May 27, 2004

So what is the official Columbia Journalism Review position about factchecking quotes?

Zachary Roth at CJR Campaign Desk thinks he's found a way to attack me for "attacking" Kerry:
Ann Althouse thinks she's found another way to use the delaying-the-nomination idea to attack the Massachusetts senator. Kerry told the Boston Globe that "it used to be that the convention, after nomination, traveled to the home or the state of the nominee to inform them they've been nominated ... Harry Truman was in Independence [Mo]." Althouse, citing David McCullough's biography, says Truman was clearly at the 1948 convention, and delivered a speech. But that doesn't necessarily mean the convention didn't then travel to Independence to nominate him, as Kerry said. We eagerly await comment from historians of the presidential nomination process.

Since Roth is an arbiter of fairness, operating under the name of the Columbia Journalism Review and presumably dedicated to journalism ethics, how about some fairness to me?

First, I'm not looking for ways to attack Kerry. On what basis does he insinuate that attacking Kerry is my motive? I include in the very post he links a reference to an earlier post where I criticized Republican William Safire for getting the history of the conventions wrong. As I've said many times, I'm a moderate who has not chosen between the two candidates yet and don't intend to do so until October. I'm an observer of human nature and I found it funny that Kerry pompously chided the Republicans for not knowing history while making a glaring mistake of his own.

Second, so I didn't specify that the speech was an acceptance speech, but the link to the speech text has the words "I accept the nomination" as the third sentence and the pages in the McCullough biography leave no doubt this was an acceptance speech. Roth doesn't bother to check that as he stretches to find a way that it might somehow be true that Truman went to the convention but then left and had to be informed of the nomination later. Truman was already President when he was nominated as his party's candidate, as anyone writing about politics should know. What are the chances a President who is running for a second term would go to the convention without knowing he would be nominated and making an acceptance speech?

It doesn't take much of a historian to look up these prominent facts. It took about 2 minutes on Google for me to get this information. Instead of bizarrely trying to paint me as someone looking for ways to slam Kerry, why doesn't Roth criticize the Boston Globe for printing Kerry's quote without having enough of a sense of history to wonder whether Kerry might be wrong about Truman or checking the basic facts within the quotes?

Back in March, another CJR Campaign Desk writer, Brian Montopoli, responded favorably to a post I had made pointing out a factual error in a Kerry statement and criticizing the mainstream press reports for not noticing questionable facts within a quote and just repeating quotes without factchecking:
We come to this a little late, but, as University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse pointed out over the weekend, Sen. John Kerry was wrong when he claimed during last Thursday's debate that "we have 111 people who have been now released from death row ... because of DNA evidence that showed they didn't commit the crime of which they were convicted."

According to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, 113 people have been released from death row since 1973. But in only 13 of those cases did DNA evidence play a significant factor in the prisoner's release.

In the other 100 (or so) cases, says the American Civil Liberties Union, "those exonerated were found innocent because someone came forward to confess committing the crime; key witness testimony was found to be illegitimate; or new evidence was found to support innocence."

The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, New Republic, CBS News, and countless other outlets all ran stories quoting Kerry without checking the facts to figure it out.

It's difficult for a reporter writing on deadline to fact-check every assertion that comes out of a candidate's mouth, of course. But in a primary season, once a misstatement such as this gets into the echo chamber, it's awfully hard to set the record straight.

So I'd like to ask Roth and Montopoli to get together and figure out the journalism ethics issue here. Do we take factual assertions within candidate's quotes seriously or not? Are we going to be critical of newspapers that repeat the candidate's quotes without factchecking the assertions within them or not? And if a blogger takes on the work that the newspapers shun and points out an incorrect fact within a candidate's quote, should a website devoted to the "critique and analysis of 2004 campaign coverage" show no interest in figuring out what the fact actually is and accuse the blogger of looking for ways to attack the candidate (the Roth approach)? Or should it express appreciation for the work of the blogger who has made up for the deficiency of the mainstream press (the Montopoli approach)?

UPDATE: This recent post of Roth's was pointed out to me, and, in fact, it shows that he does think news media shouldn't be "complicit in allowing the candidates to repeat their spin without criticism" and should "point out ... distortions, immediately and unequivocatingly, using their own reportorial (as opposed to editorial) voice." This is very close to my key point.


Anonymous said...

Your bias is clear. I think it is legitimate to assert that you want to attack Kerry and even if all your facts are correct, it still is an attack. In March you were attacking Kerry and here you are attacking Kerry.

Secondly, it is entirely possible to have multiple versions of the same event. Think about a wedding. When is the marriage "official"?

Ann Althouse said...

What I'm objecting to is Roth's insinuation about my motive. What I wrote may be harmful to Kerry but I wasn't looking for ways to attack him. I was pointing out something that jumped off the page at me. If I were biased, why did I attack Safire too?

Anonymous said...

You protest too much. You criticize Safire because it's part of the story. You criticize him because you can show that he's wrong and you enjoy that (as an academic and lawyer). In your posts you report that Kristol basically backs up Kerry's assertion of how things worked historically even if he got a detail wrong.

Anyway, the whole discussion is moot since Kerry's advisors told him how politically stupid it would be AND someone (I'm guessing) advised him of the legal quagmire that he would get stuck in. He declined to decline the nominiation.

Ann Althouse said...

The issues I'm raising here aren't moot because Kerry decided not to do it. Still alive are issues of journalism (the whether newspapers ought to be checking facts within quotes, whether bloggers who supply the missing information are just attacking a candidate they want to see lose) and issues of Kerry's competence as a candidate (his pompous demeanor, his lack of knowledge of history, his use of an unsound argument, the possible character issue refected by the plan which he seems only to have abandoned because it drew too much criticism).

What Kristol said was that he thought Kerry could get away with the nonacceptance maneuver. Kristol didn't say anything about the history of the conventions. His whole point was that the Democrats were playing to win and the Republicans need to take their opponent seriously. Kristol thought the Democrats were going to stop making a big point of appearing to be playing by the rules and not going all out to win. It seems to me that Kerry did the opposite in forgoing his nonacceptance maneuver.

Ann Althouse said...

And another thing: why do you think I criticize Safire because I just enjoy showing a person is wrong, but I criticize Kerry because I'm against him? Why am I not, when criticizing Kerry, also just pleasure-seeking (in that academic, legalistic way that I have)?

Anonymous said...

"(his pompous demeanor, his lack of knowledge of history, his use of an unsound argument, the possible character issue refected by the plan which he seems only to have abandoned because it drew too much criticism)"

If that's not bias, then I don't know what bias is. What would you think if I called you a stubborn, pompous, mean-spirited witch based on just what I saw on your blog? Have you ever met Kerry? Have you ever seen him in person? Do you have any knowledge of him other than through the media lens which for you includes Fox News which tells me something about your bias.

Ann Althouse said...

That was a list of issues, presented in answer to the assertion that everything was moot. It was written tersely, but you should think of issues as questions: whether Kerry's demeanor is prompous, etc. I threw the word "possibly" in at one point because I wanted to steer clear of even appearing to say that there was a character problem involved because of his proposed plan for the convention. But I am only listing issues that are alive. So: even though he's abandoned the plan, there still is a live issue to discuss and one of the is whether forming the plan in the first place, if it was abandoned only because it was a political liability, demonstrated a quality of character that bears on his qualifications for the presidency.

Ann Althouse said...

And to answer your question, I've never met Kerry, but I would guess he seems much less pompous one-on-one. I watched one of those Campaign Journal things on C-Span where he was walking around a town talking to people and he seemed like a very nice person. His speech changes when he's talking to a group. I don't know what he can do about it, but it makes a bad impression--too oratorical. Early in the primaries, I heard him on the radio, speaking to a crowd, and thought, there is no way a person can win the Presidency speaking in that tone of voice.

Anonymous said...

The whole theme of the Kerry Campaign has been to claim they have been "attacked" even if no such attack has occurred. It's an attempt to insulate themselves from responding to valid criticism by instead claiming that they will not respond to "vicious attacks." In otherwords, the Kerry campaign has no ligitimate response.

Besides, Kerry would do best to learn from Vice-President Quayle's mistake in comparing himself to presidents, whose faults have long been forgotten. If he wants to claim Truman's mantra that "the buck stops here" then he needs to be prepared for the other comparisons, frankly that Kerry has none of the traditional American virtues, i.e. being a hard working poor farmer from middle America, that Truman had.

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous poster jumps in with a useless, inaccurate comment. Truman won for a variety of reasons including the farm vote (and certainly Dewey's dandyish reputation hurt him), but he was hardly likely to have gotten a lot of votes because of his business efforts. In that, he's closer to Bush having several failures until he got into politics where he surprised everyone by being so successful. In contrast, Kerry has succeeded at everything he has attempted.

Now as to your questions:

1. CJR is being somewhat inconsistent, but the difference between 111 and 11 is significant and changes the terms of debate in terms of policy. For example, should we go to universal DNA testing or restrich testimony from jailhouse snitches. The decision on which option you choose could be influenced by the information you provided. On the other hand, Kerry's point about the convention process was basically correct and more than you, Ms Althouse, knew before you started looking for errors. He basic point was that Republicans, especially the RNC, just make things uu in order to launch partisan attacks. In fact, in 1944, for Truman's VP nomination, he didn't accept until over 5 weeks later on August 31 in Lamar, Missouri.

2. Secondly, why is your comment on Kerry different than you comment of Safire. Safire's not running for national office. So it is likely that you bothered to comment on Kerry only because he is the presumptive Democratic nominee. In both cases, you enjoy being right in your lawyerly, scholarly way, but in the case of Kerry, you enjoy knocking him down a peg specifically because he is the Democratic nominee. If all you wanted to do was count coup with regard to catching factual errors in quotes made by politicians then you are hunting on the wrong side of the political divide in terms of efficiency.

Ann Althouse said...

On that first argument, what are you saying? That the Republicans make even more mistakes? That doesn't affect anything I said. I'm vigilant about mistakes all around and mistrust all of them. But Kerry did pointedly say they get facts wrong all the time, so he set the stage for his own embarrassment. Come on, even if you're for Kerry: that's funny! How partisan do we have to be? I might very well vote for Kerry. And, again, I wasn't "looking for errors"--someone who admired Kerry emailed me that quote and my reaction was, but that's wrong, Truman was there. I didn't look. I just found.

On the distinction between Kerry and Safire, you're just assuming you think you know what I think. Read through my 700+ entries on this blog since January and you'll find I've said positive and negative about both sides and I have at least once gone to great lengths to explain why Kerry said something that other people were making fun of. In fact, I was defending him against an attack by one Zachary Roth of CJR Campaign desk! (Here.)

Anonymous said...

Well it's hardly surprising that you would defend Kerry against a false charge of flip-flopping when it allowed you to demonstrate your Con. Law chops regarding the application of the full faith and credit clause to family law - specifically marriage. There is heirarchy of the pleasures of blogging and #1 in the list is holding forth on a subject you know much about. #2 is bringing down someone a notch or two. #3 is offering your opinion on something you care about. Finally, #4 is finding something quirky and interesting and letting everyone know you are amused by it. You have to balance the claims. In the above example you got to do #1, on #2 was directed at Roth (a lesser target than Kerry, but better than nothing), and #4 was achieved since you got to note that you (and tivo) caught an error in the transcript.

So Kerry got it wrong on one detail; personally, and this is not partisan, I found it interesting that he got the part about not accepting the nomination at the convention right at all. I never knew that before. As to the question of Rebublicans vs. Democrats on the facts, I do think that the Rebuplicans get it wrong more often. As to Bush vs. Kerry, it is amazing how miserable Bush is that you are considering voting for Kerry and it is amazing how partisan you are that you are still considering voting for Bush. I don't think I'm reaching when I suggest that, at least based on your blog, that you would rather vote Republican all else being equal.

Anonymous said...

It seems that responding in the way the poster above does is the partisan response because it makes vague accusations of "Bush getting it wrong" without giving specific examples. Besides the original point of Althouse's comment was to point out an error, not to state that the error made Kerry "less than Bush."

I do not see the "partisanship" occurring in commenting on a mistake in citing historical facts made by Kerry. After all, Kerry used the reference as a political and persuasive technique to support his contention that taking the nomination at a later date should be acceptable. Any intelligent person knows that Kerry's argument (even if factually correct) is disingenious because Kerry's reason for postponing the nomination in 2004 is different than the reasons that existed 50-100 years ago.

Kerry's reason for postponing the argument is a valid one, in that it allows him to raise more money under the campaign finance rules. The problem with doing it is pure politics, because it is easy to point out the hypocricy in Kerry's support for campaign finance reform and the attempted manipulation of the law through postponing the nomination.

Besides, if he postponed the nomination, the media would just talk endlessly about the fact that he was postponing the nomination during the media's coverage of the convention. Politics sometimes sucks!

Anonymous said...

We know her by the company she keeps. I'll stop after this post. I went back and reviewed the quote that was supposedly in error. I'll just observe that Kerry did not specify which year he was talking about. If you want to be technical about it, then it's entirely possible he was referring to the 1944 VP nomination. If so, he is correct which would make Althouse's attack somewhat ironic.

Ann Althouse said...

A few answers to recently posted comments:

1. As to all those reasons #1-#4 why I might decide to blog one way or the other. You've got so many options, you're free to claim anything you want. I would just say, it's more effective to defend him on the merits than to make assertions about my motivations. I'll refrain from making an assertion about your motivations, but it would be easy to do so, wouldn't it?

2. Feel free to speculate about which party I belong it, but I am one of those people who could vote either way. I'm a moderate, and people like me will determine the outcome, so you ought to try to have the kind of reasonable arguments that appeal to people like me. I don't like hostility, partisanship, and hating one candidate or the other. I like true facts, reasonable arguments, and civility! If one party is showing more of that than the other right now, I might appear to be leaning in that direction.

3. The idea that Kerry might have been referring to Truman accepting the VP nomination is so lame that it undermines other things you are asserting. Among other things, Kerry was trying to justify manipulating the point at which the campaign financing law kicks in and there's no way that had to do with a VP accepting the nomination.

4. You know me by the company I keep? What does that mean? That Instapundit and the Bush campaign linked? I've never met them. The company I keep is the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, Wisconsin!

Anonymous said...

I had prof. Althouse for Federal Jurisdiction in 1995. I do not remember her supporting one particular brand of politics over another. Hacks, like the one above, do not deserve a response.

Anonymous said...

1. #1 - #4: That was supposed to be somewhat humorous. I apologize since I failed and apparently offended.

2. I don't know what party you are, but I can tell that you are not a big Kerry fan (Kaus claims to be a Democrat). Ask your Democratic friends to read your blog and see what their honest opinion is.

3. I think your attack is lame and trying to pretend that it wasn't an attack equally lame. Sorry if that seems uncivil to you.

4. Instapundit is generally considered a right-wing hack among the progressive blog sites. Obviously you disagree. You have also most recently been linked to by the official Bush blog and Lucianne Goldberg. These can certainly be considered right wing. To my knowledge, no left of center blog has ever linked approvingly to your blog.

5. If I had to guess, I'd guess that you're going to vote for someone other than Bush. So what? Your blog has more influence than your vote. Not really a commentary on the might of your blog; just acknowledging how little effect one vote has. I'm just trying to convince you to stop attacking Kerry.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with "progressives" is that they try to misuse the engish language to "sex-up" their arguments. Again, I would not classify the trutful correction of a mistatement by Kerry as an "attack," especially when everyone knows that the statement was a disingenious attempt.

Here is a better example of what I would call "attacks," but yet fair points:

1. Kerry is a traitor - After Kerry lied about his war wounds he got out of vietnam 7 months early to come back from Vietnam and spit on the American flag, slander the American Soldier, and met with representatives of the North Vietnamese Gov. Kerry also led an anti-war group who debated whether or not they should murder American Senators. Do we really want a President of such character.

2. Kerry is a pompous elite. Kerry has worked for the government his whole life. He grew up going to bording schools and married super rich, dumped his first wife then married an even richer wife. Kerry has servants who make his dinner and wash his clothes. Kerry has had these servants for decades. Come on! "Progressives" have been fighting against elites like Kerry for thousands of years." How can they expect Kerry to understand the plight of the average American. At least Bush can grill a burger.

3. Kerry is an apologist for tyranny. Kerry supported the North Vietnamese Communinists, he said they would be fair rulers. Kerry supported the Sandanista's, more communists. Fortunately, the Sandanista's were defeated and now there is democracy in Nicaragua.

Then Kerry opposed kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. He must have been worried about civilian casualties from bombing. I suppose Kerry thinks its okay as long as Saddam kills the civilians. Kerry is just another 1930s French appeaser. The terrorists are hoping and praying for a Kerry victory.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm just trying to convince you to stop attacking Kerry."

You're not doing a very effective job. Stop whining about "attacks," and make good arguments. Don't belabor points you should concede. Move on to something of substance. Too many progressives rely on just taunting people by calling them right wing! I don't control who links to me. I'd say progressive bloggers may just be reading each other, stirring each other up, and not doing enough to win over the center. You're not going to win me over by bascially saying, "I'm going to call you right wing if you don't agree with me"! On the other hand, the bloggers on the right seem more likely to read widely and engage with the arguments and link to points they think are good without worrying about whether the blogger is a true believer on their side. This is part of their appeal.

Anonymous said...

I think this whole affair serves as a good example of why I personally would shy away from heavy political blogging (especially when you can get linked by an official campaign blog and/or an influential blogger with a political slant like Instapundit).

The blogosphere is blatantly partisan. Speaking as an attorney (and a two-time former student of yours) I think it's quite difficult if not impossible to find any well-reasoned political debate on the internet, especially if you have open comments (and ESPECIALLY if you use this strange new Blogger system where most of the commenters come in as "Anonymous" doesn't help for sake of continuity) and people find you as a link from a blogger with a well-known political slant or a blogger who has editorialized your factual work.

All that ends up happening is you get comments filled with straw-man arguments, people extensively fact-checking other blogger's righteous fisking, and Bush sucks but Kerry swallows tit-for-tats.

It's hard to appear to be an equal-opportunity offender or critic much less actually be one. I haven't seen any large-scale blogger who really effectively does either.

I know, politics is important, and potentially interesting, but when I see stuff like this I am reminded both of why the Supreme Court doesn't hear political questions and what a very wise famous computer named JOSHUA once said:

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

Ann Althouse said...

I appreciate your comments and that was well put, but I intend to pursue my own way of blogging, which is an ecletic mix that includes some political observations. I think it would be a shame if politics were ceded to the hardcore types.

Anonymous said...

"...politics is important, and potentially interesting, but when I see stuff like this I am reminded both of why the Supreme Court doesn't hear political questions."

Your kidding right? The Supreme Court is not political? What a Joke.

It appears Kerry has made another historical gaff. Now he is quoting Teddy Roosevelt incorrectly. Perhaps the misquote is deliberate considering the rabble rousing coming from the Democratic party these days. Democrats better watch out. If Kerry is adopting the foreign policy of Teddy Roosevelt, aka John McCain, perhaps they should take a harder look at what they may be dissappointed.

Ann Althouse said...

You missed the key phrase "speaking as an attorney." That particular "Anonymous" is using "political question" as a legal term of art. There's something called the political question doctrine in constitutional law. It doesn't mean the courts don't get involved in political matters if they are governed by law. It just means that sometimes the law that is the Constitution commits a matter for final decision to one of the political branches. For example, the trial of an impeachment is committed to the Senate and the termination of treaties is committed to the President, so there is no judicial review.

Anonymous said...

You neglected to add in your last comment that many people believe, reputable lawprofs included, Bush v. Gore was a political question and the Supreme Court should have kept their mitts off and let the state court decision stand. Selective judiciability.

Ann Althouse said...

Now you're reminding me of a question on my Conlaw exam which I'm still trying to grade. Technically, the political question doctrine doesn't come up in Bush v. Gore. The Supreme Court had discretion over whether to grant cert in that case. The argument Justice Breyer made--and that some lawprofs echo and I wrote an exam question about--was that since the whole matter would eventually get to Congress and any overreaching by the Florida state court could be corrrected at that point, there was no need for the Court to insert itself in such a hot political matter. That is, it should not have granted cert. There was no need to declare it a political question, and in fact, once cert was granted, Breyer agreed with the majority that the state court's order of a recount violated the Equal Protection clause. Lawprofs who think the majority got it wrong tend to say that there was no EP violation (and no Article II violation), not that the Court shouldn't be deciding EP--and article II--questions (which is what applying the political question doctrine would mean). They will also tend to say that Court should have denied cert out of "prudential" concerns, to "preserve its political capital." I tend to think that the people who say that were just so happy with getting the recount that the problems of an overreaching state court weren't calling out for correction. And people who thought the overreaching state court cried out for correction tend to be people who did not want to see a recount. It was a problem that was impossible to look at free of one's preference for one candidate or another (i.e., the pesky blessing of having a human mind).

Anonymous said...
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