The NY Times public editor criticized the paper Monday for failing to correct a significant edit to the lede of its story about Chris Christie published last Friday.
Public Editor Margaret Sullivan says the edit made to the lede after the story was published deserved some sort of explanation. What’s striking here is that the Times’ Metro editor still thinks no correction was needed:
“We made dozens of changes to this story, and
it’s all happening live in front of the reader,” he said. “The story
probably went through two dozen versions.” Editors can’t be expected to
describe each one of those changes, he said.
And he added that no change, including the
one I mention above, “alters the essential truth of the story, which is
that a former Christie ally has opened fire on him in a big way.”
If the Times’ story had said a former Christie ally “opened fire on him in a big way” that would have been fine. In fact, the Times claimed the former ally “had evidence to prove” Christie was lying. They later corrected that to say “evidence exists” which is a very different animal. Frankly, neither claim is akin to saying a former Christie ally opened fire.
Remember when Sen. Harry Reid floated the claim that Mitt Romney paid no income taxes? He clarified that he did not know this to be true but was passing on information from an anonymous person who did know. In other words, evidence exists! I just haven’t seen it myself. It was a disreputable political attack from a disreputable politician. Most people saw it as such.
Frankly, every conspiracy theory operates on this same distinction. I haven’t seen proof there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll but I know such evidence exists somewhere. I haven’t seen proof that UFO’s landed in Roswell, New Mexico but I know such evidence exists!
The difference between having the evidence and claiming it exists is day and night. To her credit, the Times’ public editor says so:
This change was more than a nuance. Acknowledging that could have
taken the form of a straightforward correction. The change also could
have been explained in an editor’s note or could even have been
acknowledged in a sentence in the body of the article.
But again, Wendell Jamieson, editor of the NY Times Metro section, doesn’t see a problem. He says an editor’s note was a possibility (though he didn’t offer one) but thinks a correction was out of the question.
How do you get to be a NY Times editor without knowing the difference between providing evidence for a blockbuster scandal claim and claiming vaguely that evidence exists? Not unlike the UFOs landing at Roswell, the answer will remain shrouded in mystery.