Today's NYT "correction" of a reference to White House special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke -- in a reference culled from Bob Woodward's latest book, "Obama's Wars" -- marks the 14th time in Holbrooke's career that the NYT has agreed to publish a correction of his record.
And many of those "corrections" aren't even corrections at all; they're amplifications designed to reshape a narrative concerning Holbrooke in a more positive light -- just the sort of correction most ordinary subjects of NYT stories only dream about.
Here's today's "correction":
An article on Wednesday about the quarrels among President Obama’s national security advisers described in a new book by Bob Woodward referred incompletely to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s reported assessment of Richard C. Holbrooke, the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Mr. Biden is indeed quoted as calling Mr. Holbrooke “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met,” he also is quoted saying that Mr. Holbrooke “may be the right guy for the job.”
In other words, the story got the words of Biden's tough characterization right. It's just that the reporter didn't manage to reference the vice president's resigned acceptance of Holbrooke's qualifications.
How is that a mistake, exactly? One statement isn't dependent on the other, and both are true assessments of Biden's opinions.
But when you're Richard Holbrooke -- with apparent longstanding, well-oiled access to the top brass of the NYT -- it seems you can get the NYT to admit a mistake even when it didn't make one.
Typically, a Holbrooke correction does damage control on some aspect of his checkered reputation. (Note to Holbrooke: we do not plan to run a correction on our use of the word "checkered.")
Consider this, from May 19, 1999:
An article on April 21 about an investigation into Richard C. Holbrooke's nomination as chief American diplomat at the United Nations referred incompletely to a speaking fee. Mr. Holbrooke's financial disclosure filings with the State Department included the information that he spoke to the Siemens electronics company in October 1998 for a $24,000 fee. But on April 22 Mr. Holbrooke amended his filing to show that the speech had been canceled and no fee paid.
See, he's a good guy. Didn't do anything wrong there.
Or this, from August 27 of that year:
An article yesterday about Richard C. Holbrooke's first appearance at the United Nations since his Senate confirmation as chief United States representative misstated the history of the appointment. While his confirmation was delayed for nearly a year, most of the delay was due to a Justice Department investigation, not to Congressional roadblocks. The article also misstated the duration and nature of the Senate hearings. They did not last months and were not grueling.
How dare the NYT suggest that his hearings were grueling? Not grueling at all.
Or this, from June 5, 1993:
Because of an editing error, an article yesterday about slowness in the selection of American ambassadors referred incorrectly to a statement by Richard C. Holbrooke, a former Assistant Secretary of State. He wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1991 that an American troop withdrawal from East Asia "in the long run" was "probably inevitable." Mr. Holbrooke did not say he favored such a step.
Loosely translated, this correction reads: Pay attention to my words, damnit, or I will call Keller or Lelyveld or whoever I can to make your job a living hell.
This isn't to say that such corrections aren't warranted. They sometimes are. On May 18. 1988, in its first Holbrooke mistake, the NYT had the temerity to not give him credit for work he was doing on Clark Clifford's memoirs. That was a bad mistake.
An article on the Washington Talk page in some copies yesterday about Clark M. Clifford omitted the name of the person assisting Mr. Clifford with his memoirs. He is Richard C. Holbrooke, a former Assistant Secretary of State, who is continuing his duties as a managing director of Shearson Lehman Hutton Inc., the New York investment bank.
And that's Richard C. Holbrooke, please. The "C" stands for correction.