That Nonexistent ACORN Correction.

Since the ACORN sting story broke back in the fall, The New York Times has erroneously and repeatedly suggested that Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe wore their prostitute and pimp costumes inside ACORN offices. Here's Matthew Yglesias on New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt's refusal to issue a correction:

When it was pointed out to Hoyt that this is false, he replied—with emphasis in the original— that “The story says O’Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time.”

Look. The New York Times is a great newspaper. Its writers and editors are familiar with communication in the English language. So is Hoyt. The writers and editors who worked on that story screwed up. It’s bad to screw up. But it’s not the worst thing in the world. To have the error pointed out to you and somehow pretend that the error wasn’t made is, however, unforgivable. Nobody can seriously maintain that the sentence as written doesn’t convey simultaneity.

Shortly after the ACORN story broke, Hoyt wrote a sort of mea culpa suggesting that the paper's "slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs." The aftermath of the ACORN story was an opportunity for a paper with a liberal reputation to show that it felt conservatives' pain, that the liberal media had internalized conservative criticism about their coverage.

Correcting the story would be like admitting they felt conservatives' pain too much -- and that, shortly after the "realization" that conservative conspiracy theories needed to be given more credence, the paper allowed its desire to seem "fair" to the right to trump its commitment to being fair to the facts. Ultimately, a public editor position is more about making the paper's critics feel as though they are being heard than it is about actually improving the paper's coverage. And in this context, refusing to correct a story in which the larger objective is to placate conservative critics makes total sense, and I suspect that's what this is really about.

-- A. Serwer

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