The L.A. Times is refusing to correct a blatant error — again.
Regular readers will remember that, on January 1, I wrote about an L.A. Times end-of-the-year political quiz that resurrected a viciously false canard: that George W. Bush “[e]rroneously said Nelson Mandela was dead.”
As I demonstrated in my post, Bush did not “erroneously” say this. Instead, he was speaking metaphorically — something that is obvious to any sentient being who reads the transcript of the relevant press conference. Bush was asked a question about the lack of political progress in Iraq, and responded by arguing that Iraq has no equivalent to Nelson Mandela, because Saddam killed all the Mandelas. Agree with him or not, you can’t deny he was making an analogy. Calling his statement erroneous is flatly misleading.
I wrote the Readers’ Representative about this error on January 1, the same day I wrote my post. In my post, I was (to put it mildly) skeptical that the paper would fix the mistake:
I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that they won’t correct it. . . . I’m telling you, they’re not going to do a damned thing about it.
I finally heard from the Readers’ Representative today. As for my prediction, I’ll say only this: damn, I’m good. Here is her e-mail:
I’m sorry, I thought I’d already responded a while ago with this note: Editors in the opinion section did not believe that the point warranted correction. They say (and I agree) that the piece was a parody, and so that reference was within the bounds of that sort of opinion piece.
You get that? It’s a parody!
This reminds me of what the pet shop owner in the Monty Python sketch said when caught in a blatant lie:
Owner: …It was a pun.
Customer: (pause) A PUN?!?
Owner: No, no…not a pun…What’s that thing that spells the same backwards as forwards?
Customer: (Long pause) A palindrome…?
Owner: Yeah, that’s it!
Let’s examine this claim that it was a “parody.”
Here’s the relevant portion of the quiz:
And here are the answers:
As you can see, the point of the quiz is to point out true facts about these men that the quiz author finds goofy — precisely because he believes the facts to be true. For example, Dennis Kucinich really did say he’d seen a UFO. Michael Mukasey has repeatedly said he doesn’t know if waterboarding is legally torture. Mitt Romney, when asked his favorite novel, actually did respond with Battlefield Earth. And so on.
Any reader would believe that the Bush quote was just a goofy — but true — fact about Bush.
In a postscript to my original post, I acknowledged that the quiz writer might have actually believed that Bush had made the comment in error. As I noted in my post, it was initially reported by Reuters that Bush actually had meant to say Mandela had died. It took conservative blogs to dig up the transcript and point out how blatantly Bush had been maligned. Maybe the quiz writer didn’t know of the debunking.
However, I added:
But if they refuse to correct it or clarify it, by arguing that it’s an opinion column — well, then, it damn sure will be a lie.
And that’s how I feel. They know they got it wrong. They are knowingly refusing to correct it, for reasons that don’t make sense.
That is the definition of dishonesty.