Thursday, May 24, 2007

The New York Times Spins Another Tale

You know the bloggers’ rules, right? Especially the one about amending and updating mistakes when your readers come crashing down on whatever botch you made? The feedback is instantaneous; for the most part blog readers are sharp. So an update and correction are posted and the world moves on. That doesn’t appear to be the standard operating procedure for The New York Times, whose motto has gradually changed to “All the News We Feel Like Printing.”

Yesterday, Politcal Mavens found this little gem, in a post its author, Robert George, titled “The Times, They Are A Changing…they’re just not telling anybody”:

Sam Tanenhaus’ NYT “Week In Review” essay tries to make a tenuous allegorical link between Jerry Falwell’s death and Paul Wolfowitz’s resignation from the World Bank on the potential falling decline of the American conservative movement.

Linking these two events is surprising, but perhaps Mr. Tanenhaus was overcome by a bit of magical thinking for a moment: imagine two such felicitous events in such a short period. It does boggle the Timesian mind. Mr. George understated the tenuous connection, “It is something of a stretch…” But what bothered him most was this:

However, what immediately undermined the premise for me as I read it in the Sunday paper (dead-tree version) was this sentence:

And after failing to impeach Mr. Clinton, House Republicans, far from retreating into caution or self-doubt, kept up the pressure and turned the 2000 election into a referendum on Mr. Clinton’s character.

Here’s a shot of the piece:

Getting it wrong again

The sentence called the piece into question because of its historical inaccuracy: House Republicans impeached Clinton; the Senate, of course, failed to convict him. Well, lo and behold, this is what we find, when we go to the story on The Times’ website:

And after failing to win a conviction of Mr. Clinton following his impeachment, Republicans, far from retreating into caution or self-doubt, kept up the pressure and turned the 2000 election into a referendum on Mr. Clinton’s character.

Emphasis added.

There is no editorial note anywhere on the page to take note of the change. So, what, The New York Times didn’t think anyone would notice?

Well, the Times or Mr. Tanenhaus must have gotten some flak for their revision of history, because now the online edition carries this correction:

Correction: May 22, 2007

Because of an editing error, an article in the Week in Review section on Sunday about the conservative movement misstated the outcome of impeachment proceedings in 1998 against President Clinton, whose character conservatives made the focus of the 2000 election. The House of Representatives did indeed impeach him. (The Senate did not convict him of the impeachment charges.)

See, it’s not anyone’s “fault” really. Mistakes were made. Revisions of history become “editing errors” when enough people complain. Otherwise, they stand in for the truth for as long as The New York Times can get away with it — which sometimes lasts for decades. The failure to retract Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize? It’s not their fault. It’s the Pulitzer Committee’s failure.

Imagine a world without The New York Times. We could start with this: what would be the perception of the war in Iraq without the dizzy spinning of the tale in those pages?

5 comments:

Evan said...

Um, a little embarrassing to bring it up on this of all posts, but Duranty won a Pulitzer, not a Nobel. :)

Baron Bodissey said...

To preserve Dymphna's dignity, I have changed "Nobel" to "Pulitzer" in the above.

But N.B. -- I noticed it myself...

Dymphna said...

See? Y'all just proved my point...
This post wasn't up 15 minutes and there were 2 comments pointing out my error.

I rest my case -- which is a little wobbly since I've confused the two before.

And btw, Baron...your presence would be appreciated. Windows Live Care -- or whatever they call themsleves -- did an update and after I rebooted the font is in a teeeeeny tiny size. Yesh, Itried properties, etc, but nothing works.

That means I'll have to go upstairs and mess up your computer. Hope you catch an early flight.

KGS said...

Unlike the many in the news media, most honest bloggers invite corrections to their posts when a mistake has been made. They also include (if allowed to do so) the handle or even identity of the person who caught the mistake.

The Finnish news media is notorious for not admitting its mistakes, choosing instead to quietly make the changes (online) or adding the corrected version in another story the following day without alluding to the original mistake.

I am still waiting for the Helsingin Sanomat to correct its "40 headless bodies found in Iraq" story, from over a year and a half ago.

I personally contacted the journalist who wrote the story, who admitted to me that the story ended up being bogus.....but still the HS's "gate keepers" have not seen the light.

The news media could stand to take a page from the hand book for honest bloggers, who are always greatfull to those who take the time to give the heads-up when we goof.

Always On Watch Two said...

Imagine a world without The New York Times.

And the WaPo too!