December 28, 2002

FOOLED! Bill Keller falls for the bogus “Eli Lilly Bandit” story in today’s New York Times.

In the twilight of the Congressional session, some legislator anonymously arranged for a provision to be slipped into the Homeland Security bill protecting vaccine makers (mainly Eli Lilly) from lawsuits filed by the parents of autistic children. Hundreds of parents are pressing a claim that the mercury in a measles vaccine contributed to their children’s disorder. For all I know, the suit may be baseless, but surely that’s for a court to decide. This is a glaring example of legislative malfeasance. And strong evidence points to Dr. Frist as its author. He is cozy with Lilly and he drafted identical legislative language earlier. But he refuses to own up to it.

Penance, anyone?

Maybe Frist refuses to own up to it because, you know, Keller is wrong. Sorry, but there’s no mystery here — except maybe one manufactured by interest groups to fool the gullible. As I reported here, Dick Armey admits it was him. (This was no great scoop on my part, since Armey admitted it live on CNN! “ARMEY: I put it in.”) And — in the process of trying to weasel out of paying the promised reward — TomPaine.Com, the spreader-in-chief of the “Eli Lilly Bandit” story, seems to have accepted that it was Armey too.

So why is Bill Keller repeating this already-exploded story of a “mystery?” Worse yet, despite Armey’s public statement, now several weeks old, Keller suggests that the “anonymous” legislator was Bill Frist. If Keller knew that Armey had admitted this, surely his comments would reflect Armey’s admission — it’s quite different to say “Dick Armey admits it, but I don’t believe him” than to say what Keller says above. Since Keller makes no mention of it, I can only conclude that he somehow missed out on the story.

Obviously, he doesn’t read enough blogs. Or, at least, enough InstaPundit!

What penance will Keller offer? I’d say an apology in his next column would be sufficient. And, perhaps, a promise to do better in the future, by diligently reading more weblogs. . . .

UPDATE: Eleanor Clift falls for it, too:

The liberal Web site offered a $10,000 reward for “the Eli Lilly bandit.”

The Lott imbroglio diverted attention from the mystery, but not for long. As reporters delved into the legislative background of the man who would replace Lott, the trail led to none other than Frist as the anonymous author. In retrospect, Frist should have been easy to finger. He had written similar language and tried to attach it to legislation once before, and he had praised the provision’s intent in congressional debate.

Once again, no mention whatsoever of Dick Armey’s statement. Why is it that when another guy confesses, it gets the Central Park Five off the hook, but here nobody’s paying attention? And lame efforts to claim that the “real question” isn’t what TomPaine said it was at first, but what TomPaine says it is now, just illustrate what’s going on here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Tom Healey writes:

In another paragraph, she cites’s reward, but not does not mention that the site seems to have accepted that Rep. Armey was the bandit.

It’s surprising that Clift accuses Frist so flatly. Based on the limited information she provides about Frist’s history on the issue, he has been open about his support for the provision in the past. Why would that make him more likely to be anonymous about it now?

Also, is the very similar ending to Bill Keller’s NYT column today a coincidence or more evidence that many of the big paper columnists read the same messages from the same e-flacks, consistent with Mickey Kaus’s theory about Sidney Blumenthal and Lott’s Thurmond speech?

Finally, Keller admits to knowing nothing about whether the rider was a good idea, but being concerned that this was an improper way to legislate. And although she says it was a ‘blatant’ payback from Frist to Lilly, Clift doesn’t talk about the merits of the rider either. Somehow I doubt that either of them has ever hounded Democrats for anonymous riders based simply on ‘open government’ principles.

Yes, and — as I said earlier — this whole thing seems bogus to me. It’s a demand to uncover a “secret” that was revealed on CNN, about a (common) legislative maneuver that was designed to protect a company from being groundlessly sued for doing something that, as far as I can tell, wasn’t wrong.

UPDATE: It’s looking even more bogus with further research.