Patterico's Pontifications

10/31/2007

My Latest E-Mail to the L.A. Times’s “Readers’ Representative,” — or, “You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.”

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 10:38 pm

I just sent this to the Readers’ Representative of the L.A. Times:

Jamie,

I’m disappointed with your response in general, on several levels. But I’m especially surprised by your response regarding Tim Rutten’s claim that The New Republic admitted concocting the story about the disfigured woman. This is because corrections are your business, and I would think you would be especially sensitive to a false charge that a media outlet had admitted making up a story.

You may not have read the correction that the editors of The New Republic published. You can read it here. Let me quote for you the relevant paragraphs regarding the disfigured woman:

Beauchamp’s essay consisted of three discrete anecdotes. In the first, Beauchamp recounted how he and a fellow soldier mocked a disfigured woman seated near them in a dining hall. Three soldiers with whom TNR has spoken have said they repeatedly saw the same facially disfigured woman. One was the soldier specifically mentioned in the Diarist. He told us: “We were really poking fun at her; it was just me and Scott, the day that I made that comment. We were pretty loud. She was sitting at the table behind me. We were at the end of the table. I believe that there were a few people a few feet to the right.”

The recollections of these three soldiers differ from Beauchamp’s on one significant detail (the only fact in the piece that we have determined to be inaccurate): They say the conversation occurred at Camp Buehring, in Kuwait, prior to the unit’s arrival in Iraq. When presented with this important discrepancy, Beauchamp acknowledged his error. We sincerely regret this mistake.

I emphasize certain language that makes clear that the editors are making an admission of an error, and not an admission that the story was made up. (In reality, the story may well have been made up, but that’s a different issue from what the editors have admitted.) The editors are attempting to make the case that the story was not made up, but rather is accurate in its essence — supported (they say) by three soldiers. It suffers, they claim, only from an error regarding the location of the incident.

Your columnist Tim Rutten characterized that correction as follows:

The magazine determined that the incident involving the disfigured woman was concocted and corrected that, but also reported that interviews with Beauchamp’s comrades substantiated his version of the other events.

I would like you to put yourself in the shoes of the editors of The New Republic for a moment. Imagine for a second that you wrote the above correction regarding an article in the Los Angeles Times. It shouldn’t be hard to do; you write similar corrections on a regular basis.

In your correction, you take care to note the corroborating evidence supporting the story as reported by your newspaper. The point of your correction is to communicate that the paper stands behind the story, with the caveat that an error was made regarding one fact, and only one fact: the location of the incidents in question.

Now imagine that a blogger named Patterico came along and characterized your correction as follows:

The L.A. Times determined that the incident involving the disfigured woman was concocted and corrected that, but also reported that interviews with Beauchamp’s comrades substantiated his version of the other events.

I think you would be quite angry to see your correction so badly mischaracterized — and rightfully so. You and I both speak the English language, and we both know that the word “concocted” has a specific meaning in this context. Specfically, it means “invented” or “made up.” It is not a word used to describe stories that are accurate, but that suffer from an error. As someone who deals with corrections on a daily basis, I know that you are fully familiar with the difference between errors, and stories that are “concocted.”

It occurs to me that you might not have personally seen the language of the correction that Rutten so badly mischaracterized. That is why I took care to quote the entire relevant passage in this e-mail.

Now that you have seen it, I ask you: do you stand behind this language that you e-mailed me earlier today?

The columnist’s point is that, as a scene in Iraq, it was “concocted” in that it never happened there. The magazine corrected it, which means editors admit it never happened there.

Surely not. Surely you can’t seriously argue that Rutten fairly characterized the nature of the editors’ correction. Surely you can’t support the use of the word “concocted” to refer to what the magazine’s editors claimed was a simple error.

Can you?

Let me put the question to you another way. What if Scott Thomas Beauchamp were the one writing you demanding a correction? And what if he pointed out that The New Republic had never accused him of having “concocted” the story? Would you be as resistant to a correction then?

In other words, does the running of a correction depend upon the identity of the person who brings the error to your attention?

Yours truly,

Patrick Frey

http://patterico.com

Now, as it happens, the “error” we are discussing — locating the incident in Iraq instead of Kuwait — suggests that in reality the story may indeed have been concocted. (Also, it undercuts the whole reason that the story was included in the piece: namely, to suggest that Beauchamp mocked the disfigured woman due to the horrors of war.) But the editors have not admitted that — and that is what Rutten claimed had happened; that the editors had “determined” that the story was “concocted.”

It’s just not so.

Rutten’s insistence to the contrary is just one of the many sloppy errors he made in his column. These errors, taken together, show that he had no business writing this column.

P.S. If this is the new L.A. Times definition of “concocted,” then brother, this paper has concocted a lot more stories than even I had accused them of concocting.

UPDATE: For example, this one.

25 Responses to “My Latest E-Mail to the L.A. Times’s “Readers’ Representative,” — or, “You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.””

  1. Is she a liar or unintelligent?

    I think the former. Don’t expect an honest dialog with this person. You won’t get it.

    And yes, I understand you know that — you’re just illustrating it. It’s sad that the the Los Angeles Times has dissemblers read liars like Jamie Gold on its payroll and even more sad the reason LAT has such people is because they reflect the paper.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  2. The problem isn’t that Patterico’s careful explanation is in accord with the facts of the case and with accepted word usages. It’s that Patterico’s explanation is the only such way to characterize Jamie Gold’s response.

    Gold’s and Rutten’s got your back! creativity brings to mind such touchstones of latter-day journalism as “fake but accurate” and “the narrative was right, but the facts were wrong.”

    AMac (c822c9)

  3. Unfortunately, mere sloppiness doesn’t seem to rise to the level of a correction. I also wonder how much power Ms. Gold really has. She may be simply a messenger, telling you what some editor with real authority ordered her to say.

    However, I think the “concocted” issue is not where you should have concentrated your attention. That does not seem to have affected the substance of Rutten’s thesis in his good vs. evil mythology of the (devil-horned) Drudge Report vs. the (haloed) New Republic.

    The memorandum that Rutten falsely claimed Drudge didn’t post, on the other hand, is central to that column’s theme. As such, it is a far more important error. Corrected, it severely undercuts the entire reason for Rutten’s column. This is the kind of point you need to hammer home!

    In legal parlance, I’m urging you to concentrate on reversible errors vs. harmless errors.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  4. You make excellent points but face it, they have their fingers in their ears and are just waiting for this to go away. That’s the problem with publications who have driven away balanced readership and are left with ideologically skewed supporters. The readers don’t care, the publication doesn’t care, and apparently the advertisers don’t care.

    The narrative was published, it had its effect, and now they plan to move on after token correction gestures.

    capitano (03e5ec)

  5. Bradley,

    I’m not done with that error yet.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  6. But words mean things, and I’m taking the one that — regardless of how it affects Rutten’s thesis — they don’t even have the slightest weasel-out defense on.

    I’m going after the one you mentioned next.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  7. Their weasel-out defense on the memo, Bradley, will be (and is) that Drudge mischaracterized the memo’s contents (which he did) so maybe Rutten thought there was another such memo floating around out there.

    I can shoot down that defense. But one thing at a time. Start with the one where there is no defense whatsoever.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  8. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  9. “Their weasel-out defense on the memo, Bradley, will be (and is) that Drudge mischaracterized the memo’s contents (which he did) so maybe Rutten thought there was another such memo floating around out there.”

    Yes, but that’s no excuse for an ace media critic, who is (supposedly) far better than your average journalist. Did Rutten even attempt to contact Drudge or any other knowledgeable party to determine the truth? Ask the LAT if Rutten used the diligence they expect from one of their journalists.

    Also, the shorter the e-mail, the fewer chances for obsfucation in the reply.

    Just my 2 cents . . .

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  10. Patterico you’re tilting at windmills here; don’t hold your breath waiting for an intellectually honest answer from these folks.

    They’re practicing agenda journalism with a vengeance, and if it doesn’t meet their agenda it didn’t happen.

    Mike Myers (d015a6)

  11. Why is Jamie Gold identified as the Readers’ Representative? Which readers is she representing? What is her purpose? I thought a Readers’ Rep was supposed to go to bat for the readers and not just trumpet the paper’s perspective.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  12. snicker @ aunursa

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  13. Why is Jamie Gold identified as the Readers’ Representative? Which readers is she representing?

    Well, she’s the “People’s Representative” or the “Representative of the People.”
    http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/China/CRSongs/people.html

    MikeHuggins (e9e89c)

  14. Maybe you should just leave this alone. After all, we can now accurately state,

    “The LA Times claims that TNR published a concocted story.”

    Natasha (7945eb)

  15. > Patterico you’re tilting at windmills here;

    Don’t let up! This is a windmill that NEEDS a lance stuck in it.

    Arthur (a493cf)

  16. I’m still fixated on the dog killing, because any professional journalist would have quickly and almost effortlessly noticed that Private Beauchamp’s descriptions don’t pass a smell test.
    And professional journalists are supposed to have a nose for news, not an agenda to push regardless of the truth.
    So I passed my observations along to Ms. Gold.
    So far, no reply. My feelings are definitely hurt.
    http://strongasanoxandnearlyassmart.blogspot.com/2007/10/la-times-is-trying-but-not-succeeding.html

    Major Mike (f1bab3)

  17. Pat, I commend you for your continual battle for accuracy in the Dog Trainer. But, Why?
    Is it not appearant that they just don’t care?
    Plus, some of us have long passed the “care” point. In fact, the only time I have read the paper lately, is in your posts – and what they have printed is totally irrelevant to my daily life. I only find interest in your attempts to keep them honest and their reactions to those efforts.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  18. Another Drew… it’s like… Patterico has devoted his life… to arguing with alphie.

    The LA Times being alphie.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  19. SO BASICALLY WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS THAT RUTTEN SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN THE FOLLOWING:

    The magazine determined that the locating of the incident involving the disfigured woman as taking place in Iraq was concocted and corrected that, but also reported that interviews with Beauchamp’s comrades substantiated his version of the other events.

    YES I NOW SEE HOW THIS SLOPPY INELIGANCE IS EMBLEMATIC OF A DEEPLY BARREN LEFTISH IDEOLOGICAL MINDSET DEVOID OF LOGIC-DRIVEN PRO-REPUBLICAN ANTI-CALIPHATIC THINKING, WROUGHT BY VENGEFUL AGENDA JOURNALISTS, AS OPPOSED TO JUST, SAY, SHITTY TRUNCATED ILL-EDITED WRITING. ALERT THE BLOGOSPHERE TO THIS FRESH ENEMY WITHIN.

    eyeball (bc3377)

  20. eyeball –

    The magazine determined that the locating of the incident involving the disfigured woman as taking place in Iraq was concocted and corrected that…

    Sorry, I must be coming late to this story. Remind me: where did the TNR conclude that the non-concocted incident with the disfigured woman take place? Since they determined the location, they must also have some idea as its timing (when was that, again?). And they’re sure to have corroboration from some reliable witness besides Beauchamp (help me out–who are they?).

    It’s not as if they’d just make this kind of story up as part of an ongoing evasion.

    Right?

    AMac (0028d1)

  21. I realize it’s hard to follow Amac, but IF i follow from the postings above, the New Rep. determined the following:

    Beauchamp described a few soldiers as mocking a disfigured Muslim woman, and claimed falsely in his article that the mockery transpired in Iraq (citing it as an example of how his unit was dehumanized by war). He later owned to his editors that the mocking of the woman took places months(?) earlier — and in Kuwait, before the unit’s deployment to Iraq. Thus he ‘concocted’ not the mockery, but the locating of the mockery in the war theater of Iraq, post-deployment (if you believe there was in fact mockery — something still being contested, it would seem).

    So when the LA Times reports that the mockery tale “was concocted,” they are asserting that it NEVER happened, when what they seem to mean is that it never happened IN IRAQ.

    I’m sorry i cannot restore to you these last few moments of your life.

    eyeball (bc3377)

  22. eyeball – I’m sorry i cannot restore to you these last few moments of your life.

    Any idea if it is possible to transplant a brain into a human skiull where none resided before. You seem to be the ideal candidate for the first experiment since you have no grasp of the Beauchamp/TNR story yet jump in and insult the commenters.

    Thanks for playing. Back to the basement.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  23. daleyrocks — eyeball #19 MAY MOCK KNEEJERK TNR DISBELIEVERS IN ALL CAPS, but eyeball #21 has come to understand why Tim Rutten’s use of the word ‘concocted’ was misleading. Has she inadvertantly joined the VWRC? In any case, rejoice with me, it seems her moments at the keyboard were not wasted.

    Is it not the Buddha who teaches, Insight Is Best Achieved Through Use Of Sarcasm?

    AMac (9a616d)

  24. AMac – Let’s see if eyeball comes back to validate your opinion. I don’t share it, but I noted the sarcasm.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  25. Yes AMac, you got it all. And I was not insulting you with that coda, lest there be any misunderstanding between us — it was a sincere remark in the sardonic rather than sarcastic vein. However if I did insult I apologize.

    Since you are the brains of the bunch, I hope you will share with me some disgust and outrage, followed by glee, relief and huzzahs, based on these efforts by my favorite free speech org: FIRE.

    http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/8597.html.

    this is real liberalism at work.

    eyeball (c9fca3)


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