As promised, I wrote the Readers’ Representative about the L.A. Times‘s mistake in reporting that an LAPD officer had punched a man “at least six times,” when the true number was five. She has acknowledged my e-mail and says she is checking with the reporters. No correction yet, but it appears that they may not be as confident with their numbers as they originally seemed . . .
In a story about a new videotape, which allegedly shows a Venice LAPD officer punitively pepper-spraying a handcuffed suspect, there is this . . . revised description of the punching video:
The Venice videotape comes five days after another video showing [an] LAPD officer trying to restrain a suspect in Hollywood made its way to the internet site YouTube.
The 18-second tape shows an officer punching William Cardenas at least five times as he and his partner try to restrain and handcuff the man, a suspected gang member.
Five times, eh?
“At least six” has become “at least five.” Can a correction be far off?
I think not.
I suspect that we will soon see a quiet correction in a small box on Page A2, which will state — ever so gently — that a previous story (two, in fact) had reported that an LAPD officer had punched a suspect at least six times, when a review of the tape shows that the true number was more like five.
My latest e-mail to the Readers’ Rep says, in part:
If you are running a correction, as now appears likely, I have a suggestion. Given that the focal point of the earlier story was the exact number of punches, and given that the story insinuated that the officers were lying because they got the number wrong, I think that the paper should issue a more prominent correction than usual. While the true number is still more than what the officers’ report said, it’s closer to what the officers claimed than what the Times reported.
I’d add that if Times reporters can get the number of punches wrong after watching a video in the comfort of their offices, it might not be that ludicrous for officers to misremember the exact number of punches after a stressful struggle with a felony suspect who allegedly took several swings at them and actively resisted being taken into custody.
My idea that the paper issue a prominent correction . . . it’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Of course, we all know that, at best, we’ll be getting the small-box-on-Page-A2 correction.
But a guy can dream.
P.S. The new video described in the story (a video of an allegedly punitive pepper-spraying) sounds to me like it depicts misconduct — if the video turns out to show what the story describes. I don’t understand why The Times can’t simply post the video, if they have it. But — assuming that the story accurately describes the video — there’s no excuse for pepper-spraying a handcuffed suspect who is already sitting inside a car. And if you’re doing it because the suspect spit on you, it’s a punitive and excessive use of force.
UPDATE: I should note that the latest story was written by Patrick McGreevy, one of the authors of the previous, erroneous story. Also, this should go without saying, but: printing a different number in a subsequent story, without acknowledging the earlier error, is not a correction — and is not sufficient.