Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health & human services (Jim Bourg/Reuters) Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health & human services (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Introducing Clarification Tribunal, the Erik Wemple Blog’s venue for adjudicating the most overused italicized word in all of journalism: “Clarification.

Deployed by journalists seeking to avoid a more severe word that also begins with a “c,” “clarifications” so often clarify only that this industry is full of people who cannot admit their errors. The purpose of this series, which will find no shortage of material, is to decide whether a particular “clarification” iteration is justified.

Now, for the first case in Clarification Tribunal:

The Facts: On Friday afternoon, NBC News issued a tweet saying the following:

White House to take down new health care website for repairs due to continued glitches. @TomCostelloNBC starts us off #NBCNightlyNews

On “NBC Nightly News,” Costello reported, “Separately now, the English version language of HealthCare.gov is being taken down again over the weekend between the hours of 1 and 5 AM, so technical experts can try to work on the problems with the system.”

Later that night, the “c” word entered the picture, via Twitter:



The Case for the Prosecution: This is classic clarificational butt-covering. To “take down” the site altogether is a factual world removed from turning it off while people are sleeping.

The Case for the Defense: These circumstances are precisely why we have clarifications — to add detail and context to an earlier report.

The Verdict: Please vote in the comments.