Craig Silverman, the resident expert on journalistic error at Poynter.org, posted a massive item titled “How Politico can fix its mistake about Obama book.” It noted how a blog item posted yesterday by Politico’s Dylan Byers reported a falsehood about Barack Obama’s integrity as author of his memoir “Dreams from My Father”.
Byers suggested that Obama hadn’t acknowledged that characters in that book were composites, although that fact was actually disclosed in the book’s introduction. The bottom of the Politico item — which got huge play on Drudge — carried an “update” and a “correction” to alert readers to the problem. Silverman was unimpressed: “Politico’s efforts to correct the error have proven ineffective when compared with the way the mistaken accusation took off.”
Politico White House reporter Glenn Thrush umbraged:
In a phone call this afternoon, Thrush expanded on his critique of the critique. ”I think the point is sometimes we pay more attention to the reporting of these stories than we do to the story itself,” he says. “I think it’s incumbent on media critics to weigh the same news equities as we do and ask themselves if their story is more important than the original story.” Those thoughts, he noted, were his own and weren’t cleared with higher-ups at Politico.
Thrush can be my colleague any time, especially if he’d be willing to pull such a Twizzler act with logic and rationality in my defense. The problem with the Politico post is way too simple for journalistic intellectualizing: It said that Obama hadn’t disclosed to readers his cheesy approach with composite characters when, in fact, he’d fully disclosed his cheesy approach with composite characters. No fast one by the president in abeyance!
Even more alarming, Thrush appears to be calling for some kind of debate on the merits of a memoirist deploying composites. The New York Times in 2008 took up that issue, writing, “Reporters have questioned Mr. Obama’s use of fictional techniques like composite characters, but some editors and critics say that is common in memoirs.”
So Thrush is attempting to push this dialogue in two places where, to be charitable, Politico has little expertise: literary criticism and old news.