Patterico's Pontifications


Dunphy the Subject of a Weaselly Correction

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General,Race — Patterico @ 9:23 am

No “Outside the Tent” piece this week. But there is a correction of last week’s Outside the Tent piece by Jack Dunphy. The correction, while not entirely unmerited, is a little weaselly, as it implies a thoroughness in The Times‘s coverage that didn’t really exist.

Dunphy’s piece, about The Times‘s coverage of the Devin Brown shooting, said:

The first sentence of The Times’ first story on the shooting, described Brown as “unarmed.” This is true in the sense that Brown did not have a gun, but if he was in fact attempting to run Garcia down, as Garcia has reportedly offered as his rationale for firing, then Brown was armed with quite a weapon indeed. And not until the final paragraph does the story mention that Brown’s car collided with the police car. The extensive damage to the police car was not described.

Today’s correction says:

Police shooting — An “Outside the Tent” column in last Sunday’s Opinion, about The Times’ coverage of the police shooting of 13-year-old Devin Brown, stated that The Times’ first news report of the incident did not mention until the last paragraph that the car Brown was driving collided with an LAPD car, and that it did not describe the damage. The 10th paragraph of the 16-paragraph story described the police car as “badly dented and scratched, apparently from the impact of the stolen car.”

The correction implies that the Times reporter went out and did some legwork, personally observed the damage, and described it to readers. Nope! Here’s what the article actually said:

[Police Commission President David] Cunningham visited the site of the shooting Sunday afternoon, and said the police cruiser was badly dented and scratched, apparently from the impact of the stolen car.

(Emphasis mine.)

So the story didn’t really “describe” the police car as badly dented and scratched — it just quoted some guy who claimed that it was badly dented and scratched. I complained at the time:

Of course, we here at the Los Angeles Times have no way of knowing whether this is actually true. Was the car actually badly dented from the impact? Heck if we know. All we can tell you is that some guy said so. What are you asking us to do: check out his claim to see if it’s true??

I saw the story on the local news last night. They showed the dent in the patrol car. It wasn’t the biggest dent you’ve ever seen, but the kid definitely hit the car.

If the language in the Times article really constituted a “description” of the damage, then I could just as accurately make this statement:

Los Angeles Times editors claim that their initial story on Devin Brown was fair. But the story describes the incident as an incident that “didn’t need to happen” that was committed by officers who were not motivated by a desire to “protect and serve.”

After all, the story did quote people on the street as making those claims — just as it quoted the Police Commission’s president as making claims about damage to the car.

By the way: the “description” of the damage, such as it was, comes after the jump, and after quotations from numerous people on the street talking about how awful LAPD is. At that point in the story, readers who made it to the back pages had not yet been told that there was a collision, but were told only that Devin Brown had backed the stolen car “towards” the patrol car.

Today’s correction is technically true, I guess. But it misleads readers into thinking that the paper actually did its job on this story, when it didn’t.

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