Accuracy in Media

The New York Times has begun a new correction policy for its editorial and op-ed pages. It came as a flurry of mistakes, large and small, cluttered the Times op-ed pages. One had to wonder whether corrections would eventually make up more of the paper than the stories themselves.

Among the recent offenses are Paul Krugman’s columns of August 19th, 22nd and 26th, in which he makes varying claims about the outcome of the Florida presidential election in 2000, and how “Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida’s ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.” Poor guy must be counting hanging chads in his sleep.

With pressure from new-media types like Donald Luskin, who writes columns for National Review Online under the heading “Krugman Truth Squad,” and Powerlineblog.com, the Times has been forced to publicly slap the wrists of not only Krugman but Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich.

The Times’ public editor, Byron Calame, the subject of one of our recent commentaries, did his duty. Calame went after Gail Collins, the editor of the editorial page, over her treatment of Krugman: “in the opinion section of The Times, the corrections policy of Gail Collins, the editor of the editorial page, is not being fully enforced. As I have written on my Web journal, Paul Krugman has not been required to correct, in the paper, recent acknowledged factual errors in his column about the 2000 election in Florida.” He criticized Krugman four times in columns for his failure to set the record straight.

It became so embarrassing that Editor & Publisher ran an article on October 1st that was headlined, “NY Times Finally Runs Full Correction on Krugman Column, Announces New Policy.” On that day, in the print edition of the Times, Collins declared a new policy on noting errors on the editorial pages. From now on, she wrote, the Times will run regular corrections and “for the record” explanations under the Times editorials. In that article, Collins described the situation regarding Krugman as a “correction run amok.” She said that after publishing his third correction on the Internet version of his columns, Krugman asked “if he could refrain from revisiting the subject yet again in print. I agreed, feeling we had reached the point of cruelty to readers. But I was wrong. The correction should have run in the same newspaper where the original error and all its little offspring had appeared.”

So in the October 1st corrections, they tried correcting it one more time. Krugman acknowledged he was wrong on how many of the recounts indicated Gore won, versus how many indicated Bush won, but this argument in his view ignored reality. It is “reasonably clear,” Krugman wrote in one of his many corrections, “that the voters of Florida, as well as those of the United States as a whole, tried to choose Mr. Gore.” Krugman’s approach is to ignore the facts and make them up when necessary to make a political point.

In her same column, Gail Collins tossed in another batch of errors. She pointed out a mistake made by Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and twice by Paul Krugman. It is the claim that former FEMA director Michael Brown and his predecessor, Joe Albaugh, had been college friends or roommates, neither of which is true. In fact, they didn’t go to the same college. This said nothing about FEMA’s response but said a lot about Times’ fact-checkers. Yes, others in the media were saying the same thing, but is that a standard the Times wants to live by? Apparently so.

In another case, just prior to John Roberts’ confirmation as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, there was a Times story by Adam Liptak critical of Roberts for his alleged position on libel laws. It claimed he had written a memo on the subject in the 1980s. But the next day the Times ran a correction: Roberts didn’t write the memo. And the correction included the fact that the experts quoted in the article who were critical of the Roberts approach were erroneously told by the Times reporter that the memo had been written by Roberts.

Calame, the public editor, went back to check on the Times’ year-old policy in which they changed their corrections format. Last September they changed the policy so that “Corrections” meant substantive errors, while “For the Record” meant corrections of “spelling, dates and historical references.” He was surprised to find only two “Corrections” of substantive errors and 239 “For the Record” corrections. The complaints he was getting suggested that substantive errors were being buried as “For the Record” items. And he came away in agreement.

It’s fine to have a new corrections policy, but Times columnists like Krugman should “get with the program” and comply.

The fact remains that big mistakes have still not been corrected.

To cite one example, consider our July-B AIM Report on the Times’ Memogate scandal. In this case we caught the Times misrepresenting a document in order to make a point about the Vatican’s response to the Holocaust. There has been no correction of the record, despite the testimony of scholars and experts that the paper got it wrong.




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