October 2, 2005

"Feeling we had reached the point of cruelty to readers."

That's the reason given by NYT editorial page editor Gail Collins for acceding to Paul Krugman's request not to publish another correction to a column he wrote saying that "a full manual recount" showed Al Gore as the winner of the 2000 election:
After publishing his third correction on the Web, Krugman asked Collins, she wrote, "if he could refrain from revisiting the subject yet again in print. I agreed, feeling we had reached the point of cruelty to readers. But I was wrong. The correction should have run in the same newspaper where the original error and all its little offspring had appeared."

Collins also announced that the paper would henceforth be running regular corrections and "for the record" explanations under the editorials. Today she published several in the "for the record" category, of the minor variety.
What was the cruelty we were spared? Today's correction:
"In describing the results of the ballot study by the group led by The Miami Herald in his column of Aug. 26, Paul Krugman relied on the Herald report, which listed only three hypothetical statewide recounts, two of which went to Al Gore. There was, however, a fourth recount, which would have gone to George W. Bush. In this case, the two stricter-standard recounts went to Mr. Bush. A later study, by a group that included The New York Times, used two methods to count ballots: relying on the judgment of a majority of those examining each ballot, or requiring unanimity. Mr. Gore lost one hypothetical recount on the unanimity basis."
Obviously, this is a tremendously important matter to be precise about. There are many people walking around today who believe the recount, if it had continued, would have given the election to Gore. Distorted perceptions about the media recount have long served the interests of those who want to portray Bush's presidency as illegitimate. The notion that getting the correction right was a matter of bugging people with too many picky things from the past, a "cruelty" that readers should be spared? The only people who can believe that, I think, are those who now, as then, want to make the Bush presidency look illegitimate.


Elliott said...

Althouse pushing the hack Republican line again in order to bash the NYT and Krugman. Find me one person who gives a damn whose opinion is not crystallized.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Elliott's more of a hack Republican than the hack Republicans!-- he's implying that the real mistake was letting Krugman write on such an irrelevant topic in the first place. The best way for the NYT to avoid further cruelty to readers might be to let Krugman go.

EddieP said...

Paul, along with Krugman, how about Dowd and Rich as well?

paulfrommpls said...

I'm wondering how Elliott disagrees with the proposition that accuracy is important in this particular matter, and that Krugman - an economist, as it happens, and so probably someone familiar with the concept of accuracy - knows he's engaging in dishonesty all through an episode like this.

(Predicted response: I'm another Republican hack. Desired reponse: explaining rationally how the lack of precision isn't important.)

Sloanasaurus said...

I just wonder how many stories that were told by the media before the age of blogs are total lies. Some of them we probably assumetoday as conventional wisdom. Krugman, Rather, all of them would have gotten away with their lies and false stories if it wasn't for blogs.

Joan said...

It's still not much of a correction IMO. The only recounts that Al Gore won are the ones that used standards that were not legal at the time the election was held. The correction notes that Bush won the two "stricter standards" recounts, but fails to make clear that those stricter standards were the only legal standards that should have been applied. But the NYT obviously doesn't care to make that clear, more's the pity, and that's why we still have such polarization on this issue. It's ridiculous.

paulfrommpls said...

That's a good point, sloanosaurus. In fact it's so good, I've even thought it myself. (High praise indeed.)

Extending it, one pattern that's interesting in political discourse is the reality - it seems to me anyway - that strong belief in the most intense passions on the left often/usually requires a studied avoidance of factual details. Which generally also means a studied avoidance of ambiguity.

It's so odd, because the left-crew thinks of itself as the rational, subtle, intellectual side. I think this makes them nearly immune to the proposition that they might be wrong about something. And I think it's what leads them to respond with such incoherent rage (many of them) when challenged on the facts.

vnjagvet said...

Some people have used the "perception is reality" meme to the point they believe it.

The rule of law is based on the application of law to fact. The reason we have juries is to determine, at least to those jurors, what the evidence proves, not what someone's impression (that is "perception") of the evidence was.

It really makes the NYT editorial board angry that it cannot control perception and, therefore, reality.

mrbungle2103 said...

My response would be why does the NY Times need to wait for Krugman (or anyone for that matter) to admit they've conveyed something that isn't true? Why not have a correction run as soon as possible with the rider that the author of the piece will explain themselves at the end of their next piece? W

This will do two things-:

1 - Krugman's error will be acknowledged assuring readers that it actually cares about factual accuracy.

2 - With an explanation we woud see what sources Krugman was using, and whether he was mistaken or not being entirely honest.

I want the Times to be the paper of record. Therefore it needs an aggressive quality control system. If Krugman, or anyone else for that matter is not up to these standards, they should be let go with the reason why clear for all to see.

Murky Thoughts said...

But the 2000 election indeed was horrifically illegitimate and the subject gives a lot of us indigestion each time we revisit it. That's what the Times is trying to spare us, I believe. That said, we do need to talk more about legally requiring paper ballots or at least a paper trail.

The Tiger said...

It's funny, because Krugman and the rest of the Times people could have consulted their own website for an outstanding run-down of what would have happened, including a scenario of the case Bush v. Gore going the other way and Gore's own selective recount.

Having already done the hard work -- and kudos to the Times and other media organizations for doing it -- why can't the people use their own data?

paulfrommpls said...

Hye Murky -

Checked out your blog. You seem like an amiable enough sort, but you're who I'm talking about above.

You really need to open yourself to the amazing possibility that there actually are semi-intelligent, reasonable people why simply see things differently than you.

Not everyone who disagrees with you is a fascist or in the sway of some religious or semi-religions trance. Your "analyses" of why Bush won last year are simply irritating, and thoroughly condescending. For someone like me, who knows pretty well why I think like I do, the only conclusion possible is that you simply are closing your eyes to a whole lot of pertinent facts.

In short: I roll my eyes.

And I think you'd be happier if you stopped believing that 51% of the voters are so benighted that you must consider moving to another planet or whatever it was you said liberals need to consider.

Simon said...

What a needlessly lengthy and overblown way to pronounce a mea culpa. Perhaps they were hoping that readers would get bored and skip on before they actually reached the correction, which is buried right at the bottom of the story, underneath a lengthy (and completely unnecessary, unless the NYT really thinks its median readership is in elementary school) exposition of why corrections and clarifications are important.