Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Missing the point

Why can't the AJR's Rem Rieder understand this? First, he argues that Deborah Howell's mistake in claiming that Abramoff had donated to Democrats is a "distinction without a difference." He leaves out that the "mistake" also happened to dovetail nicely with Republican talking points on the issue at the time.

Even card-carrying members of right-wing hackdom like David Brooks and Rich Lowry called bullshit on that one. Does that make Howell herself a hack? Not necessarily. She could simply be a lazy, imprecise writer who made a mistake. Or stupid.

Here's the really stupid bit of Reimer's column, though.
Howell weighed in last Sunday, a week after her original piece ran, with a sensible column admitting her mistake, explaining her position and responding to the cascade of calumny.

"Going forward, here's my plan," she wrote. "I'll read every e-mail and answer as many legitimate complaints as I can... But I will reject abuse and all that it stands for."

It was a good column. But it might have been wise if she had written it earlier, just after the firestorm erupted, and posted it on

These days debates are waged in real time—Internet time—not newspaper time. And as John Kerry no doubt would tell her, you don't want to leave allegations, no matter how scurrilous, hanging out there.
Good Lord, Rem, are you saying that Howell should have defended herself sooner? Are you suggesting that allegations and errors should be immediately and vociferously corrected? Is that only in the case of allegations aimed toward your fellow reporters or does it include errors and allegations made by them, too? Because that seems to me to be exactly what this whole thing is about.

Update: Froomkin gets it.
On the specific underlying issue, it's worth pointing out that the flashpoint for all this was a flatly inaccurate statement by the ombudsman -- that was then left uncorrected and unaddressed for several days. That was a big mistake. The Web offers great newspapers the opportunity to correct their mistakes quickly and effectively. When we don't, I'm actually quite happy to see people getting angry.


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