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Down the Memory Hole

mind-terrible-thing-to-waste

It’s been some time since I’ve gotten around to blogging and, alas, the circumstances of this post are rather embarrassing.

This afternoon, I was surprised to see myself extensively quoted in an article in Rolling Stone regarding Trump Administration advisor Sebastian “Seb” Gorka, with whom I’ve had a long if tangential professional association.* I had no recollection of talking to Rolling Stone, the journalist’s name was familiar to me only because it is shared by a prominent actor, and the quotes didn’t sound like me, were surrounded by some paraphrases that don’t reflect my views on Gorka, and there was an error in the biography attributed to me. Befuddled by the whole thing, I took to Twitter to proclaim that 1) I’d never talked to Rolling Stone, 2) had never heard of the journalist in question, 3) had never uttered the quotes attributed to me, and 4) that I am not, in fact, a retired Army officer, having served only four years on active duty. Of those, I am now only certain of 4).

It’s probably best to go back to the beginning of the saga.

In early January, a longtime professional acquaintance contacted me via Twitter direct message to ask whether I’d be willing to talk to Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe about Gorka’s time at Marine Corps University. I told her that, while I’d generally be happy to talk to Jaffe, I was leery of talking about this particular subject, both given Gorka’s sudden national prominence and the fact that my views might not reflect favorably on my employer. She assured me that Jaffe could be trusted with a talk on “background” that would inform his reporting and I agreed to let her pass my contact information on.

A few days later, Jaffe called and we agreed to some ground rules: we’d have a candid conversation off the record but afterwards he would run by any quotations that he wanted to use to see if I would mind green-lighting them for the record. Jaffe’s original story concept changed over time, so the piece was delayed, but my quotations finally appeared on 20 February. True to his word, my quotations were what we’d agreed to and presented in a context that fairly represented my views on Gorka’s tenure at MCU.

Those quotes, in turn, made the rounds to a number of other reputable outlets, including Vanity Fair, as well as a number of partisan blogs, many of which sexed them up a bit by either pernicious paraphrasing or otherwise taking them out of context.

Subsequently, a handful of other reporters approached me for additional comments, one of whom was a freelance writer previously unknown to me but who I’m now reminded was Bob Dreyfuss. We had a brief conversation via telephone some months back, after which I promptly forgot about it. I don’t recall whether he mentioned that he intended to pitch the piece to Rolling Stone, where his work appears with some frequency, but if he did it apparently made no impression on me. Regardless, when I didn’t see myself quoted within a few days, I never gave the interview another thought. (Apparently, the approach took place via telephone as well, as I have no email correspondence with Dreyfuss in either my personal or work accounts.)

Several more months passed and another reporter for a web-based outlet reached out to me to see if I would talk about Gorka’s time at MCU. By this time, an edict had come down from higher administration that all inquiries from the press on this particular subject be routed through the public affairs office. I relayed that information but again offered to go on background to help frame the story. As with my January conversation with Jaffe, my purpose was simply to provide useful context and avoid misinformed reporting. There has been a lot of inaccurate reporting on Gorka’s relationship with MCU (he was actually employed by the Marine Corps University Foundation, an affiliated non-profit, rather than a faculty member, for example) and the nature of the institution itself, including the ways it’s different than a traditional civilian university. We talked a couple days ago and I received a call this afternoon wondering whether, since I was willing to go on the record with Rolling Stone, I would reconsider.

As you’ve presumably surmised, my reaction was, “What are you talking about?” A quick consultation with the Google Machine turned up the article, revealed the name of an author that rang no bells, and, as noted at the outset, didn’t sound like me.

James Joyner, a retired Army officer and associate professor of strategic studies at MCU, who saw Gorka in action, wasn’t impressed, saying that Gorka was hardly an academic: “He’s kind of the guy you see on TV. He’s bombastic.” Gorka’s views, adds Joyner, were well out of the mainstream. “To the Bush administration’s credit, one thing that they got right was, they said, ‘This is not a war against Islam.’ But Gorka is like, ‘No, these people are very dominant within the religion, their religion leads this way, and even though most Muslims aren’t terrorists, they at least lean that way.’ And that’s wrong.”

As noted, I’m not a retired officer. It’s true that I saw Gorka in action and wasn’t impressed. Or, rather, I was impressed with his showmanship and audacious self-promotion but not so much the sophistication of his views on Islamist-inspired terrorism. But he’s an academic, if not one of first rate. The rest of it does indeed reflect my impression of Gorka and the Bush administration, even if I’m fuzzy in my recollection of the conversation.

This also doesn’t sound like me tone-wise, although it’s accurate enough an assessment:

Gorka insists that everyone in Washington is wrong, and only he understands the fearsome nature of the enemy. “He is speaking the truth, and if you disagree with it,” Joyner says, “you’re an idiot.”

I suppose that, in a stream of consciousness phone conversation trying to describe Gorka’s worldview from his perspective, I might have used that phrasing. Obviously, I have no specific recollection of the details of a conversation that occurred months ago that I’d forgotten having had at all.

Perplexed by an unexpected article with quotes from me that I didn’t recognize, the best I could come up with is that Dreyfuss had sexed up a quote from the Jaffe article by adding some out-of-context paraphrasing and dredged up some conversations on the subject that I’d had on Twitter and likewise taken them out of context and cludged together a not-quite-right bio of me from the Web. But, putting the quotes into Google, the only results were the Rolling Stone piece and some retweets of it. I was truly perplexed.

Alas, my tweets on the subject were retweeted many times.  Dreyfuss saw the fury over my tweets, left a message on my cell frantic over the misunderstanding, and it started to dawn on me what happened. Eventually, the game of phone tag culminated and we talked it over and I came to the realization reflected above. I, of course, apologized to him for the confusion but the damage is done.

I’ve taken down the original tweets, to prevent them being spread further, and composed this, which will go out on Twitter as well. I’m still rather befuddled that I didn’t recognize the quotes in the article and didn’t put two-and-two together. Regardless, my sincere apologies to Dreyfuss and Rolling Stone for implying a breach of journalistic integrity when the lapse was my own.

________________
*Gorka, while in the employ of the National Defense University, was part of the Strategic Advisor’s Group at the Atlantic Council during part of the time I was managing editor there. He was subsequently an endowed chair at Marine Corps University while I was a professor at its Command and Staff College, where I’m still employed.

 

 

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    I’ve noted you have been observing radio silence this past few months. Wondered to what degree this has had to do with professional considerations. Further wondered how professional military officers below General Officer status were looking at the present climate.

    Good luck.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Franklin says:

    With the many means of communication at our disposal in modern times, and our frequent usage of them, it is really not that difficult to forget one conversation.

    Of course, I barely remember what I ate for breakfast today and it’s not even 7am yet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve done similar things in the past. I try to remind myself that it is a better life strategy to assume good intentions and double check.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    This is why you never talk to reporters. Nice and reasonable articles don’t sell, controversy does. So they’re going to take whatever you say and use it to try and create drama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    You are a man of Honor James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Indeed. And good to hear from you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: The spam bot seems to have relented in it’s war on hillbilly comments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. John430 says:

    FAKE News strikes again!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  9. DrDaveT says:

    Focusing on the least important part of your article for a moment…

    I understand why you insist that you are not a retired Army officer. In the narrow technical jargon sense in which the military uses the word ‘retire’, you are correct. However, in the plain English sense of the word, if you used to be an insurance salesman, and now you are not any more, and you left voluntarily (i.e. were not fired), then you are a retired insurance salesman. The only real quibble you might have is that you are not ‘retired’ in the plain English sense because you are still working — just at a different job. But academic positions are often viewed as suitable places to retire to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Skookum says:

    Have missed your online inputs. Sorry this happened, but please keeping sharing your observations to the extent that it prudent. Your tweets have kept me buoyed in these times because they were honest, fair, but not mean or unkind. We must all speak truth to power right now to the extent the professional norms permit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Mister Bluster says:

    @Johnny Telephone:..Fake News…!

    Here’s some real news for you.
    Your pervert boyfriend Republican President Pork Chop Pud is a self confessed active sexual molestor of women and he apprecites your support!

    link

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  12. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Even outside the military context, I interpret “retired” to mean having given up working. I wouldn’t say that I’m a “retired defense contractor” or “retired editor;” I’d use “former” instead in both cases.

    My point isn’t that Dreyfuss defamed me in some manner with that but that, being surprised in seeing myself quoted, I took the misdescription of my status as a bit of confirming evidence that the author had cludged together the quotes from somewhere and did the same with the bio.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. de stijl says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    After reading your post I remain confused.

    1. Are you saying that you were misquoted? It looks like you finally come around to that conclusion that you were not misquoted after consideration.

    But, you say that those quotes “didn’t sound like me” you seem like you are asserting that you did not say what was quoted in the Rolling Stone article.

    2. Are you saying that you were misinformed or lied to about the nature of your input – i.e. off the record, on background, attributed, etc.? Again, you seem to indicate that this was not true.

    3. At the end of paragraph 2 it appears that you made tweets that you later withdrew because they were factually incorrect. Is that true? Is that what this about?

    It looks like in the last two sentences of your post that you acknowledge that you quoted accurately and correctly attributed as to the status of your engagement with Dreyfus.

    This will sound harsh to you. This post was dissembling.

    In reading between the lines, it looks like you are addressing some tweets you made in haste and righteous fury that you now want to be forgotten.

    Apparently, you were challenged and realized your misjudgment and deleted the tweets. Or you decided to delete those tweets for another reason. We can’t know because you don’t say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. de stijl says:

    Mr. Joyner, if you’re trying to say “I effed up” just say “I effed up.”

    You’re likely, based on your published writing, an analytical or process oriented person, so your first response is to explain and contextualize.

    It makes sense to you (and to me frankly) to explain the process that lead to the eff up, and to give it the appropriate context.

    Doesn’t matter. Wrong response. Apologize. Be contrite. Explanations look like deflection. Deflection looks like you are ducking blame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Gustopher says:

    Glad you are alive and well — I had begun to wonder if Doug was keeping you locked up in his basement.

    Sorry you seem to be going senile.

    (Remembering things is hard, particularly when they aren’t very memorable. Good job deaccusing someone and owning up to it)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. de stijl says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    Read what you wrote in reverse order.

    Your very last sentence should have been your first sentence.

    You wrote an appropriate apology, just backwards.

    Invert your post and then it doesn’t read like deflection and dissembling.

    I didn’t see your tweets, but you’ve characterized it to this:

    – I did not say that.
    – I’ve never talked with you.

    Both of which are untrue by your own words.

    Lead with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. MarkedMan says:

    James, if it’s any consolation, It sometimes amazes me how I can look at concrete proof that something happened, something I would think I would remember, and it is just… gone. And like your example, it is when that thing is “of a type” but not particularly striking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    I, too noticed your absence. I linked it to a certain Vox article where you were quoted as describing the Marine Corps as having a “toxic masculinity culture.”

    The article now has a July 12 date, but was originally published on Memorial Day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Erik says:

    @de stijl: dude, point made after post #1. Since you seem so big on editorial criticism of James, accept some yourself: piling on more words that say the same thing is not better. Make your point succinctly the first time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  20. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @John430: Wow! You really don’t pay any attention to what you read at all, do you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. de stijl says:

    @Erik:

    Point taken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. de stijl says:

    @Erik:

    I thought I was making three different points in the three comments:

    #1 What’s happening?

    # 2 You’re bollixing your apology.

    #3 You made a good apology, but in reverse order.

    I apologize for my lack of succinctness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. de stijl says:

    @Erik:

    Here’s why I have commented repeatedly on this post:

    Joyner accused Dreyfuss of fabricating his quotes.

    Dreyfuss did not fabricate quotes.

    Joyner was quoted correctly and attributed correctly. Dreyfuss acted ethically, correctly, and professionally.

    That is a big damn deal. My personal regard and affection for Joyner do not negate this.

    Joyner’s accusation is about the worst thing you can accuse a journalist with beyond plagiarism or complete fabrication of an entire story with made-up sources.

    Joyner did not apologize for his false accusation until the very last sentence of his post.

    That is not an ethical fault. He apologized. But unless you read to the very end, you would never know that.

    I have commented on this thread repeatedly because it is a serious and big issue and Joyner’s post is deficient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. John430 says:

    @Mister Bluster: As Bill Clinton appreciates yours. Dildo!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. John430 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: Neither do you, apparently. For a different take see the de stijl writers comments. After Mr. Bluster finishes with his dildo you can borrow it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Mister Bluster says:

    As Bill Clinton appreciates yours.

    So you are confirming your support for our pussy grabbing pervert in chief.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. John430 says:

    @Mister Bluster: Not necessarily. Just pointing out that your support for a sexual predator over-arches Trump’s problems. Oh…and did I mention that Mrs. Clinton is an enabler of Bill’s preying on women? BOHICA, Mr.Bluster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Mister Bluster says:

    your support for a sexual predator…

    I do not support Donald Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. James Joyner says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier: That incident was awkward but blew over quickly. It was a combination of summer travel, a busy schedule that marks the start of a new school year, and a general malaise with blogging in the current political environment.

    @de stijl: Sorry–I hadn’t checked the sites or the comments since my previous comment upthread. The front-page excerpt of this post is rather succinct: “My apologies to Bob Dreyfuss and Rolling Stone.” I’d already apologized to Dreyfuss via telephone and removed the offending tweets, for reasons explained in the OP “I’ve taken down the original tweets, to prevent them being spread further, and composed this, which will go out on Twitter as well.”

    The opening line of the post concluded, “[T]he circumstances of this post are rather embarrassing.” That strikes me as an obvious admission of a mistake. The purpose of the post was to explain what had happened. The vast majority of those reading the post would not have seen my Tweets, so I told the story in chronological order.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0