.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Monday, May 07, 2007

Jonathan Weisman responds: "It was a clarification not a correction."

Jonathan Weisman adds this comment at the bottom of a thread at HorsesMouth about his "Dems Back Down" front page Washington Post story that was corrected on Saturday:

The posting was supposed to be a clarification, not a correction, and your misinterpretation ratifies the concerns of the editors who didn't want to run it in the first place [snip]

Due to the phrasing of the story's lead, Nancy Pelosi believed it sounded like that concession was offered face to face as she and Bush met at the White House. If it did sound like that, it was completely unintentional. Indeed, the editors of the paper believed the lead made no such inference at all. [snip]

I am wondering now if once again, no good deed goes unpunished. We should have run no clarification at all, and taken the heat from the speaker.

Follow the link above to see how Mr. Weisman invites Greg Sargent to call him on such matters in the future...with a pithy tsk tsk. I can imagine how that conversation would go: "Shame on you, Greg, for reporting this story to your readers (ie. doing his job) when you should have just called up your Washington Post buddy who would have told you it's a non-story."

Of course, since we are talking about the importance of headlines and getting one's facts straight, we shouldn't have to remind Mr. Weisman that the title above the WaPo "clarification" reads:

Correction to this Article

What's a couple syllables between friends?

For me, the really interesting line here is how Weisman muses: "We should have run no clarification at all, and taken the heat from the speaker."

Wow. I'm glad he shared that. Next time, we readers should assume that Washington Post reporters fronting a story that implies the Democrats are weak and caving to the President are telling us less than the full truth. Weisman's comment is revealing on so many levels. Bill Moyers is exactly right about the state of American journalism.
As I write in a comment below, journalists and newspapers are measured by what we read in print and its consequences, not by what they say about it afterwards.

If the article wasn't clear, or "sounded like" something that the Speaker of the House, a subject of the story, found important enough to dispute as fact then that is a failure of the journalism itself. Reporters, in general, shouldn't be in the habit of "clarifying" their stories to an online audience...given how stories get picked up and expanded on in the 24h news environement, reporters should make every effort to get the story right in the first place, where it counts.

Tags:

Update: awol, who covered this story yesterday at dailykos, offers this brilliant analysis below:

In his comment Weisman states, without irony, that Democrats didn't make the concession to Republican but rather to him. He writes, "Nancy Pelosi believed it sounded like that concession was offered face to face as she and Bush met at the White House. If it did sound like that, it was completely unintentional. . . . The concessions were made to me, as a reporter, talking to senior leadership aides and members of leadership."

Now, frankly, this feel like an ex post facto lie -- trying to come up with a story after the fact that weasels out of the way in which the Washington Post claimed Democrats made concessions. Is it a concession if the withdrawal of a timeline is "made to" a reporter rather than in a negotiation? Luckily, there is another phrase in the opening sentence of the original article which makes clear that this is, in fact, an ex post facto LIE. Here's the sentence from the post, with two words highlighted: "President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq."

Now, Weisman wants us to believe that the "concession" which Democrats offered was not to Republicans, but was "made to me, as a reporter." But what could we then possibly do with "agreement". Who did Democrats make an agreement with? Did they make an agreement with Weisman? (No). Did they make an agreement among themselves (No). So it must mean an agreement with the Republican negotiators. But Weisman says, in ex post facto non-retraction that they didn't mean to say that the only concessions were made "to him, as a reporter."


Exactly.

6 Comments:

  • Several points to make but this seems an essential one. Weisman notes "House Democrats are now considering a short-term funding bill with benchmarks but no timeline." Now there are different ways to spin what this means. One way to spin it is to say that this is "backing down" and making a "concession". But who is using these terms -- backing down or making a concession? Not the Democrats themselves. And probably not the Republicans. Another way to spin this would be that it is precisely not backing down. The initial bill extended for much longer, it wasn't on a short leash. Democrats couldn't pass this. Arguably, far from "backing down" the "short leash" bill ratchets pressure on the president UP, without making any concessions on extending the war past this July. (The initial bill of course would have extended the war past July).

    In other words, it's quite possible that the Dems arrive at a short leash bill not out of superficial *negotiations* with the President, or to make a concession to the President -- but as an aggressive response to the President that is not actually emerging out of the bipartisan negotiations, and certainly not as an explicitly negotiated concession.

    By Anonymous awol, at 12:01 PM  

  • The challenge with discussing Weisman's comment is that by concentrating on *one* glaring problem, you risk not mentioning others. But consider this sentence, "I am wondering now if once again, no good deed goes unpunished." How messed up is it to present a correction as a "good deed"? Think about what's at stake in this conflation of correcting a news article and doing a good deed. And how messed up is it to present articles in blogs that respond to this correction as punishment? In what sense is the newspaper or journalist who issues an (unsigned) correction "punished" when other people write about it?

    By Anonymous awol, at 12:08 PM  

  • Exactly, & there's another theme here:

    Journalists and newspapers are measured by what we read in print, not by what they say about it afterwards.

    If the article wasn't clear, or "sounded like" something that the Speaker, a subject of the story, found important enough to dispute as fact then that is a failure of the journalism itself.

    Reporters, in general, shouldn't be in the habit of "clarifying" their thoughts to an online audience, they should get the story right in the first place, where it counts. That's how we judge them. That's the job of Weisman's editors.

    JW is also special pleading here and implying a "buddy buddy" with Greg Sargent that creates a kind of "spin" on how his readers will perceive Sargent's initial story itself. That was very political.

    I still can't get over calling a "correction" a "clarification".

    If that's JW's standards on reporting facts, he's not much of a reporter at all.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 12:16 PM  

  • Next point: In his comment Weisman states, without irony, that Democrats didn't make the concession to Republican but rather to him. He writes, "Nancy Pelosi believed it sounded like that concession was offered face to face as she and Bush met at the White House. If it did sound like that, it was completely unintentional. . . . The concessions were made to me, as a reporter, talking to senior leadership aides and members of leadership."

    Now, frankly, this feel like an ex post facto lie -- trying to come up with a story after the fact that weasels out of the way in which the Washington Post claimed Democrats made concessions. Is it a concession if the withdrawal of a timeline is "made to" a reporter rather than in a negotiation? Luckily, there is another phrase in the opening sentence of the original article which makes clear that this is, in fact, an ex post facto LIE. Here's the sentence from the post, with two words highlighted: "President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq."

    Now, Weisman wants us to believe that the "concession" which Democrats offered was not to Republicans, but was "made to me, as a reporter." But what could we then possibly do with "agreement". Who did Democrats make an agreement with? Did they make an agreement with Weisman? (No). Did they make an agreement among themselves (No). So it must mean an agreement with the Republican negotiators. But Weisman says, in ex post facto non-retraction that they didn't mean to say that the only concessions were made "to him, as a reporter."

    By Anonymous awol, at 12:19 PM  

  • You are spot on with this awol.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 12:23 PM  

  • From CNN, with crucial item vis-a-vis Weisman's misstatements in bold:

    According to several Democratic aides, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, along with House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and Defense Subcommittee Chair John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, are working on the details on this two-step funding plan with other House leaders.

    These discussions are on a track separate from negotiations with White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.

    By Anonymous awol, at 5:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home