Accuracy in Media

We don’t often see members of the mainstream media issuing corrections to their columns except to occasionally correct an erroneous figure or quote but Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast did just that this week for a column he wrote in late November.

From The Daily Beast

I’d like to set the record straight on one of my stories.

In late November, I asked Rep. Darrell Issa’s spokesman, Kurt Bardella, for an interview with the congressman. He said he would see what he could do.

That afternoon my phone rang, I heard the words “Darrell Issa” and I thanked the congressman for calling. I asked why “you” made various statements about the president and congressional oversight, and he responded. I called him “Congressman” several times during our discussion. I later emailed Bardella, on Nov. 24, and said: “Hey, thanks for getting me the congressman so quickly. He mentioned the minority having sent 46 letters to the chairman or subcommittee chairmen and getting only six responses. Would you have some or all of the ones that drew no response? Thanks.”

Bardella sent the followup information I requested.

On Nov. 29, after my story ran on The Daily Beast, I got a note from Bardella saying there had been “a little confusion” and “it wasn’t the congressman you spoke with, it was me speaking in his capacity as his spokesman.”

Bardella had never told me that during the conversation, though there was one reference to “Darrell Issa” that I attributed to lawmakers sometimes speaking of themselves in the third person. To my best understanding, none of the opinions ascribed to Rep. Issa are inaccurate. But it’s now clear the attribution should have been to his spokesman, and I erred in not dealing with this matter immediately.

We are appending the following correction:

When I conducted the telephone interview for my Nov. 27 article on California Rep. Darrell Issa, my unambiguous understanding was that I was speaking with Rep. Issa. I subsequently learned that I was speaking to his chief spokesman, Kurt Bardella. None of the views ascribed to Issa are inaccurate, but the attribution throughout the story should have been to his spokesman, not to the congressman. We have since corrected the article. The earlier version also mentioned Darrell Issa’s “tendency to refer to himself in the third person.” In fact, that usage was appropriate because the interview was with his spokesman.

While I’m pleased to see Kurtz set the record straight it seems that his excuse for not getting the story right the first time is a bit weak to say the least.  After all Kurtz is not some recent j-school graduate who could be more easily forgiven for being sloppy with the facts but a veteran journalist who should have known better. After all as Kurtz himself mentioned in the correction Isaa often referred to himself in the third person. Hello?  Shouldn’t that have raised a question as to who Kurtz was speaking with?

Also Kurtz didn’t explain why it took him more than a month (43 days) from the time he learned that he hadn’t spoken to Issa to when his correction column appeared in The Daily Beast.

Future journalism students should thank Kurtz as he has given them a case study on how to botch a story, correct it six weeks later and still keep his job.

And they say there is no justice in the world today.

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