Man Without Qualities

Monday, October 03, 2005

Error Times

Don Luskin identifies several express errors included in Gail Collins' A Letter From the Editor: It All Goes on the Permanent Record - which describes a new corrections policy while finally correcting some past errors, including Paul Krugman's notorious phony Florida election numbers.

It's certainly nice to see an obvious error or two corrected, but I am not optimistic that the new policy will be enforced by Ms. Collins because the old policy was not enforced by Ms. Collins. Already Don links to EU Rota, who notes a slew of recent whoppers from Herr Doktorprofessor and Maureen Dowd that have not been corrected.

Ms. Collin's also errs by egregious omission in her misleading description of how the new policy came about. She makes it seem as though each and every one of the Timesfolk involved were always trying to get things right, but there are practical restraints (there are just 700 words in those columns, you understand) and that this new policy is just the latest good faith effort to do that. (We correct all errors, from heart-stoppingly egregious to sublimely insignificant, because we believe that The Times should take its reputation for accuracy seriously. It's also an important discipline. ... blah, blah, blah) Omitted is any reference to the bludgeonings the Times' Public Editor Byron Calame has needed to deliver - including his frank statement that Ms. Collins was not enforcing the old policy. Nor does Ms. Collins include any reference to Don Luskin's efforts, although he is quite clearly the major actor responsible for the chain of events leading to the creation of Ms. Collins' new policy.

So now Ms. Collins is going to oversee A "For the Record" column of errata [that] will run under the editorials whenever it's appropriate. But Ms. Collins herself is very much a part of the problems with the Times editorial page. The reasoning in her "letter" does not augur well for the new policy, even where she corrects gross mistakes. Even when making corrections she displays serious problems in judgment, as with this example:
Although there have been multitudinous references throughout the media to [Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA director, and his successor Michael Brown] as former college chums or college roommates, they in fact went to different schools. A spokeswoman for Mr. Allbaugh says that while they have been close pals for a long time, they met after graduation. Obviously, if we're debating the serious issue of allegations about cronyism at FEMA, a friend is a friend whether the relationship was born off campus or on.
But nobody would have been shocked to learn that Mr. Allbaugh had hired someone he had known and liked for a long time. John Roberts, for example, is apparently personally known and liked by almost everyone in Washington - and that very quality of the man has been viewed as an asset. Nor was it a bad thing that George Bush is a personal friend of Harriet Miers. Contrary to Ms. Collin's thinking, mere friendship, as such, does not necessarily suggest cronyism. The shocking thing about Mr. Brown's hire was exactly that the he enjoyed a friendship with Mr. Allbaugh said to have been forged under circumstances in which friendships are often forged for reasons quite inconsistent with the jobs these two men were to perform in the federal government.

Some friends are not just friends. The political effect of the media's representing the Brown/Allbaugh friendship as originating in their having been college roommates was hardly more damaging than an allegation that their friendship was rooted in sexual infatuation would have been. Yet, if the friendship had been represented as forged when both men came to know and admire each other while in public service (for example), their friendship would likely have had no political consequence at all in the aftermath of Katrina.

Just who does Ms. Collins think she's kidding?

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