On Typos, Mistakes and Egregious Errors
Today there will be no biblical commentary, at least not one in any depth, the first time I have missed writing one in a long time. That is because I need to apologize for an egregious error in yesterday’s blog which three readers brought to my attention. I wrote Daryl Duke instead of David Duke. The version posted on WordPress has now been corrected..
David Duke is an anti-Semitic white nationalist, Holocaust denier, former imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and one of the foremost conspiracy theorists in the United States. The late Daryl Duke was a personal friend of one of my readers and a well known Canadian film and TV director. I knew of him first as the producer of “This Hour Has Seven Days.” Others may know him as the director of The Thorn Birds. Next week, my youngest son is coming out with his first major music video for a group on its way to world-wide fame; Darryl Duke was a pioneer making prototype music videos for Bob Dylan.
The error is egregious because I cannot claim ignorance as Donald Trump was prone to do when asked why he did not denounce the support he was receiving in his campaign from David Duke by replying so insincerely, “Who is David Duke. I don’t even know the man,” when the issue was not whether he knew him but whether he knew of him and knew about the widely-reported endorsement David Duke had given him. When David Duke’s views were brought unequivocally to Donald’s attention, for a considerable time he continued to fail to reject the endorsement and denounce the views of David Duke.
When he finally did so, it was clearly reluctantly in the tone, “So I denounce his support. There! Are you happy?” For example, back in 1991 when Donald Trump was asked by Larry King on CNN whether the fact that 55% of whites in Louisiana voted for Duke bothered him, Donald Trump replied: “I hate seeing what it represents, but I guess it just shows there’s a lot of hostility in this country. There’s a tremendous amount of hostility in the United States.” King, perhaps aghast at the answer, queried, “Anger?” Trump responded, “It’s anger. I mean, that’s an anger vote. People are angry about what’s happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they’re really in deep trouble. When you talk about the East Coast, it’s not the East Coast. It’s the East Coast, the middle coast, the West Coast…”
Trump did not deny that he knew who David Duke was at the time. However, he pivoted in the same way he has thousands of times in his campaign for the Republican leadership, for the presidency and as President of the United States. Sure, that behaviour is deplorable. But look what’s behind David Duke’s remarks – the loss of jobs and anger and resentment by whites and especially the white working class. The pivot is away from David Duke and his racism to explaining and excusing that racism.
In 2000, when Donald Trump was asked whether he would accept the nomination of the Reform Party, he said he would reject the nomination because David Duke had joined the party. Duke was a bigot and a racist and he would not want to be in the same party with David Duke. But in 2015 when asked by John Heilemann from Bloomberg whether he would repudiate David Duke’s endorsement, Trump replied, “Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I don’t know anything about him. Somebody told me yesterday, whoever he is, he did endorse me. Actually, I don’t think it was an endorsement. He said I was absolutely the best of all of the candidates.”
One has to be appalled at Donald Trump’s blatant lie – “I don’t know anything about him.” And then he turned the query totally around to himself. “I do not know him but he did say I was the best candidate.” In follow up interviews when journalists repeatedly asked about David Duke’s endorsement, Trump would repeat the same claim of ignorance when ignorance was no longer possible as a defence. “I don’t know anything about David Duke. Okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.” The man who claimed he knew more than all the American generals, knew more than the untrustworthy intelligence services of the United States, claimed ignorance about a matter which can be proven he knew about.
Sometimes Donald Trump pleads ignorance when a plea of ignorance is indefensible. “I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.” “I don’t know any — honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”
Unlike Donald, who persistently refuses to acknowledge and perhaps acknowledge errors and inconsistencies in what he says, I acknowledge my error in writing Daryl instead of David Duke. It was an appalling, even abominable error, both because Daryl Duke stood for values absolutely opposed to those of David Duke, but also because, in the current context, it is all the more incumbent to be both accurate and to not only acknowledge errors, but also to try to understand why the error was made. Was I being just sloppy? Not really an excuse. Was I being rushed and getting behind so that I was not sending my drafts to Alex Zisman to proofread before the blog is sent out. I think this is the case and I will revert to that practice, though not with this blog because of the urgency of making the correction.
But acts of contrition and efforts at correction are insufficient. It is still important to discover whether the error was, for example, a Freudian slip revealing a hidden animosity. Last night, actually early this morning, since I went to an excellent poetry reading last evening and did not get home until it was quite late, I could not sleep – rare for me. I could not extinguish the error from my mind. So I watched an old 2007 movie, Rendition, directed by Gavin Hood with an outstanding cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard. Omar Metwally played Anwar El-Ibrahimi, the Chicago engineer born in Egypt who came to America with his family at the age of 14 and became an assimilated American. As an adult professional with a wife and son and second child on the way, he was arrested upon his return from Egypt and sent back by the CIA to be tortured in Egypt because of suspicion that he had been involved with an Arab terrorist organization. The plot was based on what happened to Khalid El-Masri, a German/Lebanese citizen abducted in error by the Macedonian police rather than the CIA, but who was received by the CIA and flown to Afghanistan rather than Egypt to be imprisoned in a black site where he was interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, and subjected to inhumane and degrading torture of various varieties, including waterboarding. They were all on display in the movie.
The film is built around a number of moral tensions, primarily the tension between the CIA agent in charge of the case and overseeing the process of torture without being permitted to participate. He gradually becomes convinced of Ibrahim’s innocence and the uselessness of “torture.” But he is also sensitive to the pleas about both his professional responsibilities as well as the possibility that the torture might produce information that could save countless lives in a future terrorist act.
Truth and moral conduct are intimately linked. Is Ibrahim innocent or is he dissembling? If Ibrahim is part of a terrorist network selling chemical information that helps make explosives more powerful, then is the use of torture justified? Or is its use both morally and legally reprehensible. Now my error did not come anywhere proximate to that one, but it was an error. I not only confess it and correct the text, but also try to root out its source if there was one. And I will set procedures in motion to make such errors less likely in the future.
The Torah portion for today – Ki Tisa is about atonement for sins. Exodus 30:10 reads: “And Aaron shall make atonement upon the horns of it once in the year; with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement once in the year shall he make atonement for it throughout your generations; it is most holy unto the LORD.” This is immediately followed by the obligation to make a census of every individual among the Israelites, “then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. What is the relationship between the sin, atoning for that sin, a census of every individual and the prevention of a plague?
I do not believe this text is complicated. Every individual shall be treated as an individual with a soul. A sin against an individual is a sin against God for the Lord is visible in the face of every individual. Torture of that soul is torture of God. And when one deliberately hurts another to extract a truth, it is never worth it even if accurate information is extracted. The reason is not only the question of whether the information is unreliable and whether it was given up just to escape the torture whether true or not, but because the effort to extract the truth by coercion leads to a plague of dishonesty and a plague of hatred and a plague of terrorism.
Donald Trump is a serial liar. The President tweeted two weeks ago that he had just learned that Barack Obama as President had secretly wiretapped Trump Tower where he lived and where he had his campaign headquarters. “Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” This is but one of many tweets that made similar accusations. But since then, he and his apologists have tried to insist that he did not mean Barack Obama personally, but the Obama administration, that he did not mean wiretapping specifically but surveillance in general, and then yesterday both Spicer and he cited news sources to justify his claim when not one of the reliable ones did.
“Not that I respect The New York Times. I call it the failing New York Times. But they did write on January 20 using the word wiretap.” The story had nothing to do with Obama ordering wiretaps on Trump Tower. The heads of the Intelligence Committees in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, Republican and Democrat, said there was no evidence to back up such a claim. Former heads of intelligence at the time and the current head of the FBI currently said there is no such evidence.
But Donald Trump and his apologists says that no evidence does not mean absolutely no evidence or that evidence might not be uncovered in the future. Further, Trump diverts with a tease – information will emerge in the next two weeks. When he offered the same tease about his accusations that Obama was born in Kenya, he never followed through with either any evidence or even any effort to gather such evidence.
If we lie deliberately, if we commit a falsehood even in error (I am not discussing “white lies”), it is important to correct them and in someway express atonement. The lie or error may be small, but the consequences are serious. For lies set off a plague of lying, of dissembling, of cover-ups, of distractions, of further fabrications, all of which corrupt the social space in which every one of us lives. My error may have been relatively very minor compared to Trump’s outlandish lies one after the other, but any lie or error of this kind must be corrected. Apologies must be issued. Correction in habits must be introduced. And some type of atonement must be offered.
There is a real connection between lying and the plague of antisemitism, for antisemitism is founded on a foundation of outright lies.
With the help of Alex Zisman