Tagged: The New York Times

Proof that it’s never to late to correct a factual error

The New York Times this morning published a correction of a story it ran 161 years ago, on January 20, 1853:

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The Times does take its responsibility for factual accuracy seriously. This whimsical correction of two, 161-year-old spelling errors was one of nine corrections it published today. Five years ago, at the urging of Contrarian and Provincial Court Judge Anne Derrick, the Times corrected its obituary of Donald Marshall Jr. The original version of the Times obit had incorrectly described the circumstances surrounding the killing of Sandy Seale, the 16-year-old boy whom Marshall was falsely convicted of murdering.

For all they criticize others, journalists have notoriously thin skins. They hate admitting error. Certain local journals all but refuse to do so unless someone credibly threatens litigation. Yet here comes the august New York Times publishing fistsful of mea culpas day after day. Far from diminishing its credibility or exposing the paper as sloppy, this willingness to admit and correct mistakes enhances its stature.

The Times published tens of thousands of words a day about fast-breaking, important, often controversial events. It is not humanly possible to do that without making mistakes. By correcting them forthrightly, the Times show readers a commitment to get things right.

To be sure, many critics say the Times gets a lot of big things wrong, such as its reluctance to apply the term “torture” to brutal tactics employed by the US Military. I agree with some of this criticism, but they are matters of editorial judgment and opinion. I am still grateful for the paper’s determination to ferret out and fix even the smallest factual mistakes.

The gold standard for correction goes to the Public Radio International program This American Life, which discovered it had been grossly misled by a freelancer in an episode that purported to expose abuse of factory workers in China. The program didn’t merely correct, retract, and apologize for the story. It did all of those things, but it also devoted a full hour to a meticulous examination of the fabrication, and its producers’ failure to realize they were being hoodwinked. The correction is a remarkable piece of journalism in its candour, thoroughness, and willingness to shine an unflattering spotlight on its own journalistic failings. Ironically, it gave me an almost unshakable trust in the program. You can listen to the correction here, and download the transcript here. You can subscribe to the podcast with iTunes or any podcast app.

 

The growing clamor to grant Edward Snowden clemency

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A Washington, DC, city bus

Briefly, because I can’t say it better than these people did, please check out the links below for eloquent arguments about the value of Edward Snowden’s lawbreaking, and the Obama administration’s pernicious folly in persecuting him.

On the last day of October, from his exile in Russia, Snowden wrote a letter seeking clemency.

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On the first day of January, a New York Times editorial endorsed his request.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

In a series of tweets, a US business journalist who has cheered on the excesses of the security state, condemned the Times’ position.

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The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf eviscerated Barro’s argument in a logical tour-de-force.

When should a leaker of government secrets be forgiven rather than jailed? Here are some possible standards:

  • When the leak reveals lawbreaking by the U.S. government
  • When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges
  • When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms
  • When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress
  • When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress
  • When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge.

The Snowden leak meets all of those thresholds, among others….

Leaks of classified information in the United States will remain common, regardless of what happens to Snowden, because they frequently serve the interests of people in power—and they won’t be prosecuted precisely because they are powerful or connected. That longstanding, bipartisan dynamic is far more important to the norms surrounding official secrets in the U.S. than how a singular, unrepeatable, once-in-a-generation leak is handled….

For apparently altruistic reasons, Snowden revealed scandalous instances of illegal behavior, and the scandal that mass surveillance on innocents is considered moral and legal by the national-security state, though it knew enough to keep that a secret. It is difficult to imagine another leak exposing policies so dangerous to a free society or state secrets so antithetical to representative government. The danger of a Snowden pardon creating a norm is virtually nonexistent.

The Friedersdorf piece in particular deserves to be read in its entirety.

Email fogeys

Email DeclineWho uses email? According to the New York Times, it’s the same people who “still watch movies on a VCR, listen to vinyl records, and shoot photos on film.”

At left, Comscore, the Internet rating agency, graphs the startling demographic split in email use.

The drop is sharpest among the Internet generation, while email use by those over 55 showed a sharp uptick, perhaps reflecting the fact that more and more, ahem, old people are getting on line.

Total email use is falling too. The Times says the total number of unique US visitors to major e-mail sites like Yahoo and Hotmail peaked in November, 2009, and has since slid 6 percent. Visits by  12- to 17-year-olds fell around 18 percent. The only exception? Visits to Gmail are 10 percent from a year ago.

The trend to texting parallels an earlier noted shift away from phone calls by young people. So why hasn’t someone produced a mobile device whose only function is to send and receive text messages?