Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Times: "Dangerous to Our Health"?

In Sunday’s Times, the new public editor, Clark Hoyt, penned a column lamenting little errors at the paper. “A great newspaper,” he wrote, “has to get the big things right, but it also has to pay fanatical attention to thousands of details every day to prevent the kinds of mistakes that start readers wondering, ‘If they can’t spell his name right, what else is wrong with the story?’”

Hoyt quoted former Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld: “When it comes to accuracy issues, tolerance and the larger view can be dangerous to our health.”

However, Lelyveld's standards do not appear to have been applied to the Times' coverage of the Duke Lacrosse case. In particular, reporter Duff Wilson's August 25, 2006 Page 1 flagship article contains several major, uncorrected errors. These were made known to the Times shortly after the article's publication.*

To its credit, ten days after the article appeared, the Times did correct Duff Wilson’s misidentification of State Bar attorney Doug Brocker’s name. (Though Wilson was in the courtroom all week, he wrote that Brocker’s name was “Brock.”)

But the Times continues to leave uncorrected significant factual errors from Wilson’s earlier reporting.

For instance, according to the Times, “The dancers stopped. An argument ensued. Using a racial epithet, someone yelled that they had asked for white dancers, not black ones. That much is agreed. It was 12:04 a.m. March 14.”

The Attorney General’s Summary of Conclusions proves that this statement is false. But, based on what Wilson knew or claimed to have known on August 25, 2006, was the statement factually accurate?


The statements of all three captains, Kim Roberts, and Jason Bissey agreed that a racially charged argument occurred outside the house, around 12.45am. None mentioned a “racial epithet” being used inside the house. The only person to make such a claim was Crystal Mangum (in some of her stories). It was, therefore, factually inaccurate for Wilson to write and the Times to publish, “That much is agreed. It was 12:04 a.m. March 14.”

Yet the Times has refused to correct this error—which means that the paper of record is on record as asserting that racial slurs occurred while Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty were still at the party. “When it comes to accuracy issues, tolerance and the larger view can be dangerous to our health.”

According to the Times, “The other dancer, Ms. Roberts, told the police that her partner had arrived ‘clearly sober.’”

Kim Roberts never made such a statement to police—either in her March 20, 2006 phone conversation with Ben Himan, or in her official statement of March 22, 2006. From what police document did Duff Wilson obtain this quote? Times readers never learned.

It would seem to me that inaccurately attributing a critical quote is a major error. Yet the Times has refused to correct this error. “When it comes to accuracy issues, tolerance and the larger view can be dangerous to our health.”

According to the Times, “On March 22, [Roberts] told the police that the rape accusation was ‘a crock,’ and that she had been with the accuser for all but five minutes of the party."

Roberts actually told police on March 20 that Mangum’s version of events was a “crock,” according to notes presented in a defense filing. She then gave a statement to police on March 22 in which she further contradicted the accuser's version of events. By compressing the two items, the Times gave the impression that Roberts denied the accuser’s tale to police only on one occasion, when she actually did so twice.

It was a minor mistake—certainly when compared to Wilson’s two other major errors—but nonetheless an item that would seem to fall under Hoyt’s admonition that a great paper “has to pay fanatical attention to thousands of details every day.”

As with Wilson’s other two factual mistakes, the Times has refused to correct this error. “When it comes to accuracy issues, tolerance and the larger view can be dangerous to our health.”

What possible motive could any newspaper have for refusing to correct errors of fact? That’s unclear. But it’s hard to believe that anyone at the Times takes Hoyt’s admonition seriously as long as the paper allows uncorrected such serious errors in such a high-profile case.

*--added for clarity


Anonymous said...

The NY Times has lost its credibility due to its lack of checking facts, misrepresenting, making up false facts to fit their agenda, and slandering the Duke 3. This is the NY Times way to whitewash what they did. Sorry, but to little to late. Just like Nifongs fake apology, the NY Times has been outed for the phoney journalistic piece of rubbish it really is.

Anonymous said...

Duff and the NYT are hopeless. Remember KC, at the trial when Duff told you "I can"t go into it, but Nurse Levicy lead me astray." They only answer is to stop buying these newspapers. Which people are doing. JD sends his best.

Ralph Phelan said...

"Yet the Times has refused to correct this error—which means that the paper of record "

Oh, come on, KC!
FORMER paper of record.
Let's not help them inflate their influence any more than they already do.

Anonymous said...

The NYTimes is going the way of Dan Rather. They can't report accurately because of their own biases. If they were half as great in reality as they were in their own minds, they still would have published corrections.

They probably can't afford all the paper they'd need for all their corrections and retractions. The list is a lot longer than the lax case.

madder than a hornet said...

We live in Texas and I am constantly amazed by friends (?) that speak of the NY Times with breathless reverence and awe. I wouldn't use it in my cat box.

Thanks KC for listing the lies that Duff Wilson authored.

jim2 said...

Facts that inconveniently conflict with the meta-narrative never merit inclusion, let alone revisions just to add them. If such are necessary anyway, the proven tactic is to very-low profile them into the paper without context so that their significance cannot be easily understood.

For example:

"NarrativeFamousPerson runs naked with the bulls in Pamplona Spain on August 14" - Page 1 above the fold

Two weeks later correction buried somewhere:

"NarrativeFamousPerson's location on August 14 was misstated and should have been in Chicago."

Anonymous said...

KC- Are the papers losing circulation doing any self analysis? Are they interested in what is prompting their downward spiral in circulation and influence?

Anonymous said...

The same breathless reverence with which many people held the Catholic Church and their local priests.....until the curtains were drawn back and the evil lies exposed. Not everyone at the NYT is evil, but the stench is growing very strong and the rot is around the edges. I think days are numbered for publications such at that which are only holding onto the final blind faithful.

jim2 said...

The historical MSM practice amounts to inaccurate posturing under a tree in a rainstorm of facts.

All "goes well" until facts begin to leak through their fantasy foliage. They ignore the fact-drops until they can slip under a different tree and posture about something else. Repeat as necessary.

The problem for MSM is that the internet has become a very strong fact-storm that drives the fact-drops through more and more quickly.

Anonymous said...

Off topic KC - for a good experience go to San diego Panda Cam - watching this 250 lb mother take care of a cub, the size of a stick of butter is amazing.

Stephen said...

Just read where a Chinese journalist received a one year prison sentence for fabricating a steamed bun story. Make one up in America and it qualifies you to work for the Times.

inman said...

A question (responsive to earlier posts):

I’ve always thought that the great thinkers of the past (and present) were those who illuminated truth. I’ve also noticed that truth and its corollary, knowledge, tend to have real staying power. But, even when truth is not obtainable, theories that best describe reality and observation are formulated and then gain respectability and proponents. But theories survive only so long as they provide the best description of potential truth. Once supplanted, the articulation of a theory may survive in the lexicon, first, as a form of respect to the theoretician and the importance of his/her work. But that articulation may also survive as an illumination of man’s lone, and collective, thought processes and as a testament to prior art and science.

The search for knowledge commands respect and the more fundamental that knowledge is, the greater the respect it commands. Stephen Hawking, I believe, is universally thought to be one of the great modern thinkers, for his work takes man to the edge, just short of God. His theoretical description of the universe, and its parts, in the form of mathematical proof can be described as “elegant” in both form and substance. But the universe remains elusive and even Hawking would admit that a better theory awaits. Until the Grand Unification Theory arrives, his and others’ will serve to explain and illuminate man’s path. Mathematical physics, as I view it, is a core discipline and worthy of great respect.

Even in disciplines (by comparison) further from the core, Greek mythology or sociology or art history or (at the risk of receiving calumny) women’s studies or African American studies, the search for knowledge should command respect. And just as with physics, existing theory should be the best available to explain reality. Further, existing theory should not be tossed aside simply because one can adopt the avant-garde or worse, its imposter. A careful examination of what is known and what may be ‘knowable’ should guide inquiry.

And that brings me to my point(s) and my question:

The Gang of ’88, in my judgment, still owe an apology. I suspect they will not tender one.

But, they are entitled to – have earned the right to – pursue knowledge in whatever shape or form they (and their sponsors) see fit. But I ask: Has existing theory been tossed aside? Has the lure of avant-garde scholarship and, yes even its imposter, cast a dark haze on choice of pursuits?

I don’t even pretend an answer. But surely there are those who can … and more importantly should.

Anonymous said...

OT and just as interesting, Mike "Bad Newz" Vick is looking to cop a plea according to the AJC and the Daily Press from his hometown.

not like the Duke case one bit.

mb said...

Hoyt said: "“A great newspaper has to get the big things right, but it also has to pay fanatical attention to thousands of details every day to prevent the kinds of mistakes that start readers wondering, ‘If they can’t spell his name right, what else is wrong with the story?’”

The key phrase is "great paper" - the NYT is no longer a "great paper" (although I'd have no problem using it to line my catbox) so why should they bother getting the facts right, let alone "pay(ing) fanatical attention to thousand of details each day?"

It's so much easier to just make things up. Look what that kind of behavior did for the careers of the G88.

Anonymous said...

1:05 asks whether newspapers were doing any analysis to determine why their circulation is falling off.Reminds me of a story this Spring about how the movie industry had done a study to see why their attendance has been failing. Their conclusion? Apparently the prime reason given was that the movies offered were lousy. Do we see a pattern developing?

ME said...


I’m so going to miss the Master of Misdirect, the Dean of Dodge and Weave, former public editor Calame.

Anonymous said...

1:54pm, not like the Duke case at all. Such nonsense for anyone to try that comparison. I wish Professor Johnson would do a post on that false comparison made by the media.

Anonymous said...

With the advent of 24/7 cable news, the NYT has been reduced to reporting nothing more than politically correct Mad Libs. Instead of leading with facts, the NYT has an ample supply of meta-narratives and reporters such as Duff Wilson simply fill in the blanks. It sure beats investigative reporting when you already have the outline for your story. If the facts don't fit your storyline, well, just omit them.

The problem with the Mad Libs approach to news is the story is just that ...never more than a story.

no justice, no peace said...

Time Magazine Falling Circulation

"...Time's total paid and verified weekly circulation during the six months ended June 30 stood at 3.4 million, down 17.1% from 4.1 million during the same period last year following a reduction in January in the magazine's rate base..."

The NYT hasn't cornered the market on crappy content.

One may be inclined to blame the falling cirulation/subscription on the Internet. Others may suggest that content is King.

Can you imagine keeping your job, regardless of what you do, if your performance fell by 17%?

Think about it this way. 700,000 less people, NOT renewing at $50 per year is $35,000,000 and that does not consider the lost advertising.

No wonder the progressives want the Fairness Doctrine. Few pay to hear them yelp.

no justice, no peace said...

"...Verified subscriptions at Time plunged 63.5% to 128,032 during the six months ended June 30, from 350,623 a year earlier...."

Holy smokes! It appears they may have a transparency in reporting problem.

I would love to see the actual break down on the donations Duke provided last week.

Anonymous said...

The comparisons between Duke lacrosse and the Vick case were made to quiet down the crowds while Mikey's lawyers looked for cover. Overpaid, under achieving, poorly educated football thugs are hard to generate widespread support for when the allegations are so horrible. Gotta dazzle'em with some kinda bull crap while you work the system for your defendant, or scramble for those last crumbs when the posse goes south on him.

haskell said...

And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good --
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

"The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries, and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself."

These quotes are from "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig. This is an extraordinarily helpful book that, among other things, discusses the conflict of visions of reality. It should be required reading for this blog, as it may help reconcile the philosophic differences of the various posters. I hope all of you will read it. It is a great read, besides.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how far the NYT circ has dropped, but I do know several people up north who still subscribe to the Sunday --- but frankly throw the first 2 news sections away and read the rest over brunch. What they love about it is the food and entertainment sections, reviews, Living, magazine, health, real estate, etc. Those are probably still superior to anything else in the country if you live in/near the city. But the news section is cage-liner to them.

Anonymous said...

These people, the NYT, could not protect their city. First bomber with a truck bomv, the initial World Trade Center story didn't fit a metanarrative the newspaper could muster. It couldn't be about fanatical Islamist who wwould later be connected to the fanatical Islamist, the scourge of Islam, who later destroyed the World Trade Center. Killers caught were sent to prison, but none of the dots were connected and little was said about what might be coming. The NYT wss not prepared to warn the country or their city. It just was not part of their world view. They made apology for Jayson Blair by using the metanarrative of race and excued themselves. Called to arms, they have had little or nothing to offer except to blame the country or Republicans or George Bush. It would appear only certain groups can be guilty and certainly not themselves. They applied their metanarrative to the Duke case too and continued well after the case went "backward" as one of the Duke faculty described. Well, it doesn't work in the real world. This newspaper can't continue to walk away from its inaccuracies and misinforming of the public. The cost is too great. Reality has a way of intruding into the social fabric and disrupting the social contract in a harmful way. I know . . . forget the facts if the story is . . . . but in the meantime the World Trade Center is gone. Has it been built back . . . yet? The trust of Duke's faculty and its administration has not been built back either.

Carolyn said...

What self-righteous, smug drivel! The Public Editor of the Times ignores printing inaccurate facts of three innocent college kids nearly jailed for a rape that didn't happen - and instead smirks about accurate SPELLING? That's like the Titanic captain ignoring icy waters drowning its passengers and instead bragging of scented water in its finger bowls!

This article is nothing more than the Times' finger at anyone who dares to make it print facts it doesn't think is 'fit to print'.

LarryD said...

The Marxist-derived world view is horribly over-simplified, it's divided into oppressors(evil), their victims(good), and the champions(good). Western Civ., Capitalism, and White Men are all oppressors. The Islamist simply cannot be recognized as a threat without blowing the world view apart. Hence denial, conspiracy theories, and Bush (and Joe Lieberman) Derangement Syndrome.

Anonymous said...

You'll never get the NYT to admit its errors. You'll never get the NYT to admit its biases. You'll never get the NYT to admit it's on its last legs. A once-great newspaper has become a hollow shell and a peddler of anti-American, leftist bile. Good riddance to Pinch and his minions.

Anonymous said...


The DPD investigation "continues....."
The committee won't meet again for many more weeks or months. Surprise.

Anonymous said...

Hey, enough NYT-bashing. They still have the best crossword puzzles of any major American daily newspaper. So what if they can't get their facts straight?

no justice, no peace said...

3:46 Inre: Marx. If only the Marxists could find one to properly execute his call for violent revolution then one could realize an equality that exceeds even that realized by the Oompa Loompas.

The one reamining sticky little issue is whether success is measured by more or less than 50,000,000 shallow graves?

There can not be anti-intellectualism if there is no intellectualism.

Anonymous said...

The New York Times is a brand, and that brand is partially dfined by not criticizing black incompetence or criminality.

Remember, the Times's science reporter was vilified by most of the Times's staff for giving a positive review to a certain politically incorrect book.

Anonymous said...

The blogger who described the sections of the paper many still look for is correct, the NYT has gone way down hill in it's influence even if people still buy it. I was devastated by the disgusting coverage of the Duke case, with two of the innocent guys living in the NY area ! They owed it to all of us to discuss facts, lead the way and apologize when proven wrong. It's a big heads up not to believe any serious piece they write.

ex NYer said...

I am an ex-New Yorker who has depended upon the NYT for my news for many years. I agree with their editorial approach to most issues. It is therefore sad, indeed, that it can no longer be trusted to provide either unbiased news or fair and balanced columns. Jason Blair was bad enough the coverage of the Duke lacrosse scandal makes me ill. Not only has their reporting been biased and inaccurate, their columns sickening in their rush to judgement but, to me, the most disappointing aspect of their coverage is the refusal of their senior editors to acknowledge their myriad mistakes.

Anonymous said...

The influence of NY Times, and most other major media, is waning because of the Internet.

Why would anyone who knows about the Times's unwritten prejudices expect it to cover the Duke case accurately?

C'est absurde.

don t. said...

VERRRRRRRY expensive crossword puzzles. What a rag!!! I do actually buy the Sunday thing occasionally...helps to know what the enemy is doing and saying.


rod allison, detroit said...

"To its credit, ten days after the article appeared, the Times did correct Duff Wilson’s misidentification of State Bar attorney Doug Brocker’s name."

The Times has always made a point of tryng to look committed to accuracy by diligently correcting minor, inconsequential errors, while making huge, thematical errors and misrepresentations (eg. Nifong had a "body of evidence" to support a case).