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