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NYT (non)-retraction watch

Mark Palko is irritated by the Times’s refusal to retract a recounting of a hoax regarding Dickens and Dostoevsky. All I can say is, the Times refuses to retract mistakes of fact that are far more current than that! See here for two examples that particularly annoyed me, to the extent that I contacted various people at the Times but ran into refusals to retract.

I guess a daily newspaper publishes so much material that they can’t be expected to run a retraction every time they publish something false, even when such things are brought to their attention.

Speaking of corrections, I wonder if later editions of the Samuelson economics textbook discussed their notorious graph predicting Soviet economic performance. The easiest thing would be just to remove the graph, but I think it would be a better economics lesson to discuss the error!

Similarly, I think the NYT would do well to run an article on their Dickens-Dostoevsky mistake, along with a column by Arthur Brooks on how he messed up with the happiness statistics, and a column by David Brooks on how he messed up with the statistics on Jewish achievement. Instead of one more column on the usual topic, why not something explaining what went wrong? (And, yes, I do sometimes write about my mistakes.)

7 Comments

  1. Bruce says:

    It is said that the New York Times still has picture of Walter Duranty in its lobby (haven’t been to the building myself, so can’t say for sure), no doubt to remind the current crop of reporters that reporting what “should” be the “Truth” is more important than reporting the truth.

  2. Brad Stiritz says:

    >I guess a daily newspaper publishes so much material that they can’t be expected to run a retraction every time they publish something false, even when such things are brought to their attention.

    I’m sorry if this sounds rude, but why do you bend so far backwards to give the NYT every benefit of the doubt? For goodness sake, you’re an expert in politics, you certainly must have some deeper insight into the human dimension of this. I guess maybe you’re being somewhat ironic, but I just find it disturbing to think that someone in your position, who feels so free to speak out & openly dissect/criticize scientific journalism, might not feel comfortable applying the same depth of analysis to the popular/partisan press. A “5 Whys” effort here would surely generate equally-or-more-likely hypotheses with considerably more explanatory power than in effect, “quality control isn’t realistic.” Wouldn’t that be ultimately constructive?

    • Andrew says:

      Brad:

      Fair enough. I just got so frustrated with the situation that it made me want to scream. Also see this other case where a newspaper runs a column by a blatant serial plagiarist. And various cases of misconduct we hear about in the corporate and nonprofit world, where people do all sorts of bad behavior with no serious consequences.

      In this context, making an honest mistake (which is what I think what happened with all the people discussed in the above post) is the least of all offenses. It still annoys me but it all seems to fit into the general pattern of institutions protecting their own and not wanting to admit error.

      In the NYT example, when I tried to pursue these cases, I got passed along from person to person, and nobody seemed to want to make the decision to run a retraction. Somehow the problem seems to be that they view a retraction as a big, possibly embarrassing, deal, rather than a routine occurrence that’s gonna happen when you publish many thousands of words a day. It reminds me of the difficulties I had trying to get a statistical error acknowledged in the American Journal of Sociology.

      • Brad Stiritz says:

        >it all seems to fit into the general pattern of institutions protecting their own and not wanting to admit error

        Agreed, and I share your great frustration with that pattern. I think where we differ is that I’ve moved on (after reading the NYT daily for 10+ years) & discovered quite a few papers / magazines / wire services which for me are equal-to-better quality & definitely more interesting journalism. I applaud NYT as the Pulitzer leader, but IMHO they make too compromises for the sake of brand identity & satisfying the questionable emotional needs (e.g. ATNTFTP) of their readership. They’re also apparently suffering a brain drain, which is never good:

        http://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/new-york-times-staff-top-talent-exits-99773.html
        http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Employee-Review-New-York-Times-RVW3052467.htm

        It would be nice to see a broader range of media references in my favorite blogs & I hope you may be open to considering that, please, over time..

        Anyway, back to the topic of corrections: following the Arab Spring, I emailed a Bloomberg writer about a piece he had written on Egypt which was confusing– not untrue, but unclear in spots. He called me on the phone the next day from his base in the Middle East to thank me & to let me know that he & his editor agreed with my critique & had republished their article with appropriate clarification.

        Free advice for life: don’t get stuck in one-way relationships!

        • Mark Palko says:

          Brad,

          Good points, but for me (and, I suspect, for Andrew) the emphasis on the NYT is not primarily because it’s the best (Reuters, NPR/APM, and, despite questionable management, both the WSJ and LA Times all score higher with me); it’s because the NYT is the Pulitzer leader, the paper that gets held up as the standard. If you want to address conventional wisdom or critique the decline of journalistic standards, the gray lady is a useful example.

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