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Close enough for newspaper work

There's a mini-controversy in Seattle, where the Post-Intelligencer decided to rewrite one of Republican George Nethercutt's speeches.

"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable," Nethercutt, R-Wash., told an audience of 65 at a noon meeting at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

"It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

Nethercutt was promptly trashed by the Post-Intelligencer, in columns and editorial cartoons for his uncaring attitude towards American casualties. But -- Nethercutt didn't actually say what I quoted him as saying above. That's what the Post-Intelligencer claimed he said. What he actually said was this:
It's a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day, which, which, heaven forbid, is awful."
Nethercutt actually took out ads in the newspaper to challenge this portrayal of his comments, since the paper refused to run a correction.

Now, read this rambling response from the editor of the Post-Intelligencer's editorial page.

For what it's worth: I thought the original news story did what it was supposed to do. It covered Nethercutt's speech and presented the news story in context.

Then reasonable people can disagree about that interpretation -- as did the congressman from Spokane.

A few days later our Editorial Board concluded that Nethercutt was part of a larger story, the coordinated effort by the Bush administration to change the story about Iraq. If the story is about progress in Iraq, then, we believed Nethercutt's view to be, the lesser story is about troops who have died or who face daily threats of death or injury. That was something our Editorial Board found unacceptable and said so. But then we erred because we allowed the discourse to slip into name-calling.

This just goes to show I can be callow and shallow, too. And, I've learned something from this debate, too. We need to provoke passionate opinions in a way that promotes respect for the other side of the argument.

Talk about "provoking passionate opinions," "interpretations," and "larger stories." But no response to the central complaint from Nethercutt: that the quote was forged. "Interpret" things however you want -- that's your right, as an opinion writer. But don't put a period in the middle of a sentence and pretend the rest of it was never said.


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Comments (1)


What we are seeing is the Dowdification of the newspaper industry.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 4, 2003 6:58 AM.

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