Correcting the corrections policy

Correcting the corrections policy
: Robert Cox at The National Debate has been waging a singlehanded campaign to get The Times to publish corrections of its op-ed columnists’ errors, which up until now has been up to the individual columnists.

He has the first glimmers of victory at hand.

Dan Okrent writes in Sunday’s Times:

[Editor Page Editor Gail] Collins explains why columnists must be allowed the freedom of their opinions, but insists that they “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.” Corrections, under this new rule, are to be placed at the end of a subsequent column, “to maximize the chance that they will be seen by all their readers, everywhere,” a reference to the wide syndication many of the columnists enjoy….

In the coming months I expect columnist corrections to become a little more frequent and a lot more forthright than they’ve been in the past. Yet the final measure of Collins’s success, and of the individual columnists, will be not in the corrections but in the absence of the need for them.

At last. It’s the right move.

: Okrent also acknowledges that NY Times lawyers went after Cox’ parody op-ed correction site with a stupid “sledgehammer.”

I stayed out of that battle as it occurred, since I’m related to both big and small media and thought that in this case, it put me in a conflict. I’ll say now that it turned out the way it should have turned out in the first instance, which I said privately to people who asked. Cox’ page needed to be clear that it was a parody not only because that’s the way to play it safe legally — parody is protected — but also because you never want to confuse your readers. The Times should have asked for just that from the first and I’ll bet Cox would have seen the point and agreed; instead, they pulled out the sledgehammer and gave the paper a bad name in this world even as Okrent has been working hard to rebuild its good name. Happy ending in any case.

: And Okrent says this about columnists in today’s column:

I sometimes think opinion columns ought to carry a warning: “The following is solely the opinion of the author, supported by data I alone have chosen to include. Live with it.” Opinion is inherently unfair.

The same could be put over the door of many if not most weblogs. But the real question is how often it should be used over news reporting. Yup, that’s the real question.