I'm Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: An independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter. Today's edition is a free preview of a Friday edition. To unlock the full piece and get Friday editions, Sunday editions, and ad-free newsletters, join the Tangle community here.

Today's read: 11 minutes.

Nobody enjoys being wrong. But at the very least, I can honestly say that I find it pretty exciting to realize I screwed up.

Over the years, I've learned to embrace the times I've been wrong in my public writing, viewing them as opportunities to get better and learn about my own weaknesses or blindspots. A big reason why I've gotten better at looking critically at my own work — and better at openly admitting when I'm off base — is that audiences (like you) have shown that you genuinely value transparency and honesty a lot more than you do someone who always tries to prove they are right.

Being wrong in Tangle can come in a few different forms, and they each have their appropriate level of response: If we make a factual error in the newsletter, we issue a prominent correction at the top of our next daily newsletter and podcast. When I take a firm editorial stance, I'm not factually "wrong" if I rethink my position. But I will write about why I changed my mind. Other times, I’ll preemptively share the best arguments that I could be wrong, especially if I’m a bit unsure about my own position. 

Today is different from all of those. Today, I'm going to talk about three examples of times when I made a bad call in “My take.” This piece doesn’t contain factual corrections, it's not about me changing my position on a policy issue, and it's not about sharing good arguments against my own point of view that I don't yet subscribe to (even if I might in the future).

Today is about looking back on three pieces of writing I published in Tangle — all from the last few months — and thinking, "Wow, I missed that one." And then, to balance it out, I’m going to add one story we got a big update on that I was very right about. 

The Samuel Alito story

Two weeks ago, we covered the controversy around the upside-down flag that was hanging outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in January 2021. In "My take" on the story, I put a lot of blame on the Alitos, doubting that they were unaware of the flag’s association with Donald Trump and the Stop the Steal movement and generally blaming the Supreme Court justice for allowing such a controversy to further harm the court's reputation.

Since then, though, we've gotten more information about the story, prompting me to stress test my own viewpoint. Upon reflection, I think I was basically wrong about everything.

What I got wrong

This passage was the core part of "My take" that laid out the thought process that brought me to my conclusion:

"I also sincerely doubt that one or both of the Alitos did not know the upside-down flag's symbolism at that time. They are both ensconced in the conservative movement, and the upside-down flag was very closely associated with the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement for Donald Trump in 2020. I just find it implausible that they were trying to send a different message and were caught in an innocent misunderstanding (and, of course, the Alitos have never even suggested that — it's an excuse their defenders made up)."

Digging deeper, though, I think it seems far more likely that Mrs. Alito intended to signal distress, not support for Trump, and that it's actually pretty unlikely that at this time they understood an upside-down flag symbolized any association with the former president.

Why I got it wrong

In part, my misread came from a lack of information. News from The Washington Post that they had declined to pursue the story and that a Washington Post reporter had actually interviewed Alito's wife about the incident in 2021 came out after our newsletter was published, but it offered some helpful context that surely would have affected my take. For instance, Martha-Ann Alito yelled at the Post reporter, "It's an international signal of distress!" This detail is the most direct evidence of how she intended the flag to be perceived, and it came at the time the flag was actually up — three years before it was framed as a Stop the Steal symbol by The New York Times.

But the other reason I got this wrong was my own bias. Not against Alito (I genuinely do not have strong feelings about the justice, and I know next to nothing about his wife), but my own biased memory about that time period. I remember post-January 6 vividly, and I remember calls for Trump supporters to flip their flags upside down. However, I'm also a person who spends an inordinate amount of time online, and I spent a lot of time reporting on the Stop the Steal movement, so the fact that I remembered knowing its association with the upside-down flag made me believe everyone else likely knew it at the time, too.

In retrospect, that assumption is silly. One Tangle reader sent me down a rabbit hole of research after making some very keen observations in an email contesting my view. Among other things, she noted a CNN article from Jan 11, 2021 about "decoding the extremist symbols and groups at the Capitol Hill insurrection," which does not list the upside-down flag. That is also true for ABC's article on the symbols of hate and far-right extremism on display at the January 6 riots. Will, one of our editors, actually argued this position before publication — but I overruled him. 

In essence, the Times reporting on the neighborhood fights may have been accurate, but their proof that the upside-down flag was ‘widely known as a Trump symbol’ is sparse, if not nonexistent, especially during that time period.

The Times claimed that "a flood of social media posts exhorted Trump supporters to flip over their flags or purchase new ones to display upside down." Yet the links go to a post made after the Alitos' flag was upside down by an account with a mere 21,000 followers, another from an anonymous poster on a fringe far-right blog saying they were going to fly their flag upside down (and being made fun of by other commenters), and one tweet from Juanita Broaddrick's account calling for the flag to be flown upside down, which was posted in September of 2021 — eight months later. Even the Twitter searches the Times linked to from November 2020 to January 2021 show a bunch of posters with very mixed understandings of what an upside-down flag meant.

In sum: It seems far more reasonable to conclude that very online reporters like me may have heard about an upside-down flag as a symbol of Trump support in early January (or even misremember having heard about it), but very, very few normal people actually had. On top of that, Martha-Ann Alito's own previously unreported comments about the flag make it very clear how she intended it to be perceived.

Other outlets, like National Review, covered this story with more skepticism than I did — and did a better job in the immediate aftermath in understanding it was nonsense. I regret not approaching it the same way they did, and all this makes me think I got this "My take" seriously, woefully wrong. If I could go back and change it, I would.

The Joe Biden special counsel report

In February, Robert Hur's special counsel report on President Joe Biden was released. In the 388-page report, the most newsworthy element was not about Biden's handling of the documents, but his state of mind when he spoke with the special counsel. Hur warned that Biden would present himself to a jury "as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory," as he did in their interview. He said at various points Biden could not remember what year he was vice president or when his son died.

What I got wrong

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