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Boxed in With Corrections
A new Times policy is a step in the right direction.


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Donald L. Luskin

Our long-running campaign to get Paul Krugman to retract the lie in his August 19 New York Times column about the 2000 Florida presidential election has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. Not only was the correction finally made in print in Sunday’s Times, the “newspaper of record” also announced the imposition of a new and more rigorous corrections policy for the entire Times editorial page.

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That’s right. It’s not just for Krugman, America’s looniest liberal pundit. The new policy applies to Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert, Thomas Friedman, and the rest of the crowd who write the world’s most influential liberal opinion columns.

No longer will the columnists be responsible for running their own corrections, appended as end-notes to their columns (or snuck into the main text so they don’t look like corrections at all). From now on corrections will appear in a separate “For the Record” box on the editorial page, similar to the way corrections have always been run in the news sections of the paper. Now, as the errors accumulate in properly documented form, the world — and posterity — will see the shocking extent to which the Times ’s liberal columnists are being liberal with the truth.

The first such corrections box appeared on Sunday’s editorial page. Here’s one especially hilarious item from it — a single correction in which no less than three Times columnists are all caught telling the same leftist lie about supposed cronyism in the Bush administration, with Krugman telling it twice!

Op-Ed columns by Paul Krugman (Sept. 5 and 9), Maureen Dowd (Sept. 10) and Frank Rich (Sept. 18) said Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, was a college friend or college roommate of Joe Allbaugh, his predecessor. They went to different colleges and later became friends.

The new columnist corrections policy comes at a moment when the Times has been intensely embarrassed by a series of high-profile corrections of almost inconceivably stupid errors in the news section of the paper. It’s no coincidence that these errors have all stemmed from the Times’s increasingly strident crusade to discredit the Bush administration.

For example, a September 5 story by television critic Allesandra Stanley — making the self-evidently preposterous claim that the media used to treat the Bush administration with kid gloves and are now suddenly treating it harshly — said, en passant, that Geraldo Rivera “nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety” in flood-ravaged New Orleans. The Times admitted in a correction on September 26 that, in fact, “no nudge was visible on the broadcast,” and offered the lame excuse that they regarded Stanley’s statement as a “figurative reference to Mr. Rivera’s flamboyant intervention.”

As another example, last Tuesday there was a story condemning John Roberts (printed before his confirmation for chief justice by the Senate) for his views on libel laws as expressed in a memorandum from the 1980s. A correction that ran on Wednesday admitted that Roberts had not written the memo. The correction further admitted that three “experts” quoted in the original story had “discussed the … memorandum, provided to them by a reporter, on the assumption that it had been written by Judge Roberts.”

Of course, for the new columnist corrections policy to be effective, it will have to be rigorously enforced. And there’s no reason to believe that it will be. The corrections policy already in force never was. And getting the Times to admit fallibility is always an uphill battle. The correction about Geraldo Rivera’s nonexistent “nudge” only came after three weeks of Rivera’s vigorous protests and threats of legal action, and after Times executive editor Bill Keller had sniffed, “Frankly, given Mr. Rivera’s behavior since Ms. Stanley’s review appeared … Ms. Stanley would have been justified in assuming brute force.”

In fact, if it hadn’t been for five Krugman Truth Squad columns (August 24, August 31, September 13, September 21, and September 26), I have no doubt that Paul Krugman’s Florida election lie would remain uncorrected to this day. And in one important respect, it is still uncorrected. The correction that appeared this past Sunday came as an appendage to a column by editorial page editor Gail Collins announcing the paper’s new policy — it did not appear in the official corrections box. As a result, it has not been appended to the three Krugman columns that contained the lie about the election — those of August 19, August 22, and August 26. Go to the Times’s online archives — or to the Lexis/Nexis, Factiva, or ProQuest databases — and you’ll see for yourself. The three original Krugman columns are still telling the same old lie — uncorrected — that “Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida’s ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.”

There’s much in Gail Collins’s column announcing the new policy that raises doubts about her will to enforce it. She claims she wants “to cultivate the reflex that automatically fixes any inaccuracy, without whining.” But concerning the infectious lie about Michael Brown’s purported college roommate crony, Collins whined that Brown is “now legendary as a disaster in his own right.” And denying the whole sorry history of Paul Krugman’s refusal to correct dozens of errors, misquotations, distortions, and downright lies that we’ve documented in this column for more than three years now, Collins dares to utter this howler: “in the four years that I’ve edited these pages I’ve never had a columnist refuse to make a correction.”

Almost unbelievably, Collins even dared to lie about the very recent history of Krugman’s Florida election stories, claiming that Krugman made a “correction to the Web version of his column,” making it sound as though the only problem was that the correction never saw actual print. But until Sunday, the only accurate correction of Krugman’s election lie was published as a separate item on the Times’s website. If Collins is serious about corrections, she should correct her own error about this.

But then again, if Collins were serious, the whole editorial page wouldn’t be big enough for the corrections box required to capture all the Angry Left lies that are spread by the Times’s pundits. Here are a couple recent candidates from the Krugman Truth Squad member who blogs as “EU Rota”:

Paul Krugman on September 2: “Katrina hit five days ago … Thousands of Americans are dead or dying … “

Associated Press, October 3: “As of Friday, the state health department reported 932 deaths in Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina.”

Maureen Dowd on September 3: “America is once more plunged into a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning.”

New York Times, September 29: “… the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations, the product of chaotic circumstances that included no reliable communications, and perhaps the residue of the longstanding raw relations between some police officers and members of the public.”

No doubt something more than “frightened imaginations” is at work in the Times’s accelerating incidence of egregious errors and humiliating corrections. Times reporters, columnists, and editors probably hear the ring of truth in even the most absurd errors, so long as they serve to discredit the Bush administration. As long as that bias exists, the errors will keep on happening. And if that’s the case, the best hope for truth is that the errors will be publicly corrected.

Collins’s new policy for columnist corrections is a step in the right direction. But let’s hope against hope that she really means it.

– Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm. He welcomes your visit to his blog and your comments at [email protected].



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