Continuing Monday's topic of editorial page corrections, Linda Seebach posted a query on a listserv for editorial writers asking whether their newspapers publish corrections for factual errors on the editorial page. She forwarded me a selection of responses from columnists around the country asserting "Yes! our paper's policy is to publish corrections on the editorial page and we have done so numerous times".
Okay, I'll allow then that this practice might be more widespread than my own experience has indicated. But if I can ask some of the pro-correction editorialists to consider the following episodes that I blogged about earlier this year:
(a) Robert Scheer in his column of Mar. 18 that also appeared in the L.A. Times and was syndicated to other newspapers around the country:
The United States lied to the world when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had "bulletproof evidence" that Iraq was behind the Sept. 11 attacksThe source for this was presumably a New York Times article of Sept. 27, 2002 (reposted here) which actually said:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today that American intelligence had "bulletproof" evidence of links between Al Qaeda and the government of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.the article also said:
Administration officials say there is still no evidence to link Mr. Hussein directly to the attacks on Sept. 11 in the United States.(b) Molly Ivins in her column of Oct. 28:
Not to wish ill on Wolfowitz, but he is the one who promised us this war would be "a cakewalk"I find no evidence that Wolfowitz ever made such a promise, indeed the only original source that I have found tying Wolfowitz to a "cakewalk" prediction is this op-ed by Kenneth Adelman, where Adelman laments the fact that Wolfowitz denounced Adelman's own prediction of a "cakewalk" in Iraq.
I debunked the Scheer claim back in May, and although I didn't contact the L.A. Times directly, my traffic log shows that the blog page had a number of visits from the L.A. Times.. I debunked the Ivins' claim and sent an email to the top editors of the Seattle Times on the day they printed the column, Nov. 3, challenging them to either document Ivins' claim or to issue a retraction. They did neither, but did publish my letter three weeks later.
It's possible that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz really did say what Scheer and Ivins attributed to them. Any documentation to that effect would be welcome and would moot the following. But assuming that both Scheer and Ivins got the above citations wrong, I ask the conscientious editorial writers to answer the following --
1) Did your paper publish either the Scheer or the Ivins column mentioned above?
2) Is it your paper's practice to check the facts of syndicated columns, specifically Scheer and Ivins?
3) If not, is it your expectation that somebody else is checking their facts? Whose responsibility is it?
4) Did your paper ever learn of any factual errors in these columns?
5) If yes to (4), did your paper publish a correction?
6) Comment on the Seattle Times' response to a credible report of an error in Ivins column. Should the Times have issued a correction in its own name?
7) Should Scheer and Ivins personally retract the above statements? In general, should syndicated columnists take responsibility to promptly retract errors that are discovered in their work?
8) Should newspapers continue to publish the unchecked work of syndicated columnists who are habitually sloppy with their facts?