How to screw up and admit it

How to screw up and admit it

: Reader Patrick Hynes emails me a comparative study in newspaper corrections.

In the “Do’s” column, put Dan Okrent’s correction this Sunday:

In my June 27 column, I described Nigel Hamilton’s “Bill Clinton: An American Journey” as a “full-frontal attack.” This characterization came from my reliance on a review by critic Michiko Kakutani. She may be right, but given that I’ve never read the book, it was stupid of me to characterize it with such glib surety.

In the Don’t’s column, put Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s 12-graf “explanation” for falsely reporting that Paul Bremer did not give a farewell address to the Iraqi people. “I screwed up; sorry” should have summed it up. But check out the full length of his effort to spread the blame on Scott Johnson’s blog.

  • http://myblahg.blogspot.com Robert McClelland

    So what’s the problem? Journalists, out of necessity, have to rely on government agencies to keep them informed of what is going on and in this case it looks like the CPA didn’t do that. Think about it, even you keep your readers informed when you are making a television appearence. So wouldn’t it make sense that the CPA should have informed journalists of this speech given by Bremer to the Iraqi people and isn’t it just an honest mistake that the press reported none had been given?

  • Bostonian

    Did Chandrasekaran ask anyone if there was a speech? How hard did he look? Who did he ask?
    In fact, Chandrasekaran reported as if he had hard knowledge that there was no speech, and he took the opportunity to editorialize on it (the comment about Bremer slinking out of the country). If he had been more honest, he could have reported “When asked, coalition authorities did not plan a speech to the press.”
    In any case, this does not speak well of the WaPo’s ability to recruit useful contacts. If the WaPo Baghdad bureau chief missed this, how much reliance can their readers place on this paper?

  • Andy

    The job of a Print Journalist is to watch TV and report what is broadcast? If the TV doesn’t report it then it didn’t happen?
    Amazing. I thought print and broadcast competed for news, sources, quotes and background. I always preferred print for perspective and context that is not available in broadcast.
    For this they hand out awards?

  • shark

    So what’s the problem? Journalists, out of necessity, have to rely on government agencies to keep them informed of what is going on and in this case it looks like the CPA didn’t do that. Think about it, even you keep your readers informed when you are making a television appearence. So wouldn’t it make sense that the CPA should have informed journalists of this speech given by Bremer to the Iraqi people and isn’t it just an honest mistake that the press reported none had been given?
    So you’re saying that “journalists” can’t get facts straight w/o a press release or event advisory? If that’s the case, why do we need journalists at all? Just rely on advisories from various govt. agencies.
    It’s not an “honest mistake” – it’s a lazy, sloppy mistake. News generally doesn’t happen with a prior press release. Journalists are supposed to find these things out for themselves.
    If they can’t be bothered, who needs them?

  • http://myblahg.blogspot.com Robert McClelland

    it’s a lazy, sloppy mistake.
    Fair enough, I’ll accept that. But it’s still just a mistake even if it’s a lazy, sloppy one and even the best of us make mistakes. To use that as evidence of the Jewish. . .I mean liberal media conspiracy or that the media is completely unreliable is ludicrous.

  • Patrick

    Mr. McClelland,
    Re reliability, who do you think I regard as more reliable going forward, the guy who straightforwardly admitted he did something stupid or the guy who blamed his own false affirmative factual assertion on the subject of the assertion? Do you think it’s unfair to use a person’s conduct when s/he errs as a basis for making judgments about that person’s reliability?

  • JorgXMcKie

    Am I to presume, then, that Robert McClelland accepts that Bush has made only the honest mistakes of relying on govt agency info handouts (or the lack thereof) in making all his decisions? Nothing to be castigated about?

  • shark

    But it’s still just a mistake even if it’s a lazy, sloppy one and even the best of us make mistakes
    Ah, if only this forgiving standard was applied to Pres. Bush and WMD intel….
    To use that as evidence of the Jewish. . .I mean liberal media conspiracy or that the media is completely unreliable is ludicrous.
    If the media is making sloppy, easily avoidable mistakes- yes, it does speak to their lack of reliability. At the very least, the 2 publications that couldn’t get the story right have severe credibility damage. It really does make you question the rest of their coverage. Their job is a little more than monitoring Iraqi TV and reading CPA press releases. Or at least, it should be

  • Jos Bleau

    Chandrasekaran’s exuse is, in essence, “they didn’t make it easy for me’, ‘they’ referring to the CPA.
    This points to my biggest problem with the media – if a story isn’t pre-chewed and pre-digested and delivered with a tight little bow and a note telling exactly how if fits into the narrative of the day then the story simply doesn’t exist.
    Much of what passes for ‘bias’ in the media (on both the right and the left) is simply the choice of whose predigested storyline runs that day – and which usual suspects are quoted.
    That’s more laziness than anything else.
    I’m a conservative, but I’d applaud a crusading liberal media that was intellectualy honest and independent, asks tough questions of all players, and countered predigested spin (from all sides) with shoe leather and gumption.
    But that’s a lot of work, and it doesn’t look like Chandrasekaran or his editors are up to it.

  • http://leatherpenguin.com/MT TC-LeatherPenguin

    Chandrasekaran blew it, plain and simple. So CNN Intl. didn’t have the story … look where you are assigned, dummy. You should be monitoring the local channels, especially the channels in the local LANGUAGE, if you’re gonna write stories about the locals.

  • TX Bueller

    Uh, when Bremer made the speech he had already transfered power to the Iraqi Interim Govt. So, the CPA ceased to exists, right? So, there was no CPA to issue a press release.

  • Walter Wallis

    Paul Bremmer also left Baghdad without paying his electric and phone bills, and abandoned three pregnant mistresses. Well, at least there was no announcement to the contrary.

  • ralph

    This might be forgiven if it were not part of such an extensive pattern of journalism by assumption from afar and gloom by default. This time WaPo and LA Times got nabbed lazily reporting from the green zone. Problem is, they’ve been doing it this way all along, but most of the reporting and issues have been in such shades of grey that its hard to pin it down.
    This statement has provided a very revealing look at how this reporting is done – go to a CPA briefing, watch CNN, talk to a few Iraqis.

  • brett

    > “I leave Iraq gladdened by what has been accomplished and confident that your future is full of hope. A piece of my heart will always remain here in the beautiful land between the two rivers with its fertile valleys, it’s majestic mountains and its wonderful people.”
    screw what he said, he doesn’t know the difference between the plural and the possessive. (this was NOT a verbatim Bremer quote). and he’s baghdad bureau chief? yikes.

  • http://www.billingsnews.com David Crisp

    I disagree on both points. The Okrent correction is graceful, but it still doesn’t tell me whether his initial assertion was accurate, only that it was reckless.
    The Washington Post explanation isn’t something I would want to read in a correction box, but it is what I would want if I were the reporter’s boss, and it reads as if that is how it was written.
    Reporters should not, of course, rely on official sources for all their news. But a farewell speech is the sort of thing one would expect official sources to provide as a matter of routine, and it’s understandable that a reporter might miss it otherwise. But it’s just silly to argue, as some commenters seem to be doing, that the Post would deliberately falsify easily verifiable information as a way of making the CPA look bad.

  • mmiller

    It would be nice to be able to believe that Rajiv Chandrasekaran was only being sloppy. But an Iraqi, Ali, posted on his blog on June 29 about Bremer’s speech and the positive reactions to it by his co-workers.
    http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/archives/2004_06_01_iraqthemodel_archive.html#108851118113969316
    (Sorry I don’t know how to do the link properly)
    Ali’s report was linked by many blogs on the web, and yet it took Chandrasekaran apparently a lot of research to determine that a speech had take place. And he still can’t verify that Al Jazeera broadcast it, though Ali certainly can and did in his post. According to WaPo the speech didn’t resonate either, but that’s not what Ali says.
    Of course, Ali is just one guy in Iraq, but it doesn’t build my confidence in the quality of reporting that is coming out of Iraq when I’m aware of things sitting in L.A. that a bureau chief sitting in Baghdad has no clue about.
    Couple that with Marine reservist Eric M. Johnson’s account of his dealings with Chandrasekaran (http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/007129.php) and WaPo’s credibility is totally shot to to hell. A 12 paragraph correction isn’t going to fix that.

  • http://www.e-meds-rx.com Prescription Drugs