. The Democrat whose staffers put the memo out doesn’t want to have to answer questions about which Republican gave him or her the memo. The reporters know most or all of the names involved, but got the memo under pledges of confidentiality and don’t want to violate those pledges.

Really, unless you start with the assumption that any reporter who doesn’t work for Rupert Murdoch is a vicious, partisan liar, it all makes perfect sense.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: