Rachel Maddow.

Last night, Maddow pulled some truly Rhodes Scholarship-worthy rhetorical gymnastics in both apologizing for and doubling down on her accusation that former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) had some kind of prior knowledge of the Oklahoma City bombing. Maddow conceded that she was guilty of a "misstatement" and an "editing error" in accusing the one-term U.S. congressman of being at least partly responsible for the deaths of 168 fellow human beings. But she then made light of her colossally offensive "misstatement" by arguing that her main contention still stands: The important thing, she claimed, isn't that she said something mindbogglingly slanderous, it's that she was justified in doing so.

The real vomit-all-over-your-keyboard moment comes at roughly the 2-minute mark, where Maddow sarcastically frames her apology as a chance to congratulate herself on bringing the specter of militant right-wing politics to the public's attention. "For all the conservative bloggers out there who are extremely angry at me for making that mistake" she said, "thank you. Thank you for signaling such enthusiasm for discussing guys like Steve Stockman, and for getting all the details right. If the country talked a lot more about the Steve Stockmans of the world and anti-government extremism and what the experience of having anti-government extremists in Congress was like for this country the last time we tried it, I think that would be good for us in this country, particularly before this round of elections."

So mistakenly accusing someone of being an accessory to the worst act of domestic terrorism in this country's history isn't really that bad, since it acted as a catalyst for what Maddow sees as a much-needed discussion? That's not exactly a convincing argument, and not only because it's the real-world actualization of liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias's defense of lying in the name of some greater political good. It's also further evidence for Reason Managing Editor Jesse Walker's classic explanation of how the "paranoid center" operates, as explained here:

When mainstream commentators treat a small group of unconnected crimes as a grand, malevolent movement, they unwittingly echo the very conspiracy theories they denounce. Both brands of connect-the-dots fantasy reflect the tellers' anxieties much more than any order actually emerging in the world.

When such a story is directed at those who oppose the politicians in power, it has an additional effect. The list of dangerous forces that need to be marginalized inevitably expands to include peaceful, legitimate critics.

Maddow's apology, wherein the range of dangerous anti-government extremists is eventually expanded to include unnamed past and future members of Congress, is a case in point. She's willing to apologize for an isolated factual inaccuracy, but only so she can advance a truly paranoid line of reasoning in which a single congressman who hasn't held public office in a decade and a half (and couldn't even get his own party's nomination for Texas Railway Commissioner) proves that we're in for a resurgence of Oklahoma City-style right-wing militancy. This is a bogus talking point disguised as an apology.