The quote was so explosive that Susan Estrich couldn't resist using it in her syndicated column.
The topic: "Is there anything Mitt Romney won't say or do to try to win the Republican nomination?"
Picking up on a zinger that John McCain had delivered to his presidential rival, Estrich, who managed Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign, found a retort online from the Romney camp. She wrote:
"Besides, who is McCain to talk? 'Why don't you go cry about torture some more, old man,' Romney's spokesman is quoted as saying in response. 'When we're in charge, we're going to nonlethally stress the hell out of you in Gitmo #15.'" 'Old man'? " she wrote. "Ouch. Accusing a man who spent years in a North Vietnam prison of 'cry[ing]about torture' and threatening to 'stress the hell' out of him?"
When the column was sent out, an editor at Michigan's Lansing State Journal, Derek Melot, thought the quote was so outrageous that he wondered why he hadn't heard it before. After an online search, he found that it had come from the satirical Web site Wonkette -- and was completely invented. Creators Syndicate, which handles Estrich's column, quickly sent out a "mandatory correction," and the gaffe apparently never got into print.
Estrich, who teaches law at the University of Southern California, says she thought of attributing the quote to Wonkette but figured many readers would be unfamiliar with the site. She says she used the formulation "is quoted as saying" because "I worry about this all the time when I rely on secondary sources. . . .
"I guess I shouldn't consider Wonkette to be 'reporting,' but that's the problem in our brave new world. Where I come from, there's a problem with making up quotes and attributing them to campaign spokesmen, but I guess that's very old-fashioned of me."
Double-checking material from humor sites is also an old-fashioned virtue...