When I point out an error by Radley Balko (a fairly common occurrence), his corrections tend to follow a consistent pattern:
1) Delay and stonewall: Balko will first studiously ignore my correction, to the point where it’s clear nothing will be done unless I bring it up repeatedly.
2) Engage in denial: even as he corrects his error, Balko usually finds a way to imply that he was not wrong at all. (If he can’t do that, he emphasizes that the error was minor and meaningless.)
3) Blame-shifting: inevitably, Balko will find a way to blame me for the whole thing.
I’m not surprised to see that his latest correction follows the old pattern. Let’s take these points one at a time:
1) Delay and stonewall.
It’s clear to me that Balko had no intention of making this correction unless I made a federal case out of it. Here is Radley’s excuse for the delay:
I haven’t responded to point (1) because in the last 36 hours, I’ve been working on a breaking story, had a lunch appointment, had a drink with a friend, and for the last 12 hours have had a massive migraine.
Translation: he was going to do it when he wasn’t busy. And he’s always busy.
Let’s explore this excuse. Balko admits that he knew about the error for 36 hours. His correction — which he made only after I wrote a whole new post about how he seemingly had no intention of correcting his post — consisted of adding an asterisk next to the incorrect language, and adding these 14 words:
(*Note: Patterico insists he included this portion of Dunphy’s post in his initial post.)
I figure that took, what? A minute?
In that same 36-hour period of time, Balko found time to put up three posts, and write a five-paragraph comment telling two of his commenters to fuck off. But he didn’t have time to put a strike tag around the incorrect language, or put up 14 words to correct his error.
(I especially like his five-paragraph comment defending his honor, because it introduces a new phrase to the Internet: “what fluffy said.” See, in a previous comment, commenter fluffy had said: “Brad and Alex, Go fuck yourselves.” Balko echoed the sentiment: “Brad, Alex: what fluffy said.” All this happened in the same comment thread where, in between Brad and Alex’s comments, I had notified Balko of his error. When he wrote his five paragraphs yelling at Brad and Alex, he could have been spending that time adding 14 words to the post to correct an inaccuracy. But his honor was more important than accuracy.)
Let’s compare what Balko had time to write . . . to what he claims he didn’t have time to write:
|What Balko Had Time to Write in Those 36 Hours||What Balko Didn’t Have Time to Write in Those 36 Hours|
|A comment defending his honor, written in the same thread where I notified him of the error:
A post titled “Morning Links”:
Each of those six links had to be embedded by hand. Then he wrote this post:
Again, the link had to be added by hand, as did the links in the third post he wrote, which was another collection of links:
Again, each of the above bullet points contained a link. Six more links added by hand.
|(*Note: Patterico insists he included this portion of Dunphy’s post in his initial post.)|
During that 36 hours that Balko knew of his error, but did nothing to correct it, thousands of readers were coming in from links from Matthew Yglesias’s blog, a blog at the Atlantic, Outside the Beltway, and numerous other blogs across the Web. They read Balko’s assertion that I had suspiciously omitted a passage that supposedly undercut my argument. And Balko was content to let these thousands of readers read his inaccurate accusation against me — an accusation that he already knew wasn’t true.
Let’s move on to point #2:
2) Engage in denial.
Note that in his latest post, Balko doesn’t simply admit error. He claims that he read my post several times and never noticed the language that I “insist” was there all along:
I read and re-read Patterico’s initial post several times when composing my response to it. He says I wrongly wrote that he left out a portion of his excerpt of Dunphy’s post. Apparently, I skipped over that portion several times. I’ll take his word for it. Consider this a correction.
Balko says he’s taking my word for it, but look at the way he words that. Boy, it sure does seem strange that I would skip over the same exact passage several times, but if that’s what he’s claiming, I’ll take his word for it. The clear implication there is: I suspect Patterico changed the post and added the language, but I can’t prove it. Why else would he word it that way? This is reinforced by the language of his correction: “(*Note: Patterico insists he included this portion of Dunphy’s post in his initial post.)” He doesn’t say I did include the phrase — just that I “insist” that I do.
Well, Balko, if you truly read that passage “several times” and somehow missed that phrase every time, that doesn’t speak very well of your reading abilities. But it was there. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people read my post and saw the language there. The idea that I went back and added the language after seeing your post is absurd. But you have to leave that implication floating there, like a turd in the toilet bowl.
Can I prove that I didn’t add the language after seeing Balko accuse me of omitting it? Not to the satisfaction of people who refuse to be convinced. But I can show you this: a screenshot from my editing screen for the post:
As you can see, I have about 15-16 edits for the post. (I read and re-read my posts for typos, infelicitous language, etc. before publishing.) Two of those edits occurred within 8 minutes after publishing; both were minor typos that I first noticed after publishing. (I even discussed one of those edits in the comments with happyfeet.) Five minutes after the last edit, there was an “autosave” which sometimes occurs when you have an editing screen open in two browser tabs, with different content in each.
The post has not been edited since 8 minutes after its publication on July 28, when I corrected a typo or two. Balko’s post appeared on July 29. Obviously, I didn’t go back and add the language after his post was published.
Are you convinced? Not if you’re a radical Balkobot. Like 9/11 Truthers and Birthers, there is always another way to dispute any proof offered. Maybe I photoshopped the screenshot. (I wouldn’t know how.) Maybe I deleted evidence of subsequent edits. (I didn’t, and I don’t even know if that is possible in WordPress’s software.) Etc. etc. etc.
If you read Balko’s latest post about all this, you’d think I was the jerk. Balko a) suggested I was dishonest for omitting a passage; b) ignored my request for a correction for 36 hours; and c) told a laughable story about why he didn’t have time to fix the error.
And I’m the jerk.
I’m sure Balko will feel very oppressed and put upon because of this post. I don’t feel sorry for him one bit. This post would have been completely unnecessary if Balko had handled this properly. You don’t want a 2000-word post showing how dishonest you have been, Balko? Then correct your errors when you learn of them. Don’t suggest that the wronged party might have manufactured the error, and that you might really not have been at fault. And if you decide to stonewall, and you get called on it, don’t dissemble about why you failed to correct the error.
Hey, Radley? What fluffy said, right back at you.
P.S. Balko finally responds to my criticism of his Jimmie Duncan article — and it’s an airy wave of the hand that dismisses all my careful research as “nonsense.”
Everyone who read my analysis and thought it was careful and made good points, take note.
I’m glad. I was in trial when the full article on Duncan came out, and I didn’t have time to recapitulate how misleading the ultimate article was. I have since received the autopsy video. That, together with Balko’s dismissive response, is all the motivation I need to get that post done.
P.P.S. Balko says he’ll be ignoring me from now on, unless my criticisms of him get picked up by other bloggers. This is consistent with his handling of this incident. Balko believes that it isn’t worth responding to a critic he doesn’t like — unless there is a danger that people he respects will actually notice the criticism.
Well, guess what, Balko? Sometimes your errors get caught by, well, critics. If you have a true commitment to accuracy, you swallow hard and make the correction. Even if it’s brought to your attention by somebody you don’t like.
A journalist really should understand this.