Wednesday, December 10, 2008

N.Y. Times Tries to Anoint Caroline Kennedy; Doesn't Let Facts Get In The Way

Did Paterson, Ted Kennedy Discuss Who Replaces Hillary? If So, Nobody Asked Them.

Even reporters -- and their editors -- for as august a publication as The New York Times need a little Journalism 101 refresher now and then.
And the Times agrees.
An article in yesterday's paper said that Ted Kennedy has been working the phones trying to get his niece Caroline Kennedy named as Hillary Clinton's replacement as a U.S. senator from New York.
Among those said to be called was the man who will make the choice -- Gov. David Paterson.
The story was attributed to "Democratic aides," who "were not authorized to discuss the conversations."
Uh, oh.
In today's Times, there is another article headlined "Paterson Says Kennedy Has Not Called About Niece," in which Paterson denies the Times report, as does a Kennedy spokesperson.
That would be an otherwise unremarkable utterance -- given that politicians like to give themselves cover -- were it not for the fact that neither Paterson nor Kennedy had been contacted for the first article, as today's piece -- written by David Halbfinger -- concedes.
Somehow, no one thought to call either man for the original article, authored by Halbfinger, with assistance by Nicholas Confessore, Danny Hakim and Carl Hulse. Ditto for the bevy of editors who vet every article on the Metro Desk.
Not even a "refused to comment," or "did not return repeated calls." That couldn't be written because not one of four reporters picked up the phone for the calls even the cubbiest of cub reporters knows to make.
Instead, they were so pleased with their scoop, they never bothered to check whether it was actually true. An editors' note today fesses up:

On Tuesday, both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Paterson said no such conversation had taken place. The Times should have sought their comment before publication.

You betcha.
Now, that doesn't mean the conversation did not take place, only that both parties said that it did not.
Nonetheless, it's telling that the Times didn't do one of those high-horse "The Times stands by its reporting" mea culpas on this one.
Instead, it apparently got burned by sources who thought they knew better, but really knew nothing.
So, good for the Times for not offering excuses. But then again, there really isn't an excuse for being this sloppy.

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