When the New York Times issues a correction, the New York Times issues a correction. The text attached to this Tuesday story by New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman is unequivocal. A mistake had occurred, it reported, in characterizing some quotes by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Here’s how the Times correction reads:
Correction: April 9, 2014
An earlier version of this article misidentified the target of criticism by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, as the Senate prepared to vote on legislation meant to close the pay gap between men and women. When he referred to “the left’s latest bizarre obsession,” he was criticizing Democrats’ attacks on David H. and Charles G. Koch, conservative billionaires whose political organizations have spent more than $30 million on ads so far to help Republicans win control of the Senate. He was not referring to the pay-equity issue.
That’s just one sample of a flurry of corrective — and somewhat less corrective — steps taken by news organizations over this very issue. At 1:40 p.m. yesterday, Sahil Kapur of TPM published a piece on this very matter, one that prompted a lot of aggregation around the Internet. It carries this note at bottom, which leaves room for more interpretation than does the New York Times’s treatment:
Clarification: This article initially attributed McConnell’s remarks to Democrats’ push on pay equity. His office contends that they were in reference to Reid’s comments about the Koch brothers. Reid discussed both pay equity and the Kochs in the floor speech McConnell was referring to.
In a brief chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Kapur said, “The initial confusion was that Sen. McConnell didn’t specify whether he was referring to pay equity or the Koch brothers and his remarks don’t point to one issue or the other. “His office says it was about the Koch brothers, which I’m not disputing. I want to be transparent, and I really regret the confusion.” Here’s a draft of Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery. They are heavy on anti-Koch content.
“As is crystal clear to anyone who actually read or heard his remarks, Senator McConnell was referring to an ‘attack’ that Senator Reid had made the previous day on two private citizens who disagree with him,” McConnell spokesman Brian McGuire said in a statement. “Only someone who believes that Senator Reid was ‘attacking’ pay equity could conclude that Senator McConnell was doing so himself.”
The Daily Beast piggybacked on Kapur’s piece in a brief mention on its “Cheat Sheet.” That item now features this sentence: “Talking Points Memo previously incorrectly reported that the ‘bizarre obsession’ referred to closing the gender wage disparity.”
The National Journal’s Lucia Graves dropped Kapur’s take into a piece on gender equity as a Democratic issue. It included this: “McConnell on Tuesday called Democrats’ push for action on gender pay equity a ‘bizarre obsession’ designed to blow “kisses to their powerful pals on the left,” as TPM’s Sahil Kapur reported.” That bit later disappeared from the story, without any accompanying explanation:
After the Erik Wemple Blog started bugging National Journal about the matter, the site posted this addendum:
Update: An earlier version of this story contained a comment from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that Talking Points Memo had construed as criticism of the Democrats’ focus on pay equity issues. As TPM is now reporting, McConnell’s office has since said that TPM misconstrued his comments and that he was actually talking about the Democrats’ focus on the Koch brothers. As a result, McConnell’s comment has been removed from this story.
National Journal’s top editor, Tim Grieve, gets it right with this statement: “If we get a material fact wrong in a story, we should immediately correct the fact and post a correction. This one is complicated – because our reporter was accurately repeating what another news organization had previously reported and then was subsequently called into question. We should have been more transparent when we made the change and have since posted an update to the story, explaining the change.”
ThinkProgress, a high-volume site that’s a project of the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, is sticking with its headline on the matter: “Mitch McConnell Compares ‘Obsession’ With Closing Gender Pay Gap To Blowing ‘A Few Kisses'”* Judd Legum, the site’s editor, responded quickly to our inquiry on the matter and posted an “update” telling the McConnell side of the story.
The Chicago Sun-Times trafficked in the TPM story as well. It now features this footnote:
EDITOR’S NOTE, April 9: An earlier version of this post stated that Sen. McConnell was referring to the gender pay inequity Sen. Reid had been talking about on the Senate floor. McConnell’s office maintains his statements were in reference to attacks on the Koch brothers, whom Reid also discussed in his time on the floor.
And a piece in The Hill includes this tagline: “This article was corrected at 2:02 p.m. to clarify McConnell’s remarks.”
Real Clear Politics too.
* Correction: Legum e-mails us to say that the headline changed when the site posted its update. Headline now reads, “Mitch McConnell Claims His Blowing ‘Kisses’ Remark Was Not About Equal Pay (Updated)”