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:
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.
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?