The recently issued L.A. Times ethics code states: “When we make mistakes, we quickly and forthrightly correct the record.” (My emphasis.) Yet the paper has just surreptitiously fixed a substantive error in the Web version of an article — without acknowledging the error that ran in the print version.
Yesterday, I read a front-page L.A. Times story on Chief Justice Rehnquist’s announcement that he is not retiring. The article had the following false assertion (the sentence in bold type), smack-dab on Page A1:
Until July 1, the president and his aides expected that Rehnquist’s would be the seat they would have to fill.
They thought Rehnquist’s illness would force his retirement, and they intended to move quickly to replace the conservative chief justice with a reliably conservative federal appeals court judge. The leading candidates were all white men.
But when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement, the White House was forced to switch gears. The president and his legal advisors broadened their search to consider several women on the federal bench. They also spoke of taking several weeks to make a decision.
Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, 49, vaulted back to the top of the list because his nomination, like O’Connor’s in 1981, would be a breakthrough. President Reagan made history by naming the first woman to the Supreme Court, and Bush would like to do the same by appointing the first Latino.
So, according to The Times, Bush was considering only “white men” when he believed he’d be replacing Rehnquist. Only after O’Connor retired did he give serious consideration to minorities such as Alberto Gonzales.
This is an entirely fictional account, as anyone who has been following the process well knows. Justice O’Connor announced her retirement on July 1. Numerous reports in late June, including reports crediting White House sources, reported that Latino and women candidates were rumored to be on President Bush’s short list.
For example, a June 18 AP article named Emilio Garza as one of six candidates on Bush’s short list. The article also named Edith Jones, Alberto Gonzales, and Miguel Estrada as “plausible picks.” A June 19 Washington Post article and a June 22 Chicago Tribune article both listed Gonzales as among the top contenders, citing anonymous sources close to (or working at) the White House. And, of course, the well-connected Bill Kristol famously predicted on June 22 that O’Connor would be the first retirement, and that Gonzales would be nominated to take her spot.
Thus, available evidence suggests that the L.A. Times‘s front-page claim that “[t]he leading candidates were all white men” was incorrect.
Here’s where things get interesting. The paper has issued no correction of this error. However, if you click on the link for yesterday’s front-page story, you’ll see that the “white men” claim has been altered to remove the word “white”:
They thought Rehnquist’s illness would force his retirement, and they intended to move quickly to replace the conservative chief justice with a reliably conservative federal appeals court judge. The leading candidates were all men.
That is not what the print version said. The print version said that the leading candidates were all “white men,” not simply “men.” But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a shot of the relevant portion of yesterday’s front page:
What’s going on here? Why was the word “white” removed from the online version of this article? Did someone realize that the assertion was incorrect, and have the word airbrushed from the Web version? It’s hard to imagine any other explanation.
This hardly seems consistent with the claim made in the recently issued ethics code: “When we make mistakes, we quickly and forthrightly correct the record.” There’s nothing “forthright” about this at all. The word that comes to mind is “sneaky.”
I’m writing the Readers’ Representative about this. I’ll let you know what I hear back.
UPDATE x2: Welcome to Power Line readers, and thanks to John for the link.
UPDATE x3: The Readers’ Representative has partially responded. Details in this post.