In his latest piece, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who is liberal and gay, wrote about an anonymous former college classmate who was an observant conservative Catholic back then, but who has since changed his mind. Excerpt:

He had researched and reflected on much of this by the time he graduated from medical school, and so he decided to devote a bit of each week to helping out in an abortion clinic. Over years to come, in various settings, he continued this work, often braving protesters, sometimes wearing a bulletproof vest.

He knew George Tiller, the Kansas abortion provider shot dead in 2009 by an abortion foe.

THAT happened in a church, he noted. He hasn’t belonged to one since college. “Religion too often demands belief in physical absurdities and anachronistic traditions despite all scientific evidence and moral progress,” he said.

That sort of thing. Bruni ends with his anonymous friend, now a doctor, performing an abortion on one of the loudest pro-life protesters, who came to him on the sly because he was a familiar face. She supposedly told him that she wasn’t like those other loose women who sought abortions. A week later, we are told, she was back in front of the clinic, protesting.

It is not usually my Sunday habit (or Monday habit, or Tuesday habit…) to read Frank Bruni, but I was motivated to do so by an e-mail one of this blog’s readers sent. He said that he and someone else in his house had read that column, and concluded that Bruni was making this up. What did I think? Could that happen? Does the Times fact-check op-ed columnists? I told him I didn’t know, but I’d take a look at the column. I cautioned him that I often conceal the names and identifying information from people I write about, which causes some readers to accuse me of making these people up to serve an ideological point. I never do make anybody up, but I can’t prove that, because to give their names would defeat the whole purpose of having made them anonymous in the first place. People usually accuse me of making these anonymous figures up when they strongly object to the political, cultural, or ideological point the anonymous figure illustrates. But I really don’t make these people up; however, I can’t blame people for being skeptical when I do not attach checkable information to the quote. The point being that before reading the column, I wanted to give Frank Bruni the benefit of the doubt.

I had to agree that Bruni’s Anonymous Friend sounds completely bogus. He is just too perfect an illustration of what a gay secular liberal would want to see from the “conversion” of a conservative Catholic. He becomes a pro-gay, agnostic abortionist. Really? That happened? I suppose it could have happened, but boy, is that hard to believe. For me, the part of Bruni’s column that raised the most suspicion were his quotes attributed to Anonymous Friend. For example:

“In all centuries, through all history, women have ended pregnancies somehow,” he said. “They feel so strongly about this that they will attempt abortion even when it’s illegal, unsafe and often lethal.”

And:

“If doctors and nurses do not step up and provide these services or if so many obstacles and restrictions are put into place that women cannot access the services, then the stream of women seeking abortions tends to flow toward the illegal and dangerous methods,” he said.

 I’m sorry, but nobody talks like that. Those sound like lines taken from a piece of formal op-ed writing. It could be that Anonymous Friend is inarticulate, and Bruni paraphrased his ramblings and presented them as quotations. Maybe. This is an op-ed, not a piece in the news section, so I would grant him a certain license here. But boy, it sure does sound phony. Completely phony. I’m with Mark Shea, who calls b.s.:
I sincerely hope somebody seriously tries to vet this. And I’ll lay odds that nobody properly vetted it before it ran. Why should they? Sacred religious dogmas require no evidence.

By the way, light blogging today. Overnight, some evil gremlin came into my room and decided to use my sinuses as a storage facility for wet concrete. I have been poleaxed. If you need me, I’ll be in bed, consuming enough Sudafed to supply the trailer-park meth labs of Livingston Parish for a week.

UPDATE: Even if every word of Frank Bruni’s column is true, it should not have been published, as a matter of journalistic good practice — and wouldn’t have been if it didn’t hit all the confirmation-bias sweet spots of the Times’ op-ed staff. Ask yourself: would Ross Douthat be able to get away with publishing a column based on an anonymous source claiming to have been a pro-gay, godless abortionist who had a Catholic religious conversion and came to believe that homosexuality and abortion was immoral, and dedicated himself to working against gay rights and abortion rights? Of course he couldn’t! Not in The New York Times. I agree with the Catholic viewpoint on all these issues, but if I were his editor, I wouldn’t have published it either.

Anyway, do that thought experiment: imagine that Ross Douthat, a pro-life Catholic NYT columnist, had turned in a column just like Bruni’s, except one using an anonymous source to make the opposite points. Would it have been published? The question itself is laughable. Which tells you something about the Times‘s bias re: Bruni’s absurd column.