Don’t Always Believe What You Remember

There are several reasons to read this New York Times Magazine piece:

How Gary Hart’s Downfall Forever Changed American Politics

Political junkies will be interested. Journalists will enjoy a look back at a key week in their profession’s recent history. History buffs like “what ifs?” and Matt Bai’s account has them.

What’s also worth noting is how the story reminds us that we shouldn’t necessarily trust our own memories.

For instance, Hart’s famous “follow me around” quote inspired the Miami Herald‘s reporters to stake out his townhouse, right?

Wrong. Bai writes that the quote hadn’t been widely reported yet and that the Herald‘s team hadn’t heard about it when they began watching Hart. Their investigation had been prompted by a tip, not Hart’s supposed “challenge.”

How about the famous “Monkey Business” photo? It finished off Hart’s campaign, right?

Wrong. “The photo didn’t surface until nearly three weeks after Hart suspended his candidacy,” Bai reports. “It was a final indignity, to be sure, but it had nothing to do with his decision to quit.”

An NPR.org search indicates we’ve gotten details of the Hart story wrong a few times — including here (a  slight mix-up on the timing of Hart’s departure from the campaign), here (a photo caption that doesn’t quite get the chain of events right) and here (a line that makes it sound like it was the news media that caught Hart on the “Monkey Business”).

Other news outlets have had miscues as well — including here and here.

If my memory is correct, it was President Reagan who turned a Russian proverb — “trust, but verify” — into a signature phrase of American politics.

But I’m trusting my memory. I should verify as well. The Times Magazine piece is a reminder of that.

(Memmos; Sept. 19, 2014)

September 19, 2014

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