Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Culure: So maybe single issue blogging does pay off

Score a big victory for Don Luskin:

[The New York] Times has been forced to deal with its fox-guarding-the-henhouse policy of letting its op-ed columnists handle their own corrections of their own errors. That policy of institutionalized unaccountability has led, just as you would expect, to lots of errors and almost no corrections -- and to the illusion of infallibility for the likes of Paul Krugman.

Think how much less influential liberal icons like Krugman and Maureen Dowd will be when their errors must be admitted and corrected. Think how the threat of that will restrain them from making errors in the first place. And, most important, think how much less powerful their rhetoric will be when it can no longer rely of errors which, to be blunt, are frequently not "errors" at all -- but rather deliberate distortions, misquotations, and downright lies.

The Times' policy shift is subtle but significant. In a memo last week, editorial page editor Gail Collins declared,

"...while their opinions are their own, the columnists are obviously required to be factually accurate. If one of them makes an error, he or she is expected to promptly correct it in the column. After some experimentation at different ways of making corrections, we now encourage a uniform approach, with the correction made at the bottom of the piece."
What does this mean, exactly? It means that no longer can columnist corrections come in the form of what Times "public editor" Daniel Okrent calls a "rowback" -- the correct restatement of the error in a subsequent column, without reference to the original error or any admission that there even was an error in the first place. Columnists -- and reporters, for that matter -- love rowbacks because they can comfort themselves that they set the record straight, but without having to admit error.
Luskin, though his unrelenting hounding of Times columnist Paul Krugman, has compelled the Times to make a sweeping change in how it handles columnist errors and misstatements. Given the large volume of errors on the part the Times’ columnists, I suspect this is going to take up a lot of ink. Bravo, Don!

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