Monday, April 09, 2018

A person familiar with Mr. Bolton's thinking has a large bushy mustache

The parenthetical at the end of this recounted exchange is really odd:
Mr. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, found Mr. Bolton’s militarism troubling. At one point, Mr. Wilkerson said he warned Mr. Bolton that war with North Korea could result in 100,000 casualties within 30 days, many of them American.

“I don’t do war,” he recalled Mr. Bolton replying. “That’s what you guys do.”

“Oh, you just advocate war?” Mr. Wilkerson said he responded.

“Damn straight,” Mr. Bolton said by this account.

(A person familiar with Mr. Bolton’s thinking said he does not recall the exchange.)
So someone (probably Wilkerson) told the NYT reporter a story about an exchange between Wilkerson and Bolton. Presumably the reporter felt that he should try to verify the accuracy of the story with Bolton, but instead of talking directly with Bolton, he used "a person familiar with Mr. Bolton's thinking." But unless the "person familiar with Bolton's thinking" witnessed the conversation, why would anyone expect that person to recall the exchange? The extent that someone is familiar with the workings of Bolton's mind isn't relevant to whether that person is able to say whether a conversation happened.

I could be an expert on Bolton's thinking, but if I'm not in the room when he spoke to Wilkerson, of course I wouldn't recall the exchange. Similarly, if I had zero understanding of Bolton's thought process but was in the room when Wilkerson and Bolton spoke, I could probably recall when each person said enough to verify if Wilkerson's account was accurate.

The only thing that would make this parenthetical make sense is if the "person familiar with Mr. Bolton's thinking" is Bolton himself. I'm guessing Bolton agreed to speak with the Times, but only on the condition that he was not quoted in the article and the reporter did not acknowledge that he spoke to Bolton. Maybe they agreed that stuff Bolton told the reporter could only be reported as coming from someone "familiar with Bolton's thinking." Except using that attribution in this context all but tips the reporters hand.