At the tail end of today's "Questions for..." column in the NYT Magazine today online, Sen. Arlen Specter gets a special privilege given no previous subject of a Deborah Solomon interview -- he's allowed to take back a direct quote.
Yes, that's right: in an online "postscript" to the column, also published in the NYT's corrections column, the NYT actually gives Specter the chance to suggest that his comment fit into the category of a correctable error, rather than what it was -- an inadvertent expression of the truth.
In the interview, printed and distributed earlier this week, Solomon asked the Pennsylvania Senator -- who recently switched his allegiance from Republican to Democrat -- if he cares that there won't be any Jewish Republicans in the senate after his switch.
"I sure do," Specter told Solomon. "There’s still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."
The quote got wide traction on the web earlier in the week, forcing Specter to declare to Congressional Quarterly on Wednesday that he "misspoke"in the NYT interview. For a few days, we gave the NYT props for getting Specter to commit that rare Washington faux pas -- actually saying what he thought, rather than what he was supposed to say.
But then the NYT did the unthinkable: it gave Specter space in the NYT to retract the quote, as though that were an option for anyone who gave an interview to one of its reporters. It's not.
For those of you who don't work at a newspaper, it's important to note that the thousands upon thousands of people who get interviewed for stories rarely have any recourse to dispute their quotes. They can write a letter to the editor and hope it gets printed, but unless they can prove that they were misquoted -- a difficult thing to do when the reporter's the one with the notebook or tape recorder -- they don't get corrections, postscripts, or anything else.
But it's a little different when you're a U.S. Senator, apparently, as we learned from this morning's "Postscript" that read as though it had been written by Specter's press secretary:
Postscript: May 9, 2009
The “Questions For” column on Page 15 this weekend quotes Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who recently switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, as saying that the courts in Minnesota still have time to “do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.” Former Senator Coleman, a Republican, is contesting the results of a protracted recount of last November’s election that show a narrow victory by his Democratic challenger, Al Franken. Senator Specter “conclusively misspoke,” he admitted to Congressional Quarterly after The Times article became available online on Tuesday, explaining, “In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates.”
Since when does a NYT Magazine interview subject who "misspoke" to Deborah Solomon, on tape, get the opportunity to undo his own error?