December 29, 2003
Editorial Page Corrections
Linda Seebach, a fine editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News, e-mailed in response to my remarks to Instapundit , where I wrote:
Can you recall the last time any newspaper issued a correction for factual errors on the editorial page? I can't.
That's a pretty sweeping statement for him to make, isn't it? How would he check?
The policy at the Rocky Mountain News is to correct factual errors wherever they appear, including editorials, and according to our archives we have published five corrections to editorials in 2003. We'd prefer that none be necessary, but if they are necessary, they run. The last one was Sept. 1.
I can't give you numbers for our competitor, the Denver Post, but it certainly does publish corrections to editorials, although its stated policy is to correct "all errors occurring in its news columns." E.g., Oct. 30,
"Because of an editorial writer's error, the amount of money offered by Arapahoe County to buy out County Clerk and Recorder Tracy Baker was cited incorrectly in a Wednesday editorial on Page 6B. The county offered Baker $325,000." The two papers I worked for before I came to the Rocky did the same. What's Sharkansky's sample?
My comment was only that I can't recall any such editorial correction, and I'm certainly pleased that they do occur.
My own sample consists of the daily newspapers from my recent hometowns: The San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times. I have brought numerous editorial page errors to their attention and not one of these errors were ever corrected, although The Seattle Times published one of my letters once (edited and four weeks late). I have also never seen the New York Times correct Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman and I have never seen the L.A. Times correct Robert Scheer. Again, it's possible that all of these newspapers do issue editorial page corrections, I just don't recall seeing any. If anybody can send me a counter-example, I will post it in this space.
UPDATE: Seebach sent in this correction from the San Francisco Chronicle and adds:
Papers do differ on how much oversight their columnists work under, and it also matters whether the columnists are on staff, or syndicated, or part of a wire service.
Fair enough, the Chronicle apparently does issue editorial page corrections on occasion, but not as often as it should. And Seebach's other comment would confirm my main point that columnists are not always held accountable for getting their facts straight.
Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at December 29, 2003 01:53 PM
I'm still waiting for the Los Angeles Times to retract just about every word they've said in editorials relating to gun control or the Second Amendment.
My favorite correction from The Rocky Mountain News was from rabid Israel-hater Holger Jensen, after he attributed quotes to Ariel Sharon that Sharon had never said. Jensen resigned shortly thereafter to "pursue other interests."
I think it would be good to have an 'editorial rating' (think NFL QB ratings) -- the number of factual errors and even opinion errors (!) could be used to give the editorial writer a score (quick wit and eloquent prose would surely count, too). Maybe the editorial writers with higher scores would have more credibility. Well, at least we could belittle the low scorers, which would be quite fun actually.
You make a good point, Shark, but hurt your credibility by only singling out liberal columnists like Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd for ridicule. What about conservatives like William Safire?
From the lead of Safire's November 24th column (http://www.iht.com/articles/118851.html):
"Two blockbuster magazine articles last week revealed evidence that Saddam's spy agency and top Qaeda operatives certainly were in frequent contact for a decade, and that there is renewed reason to suspect an Iraqi spymaster in Prague may have helped finance the 9/11 attacks."
This from a NY Times article from 12/12/03 (http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/1203/13iraqatta.html):
"Possible contacts between Atta and Ani seemed to offer the clearest potential connection between Iraq and al-Qaida at a time when the Bush administration was arguing that invading Iraq was part of its campaign against terrorism.
But the CIA and FBI eventually concluded that the meeting probably did not take place, and that there was no hard evidence that Saddam's government was involved in the Sept. 11 plot."
If he was responsible, Safire would at least acknowledge that there is room for legitimate disagreement over the issue.
Well, in Safire's case, there's a huge question of doubt as to whether or not there was a connection. Some believe say there is, some people say there isn't. There's no definite evidence one way or the other. Liberals tend to downplay the Saddam connection for political reasons (and because they tend to be pro-Saddam).
Your quote even admits it, using the qualifier "probably"
Let me second your comment about Seebach being a fine editorial writer. The only problem that I have with her is that her columns are not frequent enough!
Also, any mention of the Rocky Mtn News would be remiss without also mentioning the very fine Vincent Carroll.
When I worked for the San Jose Merc, we published corrections on the editorial pages. We tried not to make mistakes, of course, but when we made 'em, we fixed 'em.
The Los Angeles Dog Trainer (aka Los Angeles Times) constantly prints letters containing factual assertions the editors know, or should know, are false.
Fyi, I plan soon to catalogue my complaints about this paper over the past year in one post: the Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review. I hope you stop by once it's done.
Last week's Daily Urinal (the Dog Trainer of the legal community, and a paper Stefan will remember all too well) ran a letter to the editor that was based on the premise that the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear the Pledge of Allegiance case. On a different page, the Urinal reported on the brief the U.S. Justice Department had just filed in then same, supposedly nonexistent case.
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My personal favorite Chronicle editorial page correction did occur on the editorial page. The original editorial took Paul Wolfowitz to task for comments he supposedly made to the Chronicle. Unfortuately for the Chronicle the Defense Department provided the actual transcript which showed an unusual ability to get the story wrong. Although the Chronicle did not identify the interviewer I believe it to be Robert Collier since he earlier published an article based upon a conversation with Wolfowitz. Whether this bit of embarrassment had any effect on anyone's career is doubtful since it fit within the mental contruct of that paper. Collier went on to report from Iraq--the quality of which is obviously suspect.