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Chaos in Congress and Around the World
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Chaos in Congress and Around the World

Another week of dysfunction at home and war abroad.

Rep. Jim Jordan holds a news conference on Capitol Hill on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Hello. While I was on the couch Friday evening taking a little break from writing this newsletter, I saw a Threads post from a friend and former colleague. “Remember shame?” he asked. “Shame used to be a thing. I miss shame.” He was talking about Sidney Powell, the lawyer who aided Donald Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election and who pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges in Georgia stemming from those efforts. But I realized that shame—or a lack of it—is a through line connecting the other stories that made headlines this week.

Let’s start with the House of Representatives, which still has no speaker nearly three weeks after Matt Gaetz first introduced a motion to vacate, leading to the ouster of Kevin McCarthy. House Freedom Caucus founder Rep. Jim Jordan spent the week trying to earn the speakership, but lost three straight votes on the House floor, bleeding a few more supporters each time. Finally, the House Republican Conference voted 112-86 by secret ballot to remove him as nominee. Given that he angered supporters of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise during the jockeying for the nomination, annoyed pragmatic conservatives by dragging out the process, and had long alienated defense hawks by opposing aid to Ukraine, it’s hard to see how he ever thought he had a chance. Yet instead of displaying some humility and acknowledging he couldn’t win, he doubled and tripled down, keeping Congress from functioning while crucial matters wait. The clock is ticking to pass a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown, and there is the small matter of aid to Israel.

Speaking of which: The biggest development of the week regarding Israel’s war with Hamas came on Tuesday, and the relevant aspect here is a story about the story. News outlets, including the New York Times, reported that an Israeli airstrike hit a hospital in Gaza City, killing hundreds. Their source? “Palestinian authorities.” Wait, what? As you probably know by now, that reporting was … ill-advised. The Israel Defense Forces quickly pushed back, saying an airstrike wasn’t responsible for the explosion at the hospital. And video from multiple sources—the Associated Press reviewed a dozen from “news broadcasts, security cameras and social media posts”—appears to show a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel. One veers off and seems to break apart, seconds before there is an explosion on the ground. “The AP was able to confirm that the larger explosion seen at 6:59 p.m. was in the precise direction of the hospital.” On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced that U.S. intelligence had come to a similar conclusion, that the explosion was not caused by Israel. 

But the damage had been done. Jordan’s King Abdullah II canceled a planned summit with Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Protesters stormed U.S. and Israeli embassies and consulates. Pro-Palestinian Rep. Rashida Tlaib still maintains that the explosion was an airstrike. We posted two important critiques of the Times’ coverage, a big-picture look by Kevin and a tick-tock of the Timesever-changing headlines and captions by Jeryl Bier. But as a member of the last generation of journalists to go through college and start our careers before the internet was really a thing, I can’t not weigh in.

One of the first things I learned in my first journalism class in college was the adage that it’s better to be right than to be first. There is a way to responsibly cover breaking news events where facts are uncertain and new details are always emerging: You use caution, you use language that acknowledges the uncertainty, and you warn that conflicting information may emerge. One thing you don’t do is use definitive language based on untrustworthy sources—especially in the middle of a war between two parties who share decades of acrimony. There are a lot of headlines that the New York Times could have written besides “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.”

What struck me in the days that followed, though, was the lack of a public acknowledgement of the error by the New York Times. The paper no longer has an ombudsman or public editor—a kind of in-house watchdog who addresses reader complaints and reports on how the paper is handling controversies like this. Now, I might have missed something, but there is no reference to any of the hospital bombing coverage in the NYT’s most recent corrections roundup, and its corrections policy notes that, “During breaking news, there are times when incorrect information is part of the story and does not require a correction: A death toll may be reduced, the number of suspects may change or officials may correct an earlier statement.” That might be fine when the issue at hand is whether a criminal suspect was seen driving a blue Toyota or a silver Honda, but it doesn’t really suffice when you’re accusing a military of killing hundreds of civilians. 

The one acknowledgement I did see in the NYT was a reported story by a media industry reporter that looks at the broader coverage of the story from both the NYT and other outlets. It’s remarkably self-serving for a reported piece and includes this sentence: “The coverage of this week’s hospital blast generally represented what had been said about the explosion at the time of publication.” To borrow a phrase from Jonah, that’s an explanation, not an excuse. A journalist’s job is not merely to report “what had been said,” but to find out whether what had been said is true. 

Thank you for reading, and have a good weekend.

If you were concerned that the far right, with its affinity for insurrection and talk of secession, had a monopoly on extremism, well, I’ve got news for you. The war in Israel has shined a light on the radical left, and that light has revealed a lot of ugliness—especially on college campuses. Student groups have held rallies condemning Israel, and administrations have been slow to issue statements condemning the terror attacks. And as Jonah writes in the Friday G-File, they have responded to criticism by rediscovering their affinity for “free speech” after years of touting the idea that speech is violence. “So after decades of chipping away at traditional understandings of free speech, academic freedom, and other ‘core values,’ a lot of these higher ed apparatchiks are retreating like cockroaches frightened by the kitchen light back to those very ideas in order to defend people who are celebrating paragliding rapists and murderers and their broader agenda,” he writes. “Suddenly the people who’ve spent years saying that ‘offensive’ ideas are ‘violence,’ are taking offense at a backlash against many of the same people when they endorse actual violence.” 

We published this piece by Michael Warren on Thursday, in the middle of Jim Jordan’s speakership misadventures, but it holds up even now that Jordan’s bid has failed. Jordan’s supporters eschewed persuasion when trying to whip votes for him, instead playing hardball. And not just his supporters in Congress—Fox News’ Sean Hannity also used his platform to pressure holdouts to support Jordan. It’s a tactic that has worked in the past for Donald Trump, but failed with mainstream Republicans this time—despite (or maybe because of) threats of violence against members and their families. “Jordan’s failure to secure the speakership … demonstrates the limits of fear-based Trumpian tactics—and the remaining value of the sort of old-fashioned personal politics that still drive much of the actual legislative work of Congress,” Michael writes. Elsewhere, Nick also weighed in on the Trumpian tactics in Boiling Frogs (🔒), highlighting that “the GOP truly is two parties now.”

The Israel-Hamas war presents a challenge for President Biden, given the very vocal anti-Israel contingent within his own party and on the American left in general. But as Charlotte reports, “So far, the Biden administration has had little patience for the anti-Israel sentiment emanating from its own party.” Biden visited Israel Wednesday, and, as mentioned above, told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. had concluded that the hospital bombing had been caused by the Palestinians. And he announced plans for an aid package and to continue supplying Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense system.

Now, here’s the best of the rest.

  • Patrick Brown uses his review of Melissa Kearney’s The Two-Parent Privilege  to look at the decline of marriage and what it means for society. He notes applying governmental policy to such an inherently personal decision presents a challenge, “but making marriage more economically viable and socially vital requires treating marriage as a political problem and thinking about what purpose it ultimately serves.”
  • A lot of recent GOP primary talk has focused on Nikki Haley’s increasing support and Ron DeSantis’ decline. But David Drucker reports that DeSantis has quietly been piling up endorsements—including in the key state of Iowa.
  • We’ve seen the dangers of Christian nationalism the last few years, and The Dispatch has published more than a few admonitions against it. But … what about Jewish nationalism? Do history and current sentiment warrant a carveout for Israel? Paul D. Miller considers this thorny question. 
  • In Capitolism (🔒) Scott Lincicome offers up three cheers for globalization, responding to critiques from protectionists that open markets create a “race to the bottom” as allegedly greedy corporations seek out locations that allow them to drive down labor costs and skirt expensive regulations.
  • The pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, our senior producer Adaam James Levin-Areddy interviews an Israeli woman whose sister remains missing after the Nova Music Festival where hundreds of concertgoers were murdered by Hamas terrorists. On Advisory Opinions, David French and Sarah recorded before a live—and lively—audience of law students at the University of Virginia. Check it out. And on The Remnant, Jonah welcomes Yascha Mounk to discuss his new book, The Identity Trap. They talk about the rise of woke ideology and how it’s leading progressives astray despite good intentions.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.