Patterico's Pontifications

9/10/2009

L.A. Times Issues Lengthy Correction to Carol Williams’s Article re Ashcroft

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 7:13 am

The L.A. Times this morning has a lengthy and remarkable correction to Carol Williams’s recent article about a 9th Circuit ruling. Regular readers will recall that I wrote a detailed criticism of Williams’s article, noting that Williams had incorrectly summarized a court decision regarding a lawsuit brought against John Ashcroft concerning his policies in the war on terror. I also wrote an e-mail to Williams and her editor summarizing the errors. The detailed correction shows that my efforts bore fruit:

Ashcroft ruling: An article on Saturday’s Page A1 about a federal appeals court ruling involving former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft inaccurately described the breadth of the court’s decision and mischaracterized some elements of the case. The 2-1 ruling by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday held that Ashcroft could be sued personally for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of a Muslim man, Abdullah Kidd, who was detained after the Sept. 11 attacks. The opening paragraph of the article incorrectly said that the court held that Ashcroft had “violated the rights of U.S. citizens.” The appeals court did not decide that question. Instead, the judges ruled that Ashcroft could be held personally liable if Kidd’s allegations proved true. They sent the case back to a lower court for a trial to determine whether the allegations were accurate.

The allegations involve Kidd’s arrest under a federal law that allows officials to detain witnesses in criminal cases whose testimony is needed and who might otherwise flee before a trial. Kidd alleges that Ashcroft adopted a policy that authorized officials to deliberately misuse the material-witness law to detain people the government lacked probable cause to arrest. The court ruled that such a policy — if it existed — would violate the Constitution.

The article also compared the alleged material-witness arrests to another Bush administration anti-terrorism policy, the seizure of suspects outside the U.S., and in doing so referred to both types of arrests as “secret.” Kidd’s arrest and detention were not secret. The article quoted one portion of the ruling, which sharply criticized those who “confidently assert” that the government has the power to detain people on material-witness warrants, but it incorrectly attributed the quotation to “the panel,” rather than to the two judges in the majority. Moreover, the article described the judges as having aimed their criticism at the Bush administration’s policies. Although that was the clear implication of the judges’ words, they never directly named the targets of their criticism, and the article should have made clear that the criticism of the administration was implied, not stated.

Finally, the article quoted two constitutional scholars as praising the ruling, but failed to note that both of them had previously been on record as criticizing Bush administration policies in the area of civil liberties. The article should have included a broader range of reaction to the decision.

I have bolded the portions of the correction that address points I had made in my post and e-mail.

This is a rare case where the editors actually went beyond my criticisms and clarified even more than I had requested. Either others complained as well, or the paper initiated its own internal review of the article after reviewing my points. Either way, this correction goes far beyond the usual defensive and surly corrections the paper so often issues. Its very length is attention-getting, and its detail — and willingness to address bias and not just factual error — is eye-opening.

Williams’s article truly was a shoddy piece of work, but this correction merits a kudos to whomever is responsible. Somebody there actually seems to care about telling the truth.

Now if they could just import that attitude into their original articles, they might actually have a paper worth saving.

39 Comments

  1. Good job, Patterico.

    Comment by nk (df76d4) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:18 am

  2. The real breakthrough would be to see this sort of correction scrawled in red in the margins of an article some dirty socialist j-school student turned in. But no. They’d be all check plus plus I think.

    Comment by happyfeet (6b707a) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:19 am

  3. Somebody must have something on the editors like proof of a crime, pictures of them in compromising positions, or valid voter registrations cards showing the editors registered as Republicans.

    Comment by PCD (02f8c1) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:29 am

  4. “A paper worth saving.” They could put that on their masthead (if it were true).

    Comment by ManlyDad (060305) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:32 am

  5. Is it really true?
    Can old dogs learn new tricks?

    Substantial progress due to fearless muckraking!

    A hearty, Well Done!

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (282ab9) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:41 am

  6. The LA Times has always been on the edge of being a first-rate newspaper, but has never quite gotten there. Lately, the thing holding it back has been their tendency towards open political bias, publishing hatchet jobs or hagiographies depending on the subject.

    If the Times really wants to be a great newspaper, they cannot do it by being a me-too NY Times — there cannot be two ur-Liberal newspapers. They need to stake out their own ground, and the obvious place to go is to the center.

    They may decry Fox News Channel, but that strategy has been successful, and they don’t have to go that far to recapture readers.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy (3c3db0) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:41 am

  7. [...] Times corrects an error The LA Times admits that its story on Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft was completely [...]

    Pingback by LA Times corrects an error « Internet Scofflaw (38d6dc) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:52 am

  8. I thought the rooster crowed at dawn, not at 7:13 am.

    Did you sleep in today?

    Comment by micdeniro (e6d6c2) — 9/10/2009 @ 7:59 am

  9. The bit about the statement coming from the two judges in the majority and not the panel seems incredibly nit-picky to me.

    The majority writes for the court, their opinion is that of the panel, regardless of there being a dissent.

    Comment by Soronel Haetir (2b4c2b) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:17 am

  10. Seems to me that correcting a story takes some amount of resources. Can’t be free. Somebody has to take time, maybe pay for a research service, use paper and ink which could be used for something else.
    It ought to be quantified and taken out of the reporter’s pay.
    Fair’s fair.

    Comment by Richard Aubrey (a9ba34) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:20 am

  11. Give the LA Times its due: Li’l Pinch’s New York Times would never run a correction like that.

    Comment by The Bovina Bloviator (95946d) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:23 am

  12. Soronel, if you go back to Patterico’s first post you will see that the original LAT article had a broader claim than that, implying that there was no dissent.

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:24 am

  13. Glasnost at the LA Times?

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes, C. O.R. (a18ddc) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:25 am

  14. Sweet!

    Comment by Old Coot (83c1d1) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:28 am

  15. [...] Will wonders never cease? The Associated Press calls out Obama’s lies errors in his speech to Congress on health care, and the Los Angeles Times issues a genuine correction. [...]

    Pingback by Will wonders never cease? « Public Secrets (45e6e8) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:41 am

  16. Somebody there actually seems to care about telling the truth.

    No doubt senior management has called for their shotgun and hounds and is hunting that misfit “somebody” down, even as we discuss this.

    Williams’s original article went through “layers and layers” of editors before it became LA Times canon. They all shared her desire to score points — even if it meant fabricating a story. She’s still employed, and so are they. But informed readers now know that a Williams byline means a fabrication. How can you tell she’s lying? Her lips move.

    This correction is damage control. Senior management fears that informed readers will extend their understanding of the Williams brand to the Times brand, thus, this public spanking of Williams. But they don’t actually punish her, let alone get rid of her. Because she was just doing what she’s supposed to do at the LA Times: advance the narrative.

    Or as one of the other integrity-challenged editors over there would say: keep rockin!

    Comment by Kevin R.C. O'Brien (b310ed) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:45 am

  17. I dropped my subscription 2 years ago and haven’t look back. Once every 6 months when I get called about renewing my subscription, my answer has always been: “outside of sports page, I don’t trust the content of the paper”.

    Comment by BigFire (71927b) — 9/10/2009 @ 8:50 am

  18. Could Zell have put someone in charge who actually insists on straight up reporting?

    Kevin RC Obrien:

    Even if they’ve changed their approach, the reporter has to be given a chance to shape up before she is terminated.

    Kevin Murphy:

    I don’t know what you mean by “go that far” re Fox, but to me they do a pretty good job of separating opinion from fact, so I expect any news organization to “go that far”. If the LA Times would fire all their journalists and hire some reporters and editors, and commit to the “four w’s” (Who, what, when, where – Why doesn’t belong and is editorializing, not a reporters job) they might save the paper. I would certainly subscribe.

    Comment by Jack Okie (95a236) — 9/10/2009 @ 9:08 am

  19. bigfire: and I’m not so sure about the Sports page!

    Comment by Viktor Nehring (0a911a) — 9/10/2009 @ 9:39 am

  20. Whoever wrote this correction should get a job as a reporter!

    Comment by Thomass (797872) — 9/10/2009 @ 9:41 am

  21. If the LA Times produced exposes of media bias and journalistic incompetence like this every day, I’d re-subscribe to the paper.

    Comment by Greg Ransom (c59de0) — 9/10/2009 @ 9:44 am

  22. I told the last _two_guys who tried to sell me tha LA Times that I hated the paper. Bothe of them said, “Yah, I hate the paper too.”

    Comment by Greg Ransom (c59de0) — 9/10/2009 @ 9:47 am

  23. Patterico,

    As you know the LA Times and Chicago Tribune are sister papers who regularly share by-lined stories for publication in each other’s city. Here in Chicago I see a number of articles each week which are attributed to the LA Times and I am told the reverse is true out in LA. with Tribune articles. I believe both papers also sell articles for reprint in smaller markets.

    Your efforts on the Ashcroft story prompted me to dig into my recycling bin to see if the offending LA Times article had appeared in the Trib. In last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, in the Nation and World section, on Page 31 was a selection of short summaries of stories. At the bottom the blurbs were attributed en masse to “Tribune News Services”. Included there was a two paragraph summary on the Ashcroft case. It is so short that frankly it doesn’t make much sense. However, judging from the original story and your corrections which were posted here today, the blurb seems very likely to have had the offending original LA Times article as its source document.

    This prompted me to wonder how published corrections are treated by the LA Times (or in fact any paper). What obligations do they have? Do corrections ever make it to the other papers and cities where the original article may have been used? Is there a journalistic protocol or code for ensuring that far flung readers of a story also have the opportunity to see the correction if one is made by the original paper? Maybe you already know this, or if not, maybe you can find out from your buddies at the LA Times.

    Comment by elissa (f03899) — 9/10/2009 @ 10:28 am

  24. It’s a good development, don’t misunderstand me, but if they really had guts they’d credit you with the catch.

    Comment by Mitch (890cbf) — 9/10/2009 @ 10:28 am

  25. If the information in a newspaper isn’t reliable, then the paper’s not worth reading. By anyone. Of any political affiliation.

    It’s that simple.

    Maybe somebody at the LAT figured that out.

    Good job, Mr. P.

    Comment by Apogee (e2dc9b) — 9/10/2009 @ 10:44 am

  26. I hope Carol Williams feels like a big idiot and fool right now. After all, she’s been publicly aired out to dry, in the very pages she pens material to. Then again, I suspect she’s one of those shameless “leftys” who fancies herself so compassionate and full of love — so wonderful to her fellow human beings — that mistakes and dishonesty on her part are AOK, and being found guilty of such behavior is but a small penalty to pay.

    Comment by Mark (411533) — 9/10/2009 @ 10:46 am

  27. Could Zell have put someone in charge who actually insists on straight up reporting?

    I’ve read that Zell apparently is not a “lefty” along the lines of, for example, Ted Turner or the variety of bigwigs — particularly in the publishing industry — who are the essence of limousine liberals. But he’s nonetheless mishandled the takeover of the Tribune Co, and appears to be a big mediocrity when it comes to running a non-real-estate business like the one he’s struggled with since awhile back.

    However, so much of the MSM, regardless of how it’s being managed, is tanking right now because of the impact of the Internet. Still, I’d have given Zell some kudos over these past several months, or year or so, if he had at least been more vocal about squeezing out all the liberal bias in a publication like the LA Times.

    Comment by Mark (411533) — 9/10/2009 @ 10:58 am

  28. Wow. Just proves that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    Comment by Steve Levy (430f8c) — 9/10/2009 @ 11:26 am

  29. Mark – the MSM, regardless of how it’s being managed, is tanking right now because of the impact of the Internet.

    The internet supplies lots of information, which, due to its structure, can be cross-checked by millions who help to remove the inaccuracies. The impact is simply the presentation of accurate information, which is enough to kill off the MSM.

    Comment by Apogee (e2dc9b) — 9/10/2009 @ 11:37 am

  30. I’d like to see Carol Williams drop by here, thank Patterico for catching her errors, and promise to do better. That would be smart, classy, and good journalism.

    Williams could even ask Patterico for a list of qualified non-lefty attorneys, to balance her source list.

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (e933fc) — 9/10/2009 @ 11:40 am

  31. This borders on the grotesque: a reporter’s article so profoundly biased and palpably false as to constitute dishonesty. And yet there’ll always be a place for Carol Williams at the good ol’ LAT.

    They still don’t get that it is just such disgraceful performances which have all but made the LAT a dead fishwrapper printing. It is in desperate need of editorial and journalistic reconstruction if it is to have a hope of surviving until the next presidential election. But the bosses choose to delude themselves that their circulation collapse is because of free news on an internet which doesn’t have their journalistic ethics.

    You know, they may have something there…

    Comment by jum1801 (50e876) — 9/10/2009 @ 12:05 pm

  32. “Good job, Patterico.”

    Ditto. Someone has to keep the lefties honest.

    Comment by Dave Surls (d45e49) — 9/10/2009 @ 12:11 pm

  33. I wouldn’t get overly focused on Zell. His claim to fame is buying undervalued assets and selling overvalued ones. I can’t claim to know what he was thinking with the Tribune buy other than observing his successful strategy since his college days of buying apartment units in Ann Arbor. It seems to me his sole interest in the LAT per se is only to stem the red ink. I seem to recall his rant to the LAT staff was more about profits than reportorial biases. With commercial RE on the ropes with huge over-capacity problems, I believe Zell and other big investors misfigured the “bottom,” bought in too early, and now are grittily holding the line by reducing overhead. I’ll take a wild guess and say that this correction indicates they are weeding out the chaff on the staff, and that this particular writer is one of the sharper ones retained. That the original writing was shown to be embarrassingly subpar might lead to another overhead reduction done quietly down the road.

    Comment by political agnostic (cd8ac9) — 9/10/2009 @ 12:11 pm

  34. Wait a minute, Carol Williams is the “Legal Affairs Writer.” Maybe it’s time for a demotion or at least she should be placed on double-secret probation.

    Comment by Alta Bob (3dd3fe) — 9/10/2009 @ 12:29 pm

  35. after seeing this headline on my way out the door, i bought two lotto tickets…… it’s obviously one of those days when anything is possible.

    (i’m also scanning the sky for pigs with one hand on my umbrella…. %-)

    Comment by redc1c4 (fb8750) — 9/10/2009 @ 1:11 pm

  36. Not to take anything away from Patterico’s impressive work, but I am willing to bet that the attorneys for Ashcroft may also have taken great umbrage at Carol Williams’ faulty analysis of the 9th circuit ruling and demanded a correction from the LA Times. The correction was devastating. Carol must be absolutely mortified in front of her peers.

    Comment by elissa (f03899) — 9/10/2009 @ 1:11 pm

  37. A major correction from the Times?? Watch out for aerobatic pigs.

    Comment by ZZMike (b7fe33) — 9/10/2009 @ 2:29 pm

  38. It will be interesting to see what happens to Carol Williams. Obviously the Times won’t tell us what if any disciplinary procedures are initiated, but we can keep track of her byline in the paper. If you search the LAT website on “Carol Williams” it appears that for the past month she has been writing somewhere between four and six stories per week for the newspaper. She has no bylines since Sunday’s article, so let’s see what her production level is over the next week or two. Perhaps she was asked to take a “vacation” for the time being.

    One thing that should be noted too: as of this moment, the LAT has not gotten around to appending the correction to the original story. This is important since there are plenty of blog entries from our lefty friends who link to this story and are absolutely crowing about it. I thought that the LAT policy was to always immediate attach the correction to the original story. May be we need to contact the Readers Representative.

    Comment by JVW (d1215a) — 9/10/2009 @ 3:10 pm

  39. [...] and falsely implied that all three judges on the panel had criticized Ashcroft. The paper ended up issuing a remarkably lengthy and detailed correction that noted the errors I had pointed [...]

    Pingback by Patterico's Pontifications » Patterico’s Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review 2009 (e4ab32) — 1/1/2010 @ 10:31 am

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