Thursday, September 23, 2010

Get Me History Rewrite! Today, Obama Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke Earns His 14th NYT Correction.

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.


Anonymous said...

Tell me again what this blog is about - NYT or Holbrooke?

I would say every one of these corrections is warranted if you're Holbrooke. But you're probably safe with "checkered" as few probably read this blog.

I also disagree that this is "the sort of correction most ordinary subjects of NYT stories only dream about." First, ordinary subjects are ordinary for a reason. They are not as vulnerable to journalists' every written word. Second, I don't think you can state how many ordinary subjects have been denied comparable corrections; i.e., your statement is a lie. And I don't intend to correct myself.

By the way, the contributors to this blog would not happen to work for the competition to NYT or American journalism, would they?

Anonymous said...

I love the nasty anonymous comments on here from NYT staffers and apologists, attacking this blog. Keeps me coming back every day!

Anonymous said...

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.

Watch out -- you guys might get Michiko'd for a grade-school grammatical error.

Anonymous said...

Woodward makes it seem like there's no harmony or coordination in their brilliant team. But what Joe 'Buy me' Biden might've meant was that it takes a level of mania that is not becoming to ordinary people to be fit for a job requiring such sustainable denial. Of course the NYT has to be deferential to a colonial deputy who oversees smugglers and rugged coolies, otherwise a critical stance would compromise our imperial ambition and rob America's army of One of its parasites. These bloggers don't understand, they take their freedom of speech and anonymity for granted, and instead of doing their share to confuse their fellow man, they are acting up.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that when I saw the partial quote in the NY Times, I thought, "Wow, Biden really despises Holbrooke. I wonder why?"

Then I saw the complete quote from Biden in the Washington Post today and had a completely different reaction.

You are so off-base here. The full quote imparts a far different interpretation. The Times was correct to run a clarification.

As to whether Holbrooke has better access, so what? That doesn't mean he shouldn't take advantage of it to correct something that needs correction. It's not his fault that the NY Times, if you are correct, ignores requests from less well-known individuals to correct similarly poor reporting, incomplete quotes and the like. Because the Times, in your view, dismisses the "little people" when they are incorrectly portrayed, Holbrooke should then just sit back and suffer too?

I don't know Richard Holbrooke. I've seen him interviewed on PBS by Gwen Ifil and found him insufferable and pedantic. I think his work with Clark Clifford produced a memorable read about a searing time of history. He's obviously a talented, complex individual; an individual who obviously has rubbed someone on this blog the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, being attacked by insane harpies.

I have only been twice quoted in the NY Times, but many times in other outlets. I have many times been quoted "out of context" in the sense that I was made to say something a bit different from my opinion. Reporters routinely cut out qualifiers or quote jokes as though they were a heartfelt opinion. While I may have desired a correction in those cases, I knew that as long as the basic facts were right, I had no chance in hell.

The April 21-April 22 correction, however, is the most utterly shocking. There was truly nothing to correct. They had nothing at all to apologize for. They should have run a new article, smaller, saying "Holbrooke Cancels." A correction implies they were wrong at the time.

I may be resigned to the undue power of the privileged, but unlike your harpie readers, I don't like it.

Anonymous said...

A journalist does not have any obligation to include all statements from a source (ref. the Biden quotes), or to provide "balance" so that every topic is presented from every perspective in every article. If that were true, every time something good was said about something or somebody, they would have to find a negative opinion to balance it. The Times has no obligation to automatically offer an "on the other hand" whenever Holbrooke is mentioned in a bad light. Your points are valid: why does Holbrooke get special treatment, and how does he get his wishes granted? If the Times kowtows to Holbrooke on this sort of enhancement, imagine what information they are leaving out completely, simply not printing EVER, for fear of offending the mighty. All the news that's fit to print? I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Let's see here: the anonymous poster who called critics of the blog post "insane harpies." What fun a journalist either conniving or just sloppy could have with the poster by taking his quote out of context?

The fact that the WashPost used the entire quote from Biden instead of the abbreviated hack in the NYT is enough evidence alone for the NYT to have corrected/clarified the issue.

The defenders of the sloppy/malevolent partial quotation are letting their plainly obvious dislike of Holbrooke and/or DC pols/establishment figures cloud their judgment as to what is proper for a newspaper to do.

Sad sign of the times when everyone judges an action right or wrong based on whether they like it nor not.

Anonymous said...

Everybody adores Mr. Holbrooke.

Except it isn't clear that Mr. Biden does, if Mr. Biden dislikes Mr. Holbrooke, that's fine, but word shouldn't get out, and the appearance of such a rub to be spread out by the NYT means their branching out into anti-establishmentarianism and nowadays, with nihilists, naysayers, cynics, skeptics and gadflies on the loose everywhere, all government officials must be portrayed as heroic authorities that we uniformly obey and love.

Anonymous said...

Boy, got to profess that there's an elefant in the room being ignored here, and that is that lies about little people need no correction cause those lies only ruin little people's lives, and to ruin little people's lives is what big boys do.

Anonymous said...

Let's cut the crap, shall we? This is all about how some people are NOT held to the same standards as the rest of us.

"Name" reporters and "name" sources are a whole different animal than the rest of us lumpen humans.

I learned this when I got into an 11 week pissing match with the NY Times over a minor error of fact that William Safire made in one of his columns. I have never seen or heard of such petulance as I encountered in trying to get that one little mistake corrected.

And take a look at the corrections page of the New York Times. With practically no exceptions, it is always about some trivial error: an incorrect middle initial, a "St." instead of an "Ave." and so forth.

I don't know why the Right attacks the Times on its politics. Attacking the Times on its hypocrisy would be so much more effective.

Anonymous said...

Gee, could all that explain why Dick Armitage never suffered any consequences in the Valerie Plame-Judy Miller fiasco?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't get too worked up about the Holbrooke record of corrections, per se. Nearly every time I have read an article in the mainstream press about something I have personal knowledge of, I'm amazed at hou inaccurate or misleading the account is. That's a strong indictment against journalism generally and I wouldn't limit that observation to the New York Times.

To me, what the Holbrooke series of corrections demonstrates is that Holbrooke, his media agent, or both, are pretty persistent about correcting errors or half truths in articles written about him. If that is the case, it says nothing about whether the corrections were warranted (the examples presented generally establish that they were). Naturally, not everyone mentioned in the NYT has Holbrooke's clout, resources or media savvy. But, if everyone else were as persistent as Holbrooke, I suspect the corrections columns in major news publications would be much, much longer.