NewsDiffs.org, a media reporter’s dream site, tracks changes made to stories published by major media organizations. Its tracking system sure had its hands full with a story published yesterday by the New York Times on the legislative record of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
But that turned out to be too positive. Revised version: “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.”
Whereas the piece once included this passage:
Over one 12-year stretch in the House, he passed more amendments by roll call vote than any other member of Congress. In the Senate, he secured money for dairy farmers and community health centers, blocked banks from hiring foreign workers and reined in the Federal Reserve, all through measures attached to larger bills.“It has been a very successful strategy,” said Warren Gunnels, Mr. Sanders’s longtime policy adviserMr. Sanders has been pushing basically the same legislative agenda since he was the mayor of Burlington, Vt., in the 1980s, one that favors workers, veterans and college students. But in 2016, he has found that the marriage of his passions and his blunt, fiery oration have come into vogue among many Democrats.
It now reads like this:
Over one 12-year stretch in the House, Mr. Sanders passed more amendments by roll call vote than any other member of Congress. In the Senate, he secured money for dairy farmers and community health centers, blocked banks from hiring foreign workers and reined in the Federal Reserve, all through measures attached to larger bills.But in his presidential campaign Mr. Sanders is trying to scale up those kinds of proposals as a national agenda, and there is little to draw from his small-ball legislative approach to suggest that he could succeed.Mr. Sanders is suddenly promising not just a few stars here and there, but the moon and a good part of the sun, from free college tuition paid for with giant tax hikes to a huge increase in government health care, which has made even liberal Democrats skeptical.Mr. Sanders has been pushing basically the same legislative agenda since he was the mayor of Burlington, Vt., in the 1980s, one that favors workers, veterans and college students. But in 2016, he has found that the marriage of his passions and his blunt, fiery oration have come into vogue among many Democrats.
What changed in there? No. 1, the “successful strategy” quote is gone. No. 2, the story adds in analysis about how Sanders will have trouble moving his legislative strategy to a governing strategy in the White House. No. 3, a little snark enters the picture via planetary references. If those didn’t temper the original piece sufficiently, consider this change:
…a self-described Democratic socialist who has spent a quarter-century in Congress working the side door, tacking on amendments to larger bills that scratch his particular policy itches
He is a self-described democratic socialist who has spent a quarter-century in Congress working the side door, tacking on amendments to larger bills to succeed at the margins…
The New York Times has appended no notations to the story to apprise readers of the changes, a move that is required under the newspaper’s guidelines only when factual errors are corrected in the edits. “We regularly edit online articles to refine the story and add context before it goes to print. We only make note of changes that involve a correction,” notes New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha.* She passed along this note from Steinhauer about the logic behind the changes: “The story had made the point [in] the early posted version that Senator Sanders achievements in the senate came from adding amendments to larger bills, and that in his quarter century in Congress his name was not associated with legislation that bore his name. We thought that the story need to be infused with the additional element of the campaign, which is the context for examining Senator Sanders record. So we added that his challenge now was to see if he could in effect, scale up some of the causes he has pushed with limited success.”
Bolding added to raise a question: Isn’t that a process that should have taken place before the story was published?
UPDATE 9:15 p.m.: This blog just received a response from New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, explaining his position on this matter:
We thought the original version of the story didn’t grapple with the question of what his legislative record says about what kind of president he would be. It was a very good story, but it needed some context. That got added. We actually do go in and make changes in stories when we think they need some additional context. It is actually pretty common. Right now we are, obviously, sitting in the newsroom redoing primary stories to reflect what the candidates say. I got a note from Michael Briggs of the Sanders campaign, who was a very fine reporter in Chicago when I was there. And I explained we often make changes. I also said anyone who thinks we are biased against Sanders should take a look at the picture on the top of the Tuesday front page. It shows adulation on the faces of his supporters as they listen to him speak in Ohio.
*Correction: This post originally identified Danielle Rhoades Ha as “Danielle Rhoades. Ha.”