Transcription Error Fallout: Maureen Dowd vs. Ezra Klein

If I were Maureen Dowd I’d be pretty irritated right now. Last week Dowd got in trouble for mangling a quote given by the wife of one of the candidates for Mayor in NYC. Dowd later blamed the error–reducing a 116 word quote to 31 words–on a noisy coffee shop and apologized to both campaigns. The NY Times published a hefty four paragraph correction at the bottom of her column. In a word, embarrassing.

Meanwhile, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein published an interview with former Vice President Al Gore just a day after Dowd’s column. In the interview Gore made much of the increase in extreme weather events around the globe including two references to Sandy, the storm which did massive damage in New York and New Jersey last year. During his second reference to Sandy, Gore made a claim about the hurricane scale used to gauge storms [emphasis added]:

If you look at superstorm Sandy on October 29th, the ocean water east of
New Jersey was nine degrees fahrenheit above average. That’s what put
so much more energy into that storm. That’s what put so much more water
vapor into that storm. Would there be a storm anyway? Maybe so. Would
there be hurricanes and floods and droughts without man-made global
warming? Of course. But they’re stronger now. The extreme events are
more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a
[Update: See this post for more on Gore’s remarks on hurricanes]. The fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over these storms and extreme weather events.

The part in brackets was added after Gore’s reference to “adding a 6” was shown to be inaccurate. In fact there are no plans to add a category 6 at the moment.

By Friday, Klein had posted a follow up about the flap in which he offered an excuse, one which was similar if somewhat less colorful than the one Dowd had offered. Klein claims that at one point while he was transcribing the interview in real time he was “struggling to keep up with Gore, and when that happens, some nuance can
get lost.” Here’s the remainder of Klein’s explanation. You may want to imagine Dowd pulling fistfuls of her own bright red hair out in frustration while reading this.

I’m out-of-town and so away from my tape recorder. So I asked Gore’s staff about the line and they have Gore saying:

“The scientists are now adding category six to the
hurricane…some are proposing we add category 6 to the hurricane scale
that used to be 1-5. “

That doesn’t offend my memory of the discussion and it’s entirely
possible I missed Gore’s qualifying sentence while trying to keep up. If
so, that’s my fault, and I apologize.

In other words, Klein can’t definitely say he mangled it because he doesn’t really remember and he can’t check his recording of the interview to see who was right because he doesn’t have it handy. All that’s missing from this excuse is a claim that a dog ate his digital recorder. Even then we might get an answer in a few days, but I don’t suspect we will in this case.

Despite the error–which leaves one wondering how much of Klein’s transcript is similarly condensed and unreliable–there is no correction appended to his original post. The tiny bracketed insertion (added by Klein himself?) linking to his own excuse is the only sign that anything is amiss. Poor Maureen Dowd, she clearly got a raw deal.