Ben Smith at Politico, please define "targeted"

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Smith wrote that the alleged Holocaust Museum killer, James von Brunn, "targeted" the conservative Weekly Standard for attack, and that that complicates the debate about the alleged gunman's politics. But I don't see any facts to back up Smith's definitive claim.

Under the provocative headline, "Weekly Standard may have been shooter target," Smith wrote:

FBI agents visited the offices of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine yesterday after a shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and told employees they'd found the magazine's address

A senior Standard staffer confirmed the visit but declined to discuss it in detail. An FBI spokeswoman, Katherine Schweit , also declined to comment on the investigation.

Two other sources said two FBI agents arrived shortly after 5:00 p.m. Thursday at the 17th Street offices of the magazine. They told staffers that they had found the address of the magazine on a piece of paper associated with the shooter, James von Brunn, and asked whether the Standard had received any threats.

The magazine is about a mile north of the Holocaust Museum, and there's no other indication that von Brunn had targeted it. Von Brunn's published rants included attacks on "neocons," and the Standard has been at the heart of the neoconservative movement.

Interesting. Investigators found the Weekly Standard address in von Brunn's car. (They also found lots of others.) Investigators went to the office to ask if the magazine had received any threats. And from that rather ordinary follow-up, Smith concludes the magazine may have been a target.

That's his call, even though Smith couldn't find any investigators or Weekly staffers to buttress the claim.

The real problem though, came when Smith later returned the topic and suddenly all qualifiers were gone and it was reported as established fact. Suddenly von Brunn had categorically "targeted" the Weekly Standard for attack, even though Smith added no new facts to support the claim:

I'd suggested earlier that James Van Brunn defies easy left-right classification because he'd targeted the Weekly Standard, and Jon Chait makes the fair point that the fact that the new information doesn't mean the shooter is incoherent or doesn't fit into the extreme edge of the Buchananite right.

Of course, it's possible that von Brunn had other targets and one of them may have included the Weekly Standard. But for such a serious claim, Smith and Politico are being awfully casual with the facts.

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