Supplemental: Do you believe this story or claim?


Lawrence O’Donnell edition:
Lawrence O’Donnell knows bouncers. For our money, he proved that last night as he discussed the recent White House break-in:
O’DONNELL (10/1/14): Susan Crabtree, what I’m hearing about this is a Washington reaction. This is a pure Washington reaction where you get the resignation or you fire the boss of the agency.

The failures, the people who individually failed in their jobs on the patrol of the front of the White House there, they’re not supposed to be examined in any way at this stage. We’re supposed to just assume that there’s something, you know, complicated about that that we might not understand.

The agent sitting at the front door gets overwhelmed? That agent clearly is incapable of doing that job.

Come to New York City. Take a look at the bouncers they have out in front of the nightclubs, OK? Try to get by one of them, OK? It isn’t possible. But you can run right over a Secret Service officer sitting at the front door of the White House and Washington says, “Oh, we must not judge that.”
Has someone or something called “Washington” said, “Oh, we must not judge that?”

The claim seems unlikely to us. That said, we do take Lawrence’s point about bouncers.

Recently, O’Donnell did a segment on his show which involved a claim we found a bit hard to believe. The claim was part of a larger portrait we find very hard to believe.

The segment was a tribute to the insightful admissions officer who admitted O’Donnell to Harvard. Below, you see was the start of O’Donnell’s tribute to the late Chase Peterson, the first Mormon he ever knew.

To watch the whole segment, click this:
O’DONNELL (9/15/14): The first Harvard graduate I ever met was Chase Peterson, who as it happens was also the first Mormon I ever met. In fact, he was one of the very first non-Catholics that I ever met. I grew up in an entirely Catholic neighborhood of Boston, where the word “Harvard” was mentioned only as the final stop at the end of the subway.

Chase Peterson changed that for me...
Already, we were puzzled. Is it really possible that Peterson “was one of the very first non-Catholics” O’Donnell ever met?

We don’t know the answer to that, though we find that claim a bit implausible. As O’Donnell continued, we were struck by the larger portrait he drew of his feral youth:
O’DONNELL (continuing directly): Chase Peterson changed that for me. He was the Dean of admissions of Harvard College when I was a senior in high school and he conducted my admissions interview and decided to admit me.

Most of the good things that have happened to me in some way trace back to Harvard, which opened opportunities that no one else in my family or neighborhood ever had. I’ve never forgotten that I have Chase Peterson to thank for that. And I’m not the only one.

Since pretty much everyone on the Harvard faculty has a Ph.D., only the medical doctors are called doctors. And Dr. Chase Peterson was not just a graduate of Harvard College, he was a graduate of Harvard Medical School. He became the dean of admissions of Harvard College in 1967, and he immediately hired Harvard’s first African-American admissions staff member, John S. Harwell.

Chase Peterson made it the business then of the Harvard admissions committee to reach out to minority communities where admission to Harvard was as unheard of as it was in my neighborhood. And he offered a surprisingly warm welcome to highly talented students who otherwise would not have applied to Harvard.


Yesterday in Salt Lake City, Chase Peterson died at the age of 84. I’m returning to Harvard this weekend for my class reunion, a class admitted by Chase Peterson. He will be remembered by us all as a man of dignity, grace, and wisdom steeped in high academic achievement and unerring modesty. We will talk about him with affection and gratitude, and in my case, with awe.
Did O’Donnell just describe himself as a “highly talented student who otherwise would not have applied to Harvard?” We’re not sure, but we’ve long been puzzled by the way O’Donnell portrays his youth.

Here’s why:

O’Donnell was not raised by wolves. According to standard profiles, his father was a very impressive, self-made man who rose from working-class origins in the Depression.

But he was already a lawyer by the time O’Donnell was born in 1951. It sounds like he had become a fairly well-known lawyer in Boston as of 1956.

O’Donnell often talks about growing up in the Boston neighborhood called Dorchester. In the 1950s, it was largely or wholly Irish-American. (Our aunt Claire lived there, with two of our cousins.) But according to the Boston Globe, “As [O’Donnell Senior’s] law practice prospered, the family moved to Quincy and bought a second home in Falmouth, in the early 1960s.”

Quincy is a Boston suburb. Just to give you a rough idea, Lee Remick grew up in Quincy, before moving on to Barnard and the Actors Studio.

Falmouth is on Cape Cod. The second home there would have been a summer home, as some profiles explicitly note.

As for O’Donnell himself, he graduated from Saint Sebastian's School, “an independent, all-boys Catholic secondary school located in Needham, Massachusetts on 26 acres.” At the time, Needham was a fairly upscale western suburb of Boston. Peterson didn’t have to risk his life to interview O’Donnell there.

Did Harvard “open opportunities [for O’Donnell] that no one else in my family or neighborhood ever had?” We’ll assume that those claims could be technically accurate. In Washington and Hollywood, O’Donnell has had opportunities that very few people anywhere ever have.

But just for the record, O’Donnell is the youngest of five siblings. All the other siblings are lawyers, as was their admirable father. He may have been the first to go to Harvard. But his older cousin, the late and widely-esteemed Kirk O’Donnell, had already graduated from Brown by the time O’Donnell emerged from the offal-strewn den where he was being nursed by hyenas preparatory to going off to get himself salvaged in Cambridge.

Just a guess: Plenty of people from Quincy and Falmouth showed up at Harvard before him. We’d have to guess that Saint Sebastian’s sent lots of people to college too.

It’s nice to see Lawrence say something nice about a Mormon for once. That said, do you believe that other claim? Do you believe that Peterson was “one of the very first non-Catholics” O’Donnell ever met?

To us, that sounds highly implausible. But the portrait of his feral youth seems especially strange.

For a remembrance of O'Donnell’s admirable mother, you should just click this.

Is this a version of Russertism? Nothing really turns on this sort of thing, of course. But it seems to us that we’re hearing a lot of stories and claims from journalists which seem implausible on their face.

Everybody loves a good tale. Shouldn’t we leave them to novelists?


  1. I think Larry's basic (only?) point may be fairly sound. The TV News culture forces us to "Fire the Person at the Top" rush to judgement (except when we don't) and the actual person who was supposed to be guarding the door escapes our attention. Maybe they are dealt with appropriately or maybe not, but by then we have forgotten about the whole thing. We might ask, "what does Larry want, to see some lower case person humiliated?"

    As to the rest, you Irish Catholics sort it out for yourselves....

    1. You can't seriously suggest that the public should micromanage how lower level employees are disciplined? The person at the top is fired or resigns because it was their responsibility to ensure the bottom level people were properly trained and did their jobs well. It doesn't matter why the failure might occur. There are some jobs where there is zero tolerance for incompetence and the top guy pays the price for failure.


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    Lawrence Jr is a stinky poophead.

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    2. You propose a scale consisting of two things nearly equal, a scale from 1 to 2. You can't give a 3.5.

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