Politico Magazine yesterday published a story by investigative reporter Ronald Kessler on President Obama’s (mis)handling of the crisis revolving around the lack of protection he has received from the Secret Service. At that time, the White House hadn’t announced any high-level personnel changes stemming from the various security breaches that have recently come to light.

Noting that the president hadn’t acted to clean house at the Secret Service, Kessler argued in a provocative ending:

Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination hasn’t already occurred. Sadly, given Obama’s colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service.

Bold highlighting inserted to showcase a poorly constructed sentence. Starting any sentence with an “-ly’ adverb and a comma, for starters, is weak and crutchy writing. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. And connecting the president’s lack of management judgment to a possible calamity that could have many different causes invites all manner of interpretive mischief.

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So people went ballistic, as exemplified by the following:

Faced with a classic social media backlash, Politico Magazine had a choice: Either stick with that bad sentence and stiff-arm the hordes, or revise the sentence and apologize for its implication.

It chose half of Door No. 1 and half of Door No. 2. In the latest version of the story, the controversial paragraph now reads:

Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. In typical Washington fashion, nothing gets reformed until a disaster happens. If anything unites Republicans and Democrats, it is that nobody wants to see a tragedy: We all just want the Secret Service fixed.

Changing the words in such a manner suggests that Politico Magazine acknowledges that it didn’t present things clearly. A somewhat contrite editor’s note would go hand-in-hand with these edits. Now have a look at the editor’s note that actually accompanies the changed text:

Editor’s note: Some readers have misinterpreted the original last line of Kessler’s article as somehow suggesting that the president should be held responsible in the event of his own assassination. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and we’re sorry if anyone interpreted Kessler’s meaning in any other way.

Ideal material for the Compendium of Beltway Journalism Arrogance, Vol. 1.

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