New York Times reporter Joseph Goldstein churned out a comprehensive story on last weekend’s conference in Washington of the National Policy Institute, a confab led by prominent white nationalist Richard B. Spencer. The headline was enough to sell the product: “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’.”
The story narrated an emotional appeal from Spencer to the 200-odd attendees at the event, which was held at the Ronald Reagan Building here in the District: “As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, ‘Heil the people! Heil victory,’ the room shouted it back,” wrote Goldstein.
The event was a marathon — 11 hours of talking and proclaiming, as Goldstein reports. Many journalists who’d come for the event had filed out by the time of the “victory” speech by Spencer. But The Atlantic stuck around long enough to capture some now-famous video of the Nazi salutes.
That video depicts some discrepancies with the account in the New York Times. “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” says Spencer in the video.
The footage makes clear that the New York Times: 1) mistook “hail” for “heil”; mistook “hail our people” for “heil the people”; and omitted the “Hail Trump” exhortation. In a discussion of macroeconomic policy, perhaps these departures from the strict video record wouldn’t much matter. This, however, is white nationalism, where every syllable counts. For example, “hail our people,” when uttered by a man like Spencer, has a much more offensive resonance than “hail the people.”
Phil Corbett, the standards editor of the New York Times, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that a correction that was just added to the story required significant deliberation. Though Goldstein was present for Spencer’s chilling remarks, there was some confusion from where he was standing. “He could hear Spencer but he also was hearing people in the crowd yelling back at Spencer,” says Corbett. Nor did Goldstein clearly hear the first part of the appeal — “Hail Trump!” “He tried as best he could as an eyewitness,” says Corbett, who says that the Times later examined the Atlantic video and gained a better understanding of just what was happening at the podium.
Fashioning a correction for the piece, says the standards editor, required some head-scratching. “One of things we discussed was that the last thing we wanted to do was write a correction that could be either misunderstood or deliberately distorted to give people the impression that we are saying Spencer did not invoke this Nazi slogan because what he said was ‘Hail victory,’ which is the English translation of ‘Sieg Heil.'”
Here’s the text of the correction, which was just posted to the story:
Correction: November 23, 2016
An article on Monday described a speech in Washington by Richard B. Spencer, president of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute. At the end of the speech, Mr. Spencer and audience members shouted versions of Nazi slogans, as some audience members raised their arms in the Nazi salute.
A Times reporter in the hall heard audience members shout “Heil victory!” and other exhortations. A video of the scene, released after the article was published, showed that Mr. Spencer himself shouted “Hail victory!” — the English translation of the Nazis’ “Sieg Heil!” — as well as “Hail Trump! “ and “Hail our people!” (Mr. Spencer did not use the German “Heil,” as the original article suggested.)