Epstein: How Talking to a Political Reporter Gave Me a Black Eye

How Talking to a Political Reporter Gave Me a Black Eye
Richard A. Epstein
Ricochet.com
September 13, 2012

The current political campaign is, as I have learned to my deep regret, a dangerous place in which to speak about past events. In this instance, an article by Charles Johnson in the Daily Caller on September 12 attributed to me factual errors that I did not make, and could not have made – namely, that Barack Obama had never taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, which he did regularly, and further that I was a former Law School dean, when I had only served as a interim dean from February to June in 2001. 

Since that time I have received an apology from both Mr. Johnson and Mr. David Martosko, the Executive Editor of the Daily Caller. Mr. Johnson stated that he had become confused about the issue and acknowledged that the statement was false, and that he was sorry that it had made it into the announcement, and that steps have been taken to publish a correction on this matter.

 It is important to note, however, that the  damage from these initial false statements is not easily undone, as stories like this travel all too quickly. I think that it is important to make therefore a fuller statement of the situation.  The sole purpose of my remarks was to confirm the point that Jody Kantor in the New York Times was in error when she wrote that Mr. Obama had received a tenure-track offer in 2000, prior to my time as interim dean.  I had mentioned to her then that I thought the story was a mistake, and thought that I was just repeating old news.

On this occasion I want to reiterate that nothing that I said then or now was meant to criticize anything that President Obama said or did in 2008 or at any time thereafter.  His position is beyond reproach.  At the time that Mr. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, he held the title of senior lecturer, which is in fact the University of Chicago title that typically is sparingly granted to former professors, like myself, who continue to teach and work at the University of Chicago on a part time basis.

I am pleased that both Mr. Johnson and the Daily Caller have issued a correction on that matter, but was disappointed that the current account of this story lists me as a former interim dean, when nothing I said reflected anything that I did in the four months that I held that position, which had happened a year earlier. I hope that this matter will be put to rest.  I want to make it clear that whatever my policy differences with the President, I regard these false statements about his record as a serious professional journalistic breach.  I also offer my own deep and unconditional apologies to everyone who was hurt in this episode—to the President, and to the University of Chicago Law School, and anyone else who rightly took offense at the false statements and misimpressions of the Daily Caller article.

Faculty: 
Richard A. Epstein