Patterico's Pontifications

4/30/2010

L.A. Times (Finally) Issues Transparent Correction of Columnist’s Claim That Pat Tillman Was “Murdered”

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 6:13 pm

The L.A. Times has appended a “For the Record” notation on that Pat Tillman column I noted here this week:

For the record: An earlier version of this column said Pat Tillman had been “murdered by guys on his own team,” which was subsequently changed to “killed by guys on his own team” to match the version that appeared in the print edition.

The new Readers’ Representative, Deirdre Edgar, explains how it happened in a post at her blog:

[I]n the piece Dwyre submitted to the Sports desk, he had written “murdered” instead of “killed” — Tillman was “murdered by guys on his own team, other U.S. soldiers.”

A Sports copy editor working the story last Friday afternoon questioned the use of the word.

As The Times’ style guide states, “Murder is either a charge or a verdict, not a synonym for homicide. … Do not say that a victim was murdered until someone has been convicted of murder. Instead, say that a victim was killed or slain.”

Dwyre agreed that the wording should be changed to “killed,” and that’s how his column read when it appeared in Saturday’s print edition.

However, the column was edited earlier in the day by a morning copy desk editor and posted to the Web. The time stamp in the Web system shows it being sent at 5:47 p.m.; the Sports copy editor’s work — with the editing change from “murdered” to “killed” — was saved at 6:45 p.m.

When Dwyre discovered late that night that the column posted online read “murdered,” he contacted Assistant Sports Editor Dan Loumena, who changed the wording to reflect the print version.

She forthrightly acknowledges that “when the change was made from ‘murdered’ to ‘killed,’ that should have been noted in a For the Record.” Well done.

P.S. As long as we’re all being transparent, I messed up the timeline when relating the situation in my previous post, when I said: “after at least one person wrote an angry letter, they simply did a stealth correction.”

My allegation was based on a poor assumption I made after reading Robert C.J. Parry’s e-mail to me (quoted in my post), in which he said:

[I] wrote a scathing [letter to the editor] regarding this statement when I had a moment. Then, just to be sure, I went back and checked. Sure enough, murdered was changed to killed.

I should have recognized that the fact that Robert said he saw the change after sending the letter did not mean that the correction was actually made after he sent the letter. The Times‘s timeline (as support by a subsequent e-mail I received from Robert) indicates that they made the change before receiving his letter. In light of that fact, I probably overreacted by calling the editors “buzzards” in my post.

I’m not saying they’re not, mind you — just that this doesn’t quite prove it.

Joshing aside, I think that this episode, which was handled poorly out of the gate by the paper, has now been handled very well — not just with a small “For the Record” item, but also with a blog post explaining what happened.

P.P.S. Thanks to Kevin Roderick for noting my post; that’s almost certainly what got their attention.

P.P.P.S. I can tell from the comments to my last post that there is still a lot of interest in what happened to Pat Tillman — and that some of the myths need to be corrected. I’ve been quite busy lately at work, and have lacked time to post much — but I hope to revisit this topic soon.

25 Responses to “L.A. Times (Finally) Issues Transparent Correction of Columnist’s Claim That Pat Tillman Was “Murdered””

  1. If M. Edgar has read the comments, she will have learned a little about the reputation her paper has. Good of her to explain the process, and make the correction. One small step.

    htom (412a17)

  2. She’d better be careful… there’d be an avalanche of corrections with true journalistic transparency.

    GeneralMalaise (53ce9e)

  3. Credit to whom credit is due. Thank you Ms. Edgar, and good wishes to you at your post. May you continue to receive commendations from our host.

    MD in Philly (0f793a)

  4. What good does the correction do? These misstatements happen all the time.

    You can’t unring a bell, as they say.

    Patricia (160852)

  5. What good does the correction do? These misstatements happen all the time.

    Two things:
    1, It gives the readers the true story.
    2: It reminds reporters that if they screw up, their error will be publicly revealed. Trust me, no reporter wants that.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  6. While I agree with Patricia that it’s true, you can’t unring a bell, it is encouraging to read the new Reader’s Rep blog post. It’s forthright and succinct, and does not attempt to justify their use of the word “murder” but rather correct it without any excuses. This is how it should be done. I also really appreciated her posting Robert C.J. Parry’s excellent letter, and noting that his point was well taken.

    Deidre Edgar better be careful. If she continues this way, she might find herself out of a job. (I’m going to make a point to post a positive comment at her her blog).

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  7. It was a Sports copy editor that caught this mistake. What’s wrong with that picture?

    DRJ (d15e92)

  8. DRJ-

    Dwyer is a sports columnist and former Sports editor of the Times. That makes sense.

    -RCJP

    Robert C. J. Parry (6fe4b2)

  9. I didn’t mean that as a slap at the sports editor but, as a rule, I wouldn’t expect the sports guy to be the one who catches mistakes in legal terminology. I guess I don’t know how newspapers work. Maybe the way to reduce mistakes is to get more sports guys.

    DRJ (d15e92)

  10. Patterico, you might be interested in this re the newspaper in the nation’s fourth largest city, the Houston Chronicle, whose woes are comparable to the LAT’s. I think in the Chronicle’s case, it’s the result more of mediocrity than of ideologically enforced dishonesty. Watching the Chronicle crash makes me sorta sad. Watching the LAT crash makes me joyful for the most part.

    Beldar (b363e8)

  11. I just knew that Dwyre would do the right thing. I also guessed correctly in my post in the original thread that he instigated the fix once he saw it appear online.

    I’m very pleased to give the gentleman the benefit of all doubt. He used hyperbole (isn’t that what columnists typically do?) he accepted the edit, and, most crucially, he followed through to ensure the error in judgment was not magnified even further.

    Kudos to the Sports copy editor, as well.

    Ed from SFV (f0e1cb)

  12. So when someone goes into a church to specifically kill a specific person, that is not murder? I can see where the reporter would be confused.

    Chris Hooten (0e1f31)

  13. Chris – Which chapter of Mensa did you join?

    daleyrocks (1d0d98)

  14. The noting my post link ironically (I think) is bad

    Gerry (6c3419)

  15. #14 Gerry: Works for me, maybe it timed out on you?

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  16. I guess I don’t know how newspapers work.

    Often, newspapers don’t, either. 😉

    Newspaper editing is sometimes a seat-of-the-pants process. If the designated editor for a story isn’t available at deadline, another editor takes a look at it.

    Someone posted a pretty amusing flow-chart graphic comparing how the editor thinks the newspaper works vs. how it really works. It’s so true!

    Now I’m off to accompany visiting relatives to the zoo.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  17. Was that so hard?

    Oh. That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, LA Times.

    Mitch (e40959)

  18. (@11 — Ed from SFV)
    I just knew that Dwyre would do the right thing. I also guessed correctly in my post in the original thread that he instigated the fix once he saw it appear online.

    Dwyre did not do the right thing, his editor did. Dwyre did not instigate the fix, he accepted it from his editor.

    Dwyre changed his mind not because of a change of heart, but because he was caught.

    I’m very pleased to give the gentleman the benefit of all doubt. He used hyperbole (isn’t that what columnists typically do?) he accepted the edit, and, most crucially, he followed through to ensure the error in judgment was not magnified even further.

    There was no hyperbole, just the Lie. Neither Dwyre nor the copy desk editor had any problem with concluding that US Army Rangers committed the murder of one of their own. The Lie was corrected by the sports copy editor, but it was published anyway (apparently Dwyre’s “followed through” was lacking).

    Dwyre has slurred Our Soldiers who have fought, bled and died in the Field. He had no problem whatsoever dong that. Dwyre stated as a fact that they committed murder of one of their own, without even checking his facts. That such a Lie was beleived by Dwyre in the first place speaks volumes of this man’s heart and mind (his chosen word was not a typo). That he felt comfortable to publish it without regard to the facts, speaks volumes about the LA Times.

    That he still has a job speaks volumes about the standards of the Times.

    Kudos to the Sports copy editor, as well.

    Finally, we agree.

    Pons Asinorum (770c6d)

  19. Bradley Fikes made this comment at another post last night and it is also appropriate to this post as well.

    If a reporter presumes to do a “fact check”, the facts had better be unquestionably right.

    On top of which, Readers Rep Deidre Edgar references the LAT’s own in-house reference for the correct usage of terms, so it would seem this error could have easily been avoided if the reporter had used the references at hand, unless the use of “murder” was completely intentional.

    As The Times’ style guide states, “Murder is either a charge or a verdict, not a synonym for homicide. … Do not say that a victim was murdered until someone has been convicted of murder. Instead, say that a victim was killed or slain.”

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  20. Pons Asinorum – Dwyre, in my opinion, wrote from his heart, in what was largely a self-flagellation piece. Neither of us can prove motive here, though.

    Dwyre absolutely instigated the removal of the offending word online (as I wrote) per the writer:

    When Dwyre discovered late that night that the column posted online read “murdered,” he contacted Assistant Sports Editor Dan Loumena, who changed the wording to reflect the print version.

    You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your facts.

    Ed from SFV (f0e1cb)

  21. Better never than late, as they say(?)

    Oh, and how nice to see an appearance by the drive-by “why are you guys being so mean to me?” troll.

    It’s because of non sequitur/ad hominem attacks, such as the one you posted above — the “you’re being hypocritical because in this other, totally unrelated, case you feel (I — Chris — am alledging, based on a stereotype) this way”.

    imdw does it; DCSCA does it; the Emporer used to do it; Levi did it accompanied by fits of Tourette’s . . . you do it.

    The inability to argue a case on its own merits is a sure sign of lack of intellectual depth (to refer to the daleyrocks sarc/).

    Icy Texan (163821)

  22. Comment by Ed from SFV — 5/1/2010 @ 12:42 pm

    You failed to mention all the pertinent facts.

    (from Deirdre Edgar, italics mine)
    A sports copy editor working the story last Friday afternoon questioned the use of the word.

    Followed by:

    Dwyre agreed that the wording should be changed to “killed,” and that’s how his column read when it appeared in Saturday’s print edition.

    Dwyre instigated nothing until well after being caught by the sports copy editor. He got caught.

    All the subsequent actions by Dwyre were an attempt to “follow through” with his agreement — but feel free to ignore those facts.

    Pons Asinorum (770c6d)

  23. What is most upsetting to me is when I think of the children of the Soldiers who did their duty, but will not be returning home.

    Then some cretin-reporter in some disreputable newspaper decides that he is going to lie about them. That reporter then goes home, tucks his children into bed and is secure in the knowledge that they are all safe – the very protection provide by those he lied about.

    Only their children will have no father to tuck them into bed.

    Those that do carry that burden, he proudly lies about them. And rather than use his privileged station to thank the men that sacrificed and served the country – he slurs them.

    How the children of the fallen soldiers must feel.

    If incapable of serving with the Soldiers that protect his family and all the families of the nation — sometimes at the cost of their own lives — then perhaps he could support them. If incapable of supporting them, then maybe he could at least thank them. If he is incapable of doing that small measure, then maybe he could just be quiet.

    Pons Asinorum (770c6d)

  24. Dwyre instigated nothing until well after being caught by the sports copy editor.

    Pons Asinorum – kindly point me to the argument I made that Dwyre made the edit of his own accord.

    Are you saying that an opponent in a debate must be held to account for arguments that he/she did not make?

    As a matter of fact, I never wrote that Dwyre was correct to use the term “murder.” I said he went too far. My sharing was about the guy as I knew him to be over decades. He screwed up this time and he acknowledged it before it was published. He later followed through to ensure the edit was made.

    To me, these are not the actions of a dishonorable man, and they are most definitely not those of a typical drive-by hack. YMMV.

    Ed from SFV (f0e1cb)

  25. (@24 Ed from SFV)
    Pons Asinorum – kindly point me to the argument I made that Dwyre made the edit of his own accord.

    Dwyre did not make the edit of his own accord — he took zero initiative in stopping his own lie until called to do it by the sports copy editor. If you wish to pretend that Dwyre urged and provoked an editorial change, feel free. You have made that argument @11 and @20 in this thread:

    @11: “…that he instigated the fix once…”
    @20: “Dwyre absolutely instigated the removal…”

    Are you saying that an opponent in a debate must be held to account for arguments that he/she did not make?

    No, they should be held to account for arguments made — in this case, things like “instigate the fix” or “instigated the removal” are patently false. His editor instigated the change, not Dwyre.

    As a matter of fact, I never wrote that Dwyre was correct to use the term “murder.” I said he went too far.

    That is big of you and yet serves as another point of agreement for us (makes two now).

    He screwed up this time and he acknowledged it before it was published.

    No:

    a) He agreed with the sports copy editor to remove the falsehood, but has not acknowledged it as a falsehood much less issued any sort of apology to the Rangers he slurred (indeed, the LA Times has also failed to apologize, but that is of course expected and demonstrates why it is held in such contempt and ridicule across the nation).

    b) He screwed up twice — first, crafting the lie and then failing to prevent its publication after agreeing to do so.

    c) The lie was published and then initially covered-up without any correction or explanation.

    He later followed through to ensure the edit was made.

    He absolutely failed and did not follow through, as the lie was published and then allowed to persist for five hours — and then to just disappear without correction, apology, or explanation. (Currently only an explanation has been offered.) These later actions of Dwyre are at best incompetent and at worst, deliberate.

    To me, these are not the actions of a dishonorable man, and they are most definitely not those of a typical drive-by hack.

    Dwyre lied about men in the Field, serving our country. He was not qualified to make any judgments about combat, much less a issue a slur against Our Soldiers (he is a sports reporter). Yet he did, and he almost got away with it. Hardly the actions of an honorable man.

    Pons Asinorum (770c6d)


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