Most Read: Opinions

direct signup

Join a Discussion

There are no discussions scheduled today.

Weekly schedule, past shows

Erik Wemple
On Twitter E-mail |  On Twitter Follow |  On Facebook Fan |  RSS RSS Feed
Posted at 04:37 PM ET, 10/03/2011

Pelosi, Daily Beast and Obama: What happened?

The Daily Beast is making readers exert quite a bit of effort to find out what was wrong with its story on President Obama’s “populist makeover.” The story carried the byline of Howard Kurtz and a tag line listing Daniel Stone, Eleanor Clift, John Solomon and Lois Romano as reporting contributors.

At the foot of page 3 sits this bit of italics:

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the story included a comment erroneously attributed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, criticizing the White House’s efforts at political messaging. Newsweek and The Daily Beast regret the error.

I’ll supplement that editor’s note:

Blogger’s note: That comment that was erroneously attributed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi? That wasn’t any ordinary comment; it was an historic one, had it been true: “I think you need to talk about how poorly they do on message. They can’t see around corners; they anticipate nothing.”

The Daily Beast made a big mistake and then corrected it, though perhaps not in the most accountabilified fashion. The “note”could have been easier to find and could have acknowledged just how big a deal this was. Oh well, at least it didn’t pull a Daily Caller.

Kurtz, the Washington bureau chief for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, waved off a question on the matter, citing an obligation to defer to Beast spokesman Andrew Kirk. Here’s Kirk’s official account of what happened:

The article, Behind Obama’s Populist Makeover, included a comment erroneously attributed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, criticizing the administration’s political messaging. The writer misread notes of an interview conducted by a colleague. The error has been corrected, and we’ve apologized to Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Yet another reminder that no two journalism errors are quite alike. There are just so many avenues in this profession that lead to embarrassing, Internet-preoccupying mistakes. Hundreds, thousands of avenues — even when a reporter is working alone. Saddle up a team of reporters, and the opportunities for screw-ups mount.

The official explanation — and less official ones — still leaves some stuff unexplained. Like, how did those notes get on paper to begin with? Who said that stuff? Politico is reporting that Romano handed off some notes of a Pelosi interview to Kurtz. Somewhere along the way, something got botched. Perhaps the contributors should read the piece carrying their by- and taglines prior to publication.

Time for some collegialism at the Daily Beast. Whoever bears the blame for the misattribution should come forth and accept the foul, in the manner of a basketball player who hacks another and raises a hand to acknowledge the mistake. The closest we have to that scenario right now is a Kurtz tweet saying, in part, “We regret the error.” That leaves a whole crew of Beastians taking the fall for this problem. Not fair.

Another point here: Kurtz, Solomon, Stone, Clift, Romano — how many decades of journo experience do those people have among them? When their collective opus falls into disrepute, though, who’s answering for it? Andrew Kirk. Andrew Kirk? I am sure he’s an amazing Director of Public Relations for Newsweek & The Daily Beast. He responded swiftly to my request for the official line on this incident. Yet when journalistic veterans commit an error, journalistic veterans should account for that error. They’re paid enough to cram that task into their job descriptions. Speak up.

Given that the Beast has come clean as an institution, the accountability question moves to the sites that picked up on the too-good-to-believe quote and trafficked it.

The Republican National Committee, for instance, hopped right on it:

They Said It! Pelosi Says Obama White House Can’t Message Or “See Around Corners” ... House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Says Obama White House Does “Poorly” On Messaging, “Can’t See Around Corners” And “Anticipate Nothing.”

The Erik Wemple Blog asked the RNC just what it does in an instance like this. A reply is pending.

Fox News slapped a big-font headline on its abridgement of the story:

Democrats in Congress add to the indictment, charging that the president failed to sell his successes more aggressively, letting the opposition define them. “I think you need to talk about how poorly they do on message,” says House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of the president and his advisers. “They can’t see around corners; they anticipate nothing.”

What does Fox do here? Take down the post, amend it, force Kurtz & Co. to go on “O’Reilly” and explain themselves? An inquiry is pending.

Updated (4:47 p.m.): Door No. 2: The Fox News post was changed to reflect the quote retraction.

By  |  04:37 PM ET, 10/03/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company