Bench Memos

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The Ethics of Opposition


David Frum has the creation of two websites opposed to the Harriet Miers nomination: his own group’s, to which his petition has migrated; and the website Jonathan Adler noted yesterday,

I am glad to see that David and his colleagues put their names right on the homepage of their site. But who owns and operates the WithrawMiers website? If you go there and click on every link available, no one’s name appears. So who’s involved here?

Press accounts differ. The New York Times today, at the end of its story on President Bush’s invocation of executive privilege regarding Miers’s advice to him as White House counsel, mentions the two websites, attributing one of them to Frum and the other to a “coalition led by a conservative Roman Catholic group,” identified shortly thereafter as Fidelis. Okay, so maybe Fidelis owns the website?

Not so fast. The Washington Post reports today that WithdrawMiers is the work of a “coalition of conservative groups that includes the Eagle Forum, the Center for a Just Society and ConservativeHQ.” Elsewhere in the story, Fidelis is mentioned as opposed to Miers, but with no indication whether it is involved in the website effort. So the site belongs to the Eagle Forum, or to a coalition it leads? And is Fidelis even involved?

The Washington Times seems to think so, reporting today that the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly was joined yesterday by “Richard Viguerie and other, lesser-known leaders on the pro-family right” in creating the coalition responsible for the WithdrawMiers site. Further down in the story, Fidelis is mentioned as apparently a part of the effort, though that is never perfectly plain in the report.

The two D.C. papers are basically in accord on the facts, with different emphases, while the New York Times is the outlier among the three. Maybe all we have here is an instance of the Times’s instinctive animus toward conservative Catholics, which led it to characterize Fidelis as the ringleader of the opposition to Miers.

But I have a different complaint. Why can’t people who are responsible for a highly visible public effort to defeat a Supreme Court nomination just put their danged names on their own website? Otherwise, the rest of us are reduced to rehashing the famous line of Butch and Sundance: “Who are these guys?”

Yes, I know that identities are less important than arguments. That was partly what prompted polemicists two centuries ago to choose pseudonyms like “Publius” rather than sign their names to their newspaper essays. But whether it’s Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, or Paul Cella of Fidelis, or whoever, the folks behind WithdrawMiers clearly aren’t interested in concealing their identities. But they’ve got the press running different stories about who’s doing what, so the least they could do is revise their own website and clear this all up for us.


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