Monday, March 17, 2008
Fact and opinion
William Kristol had to know he would be under a microscope when he accepted a columnist position at The New York Times late last year. As a well-known advocate of the Iraq war and other Republican causes, Kristol has formidable political opponents. Those opponents were shocked and angered that Kristol would be given a weekly column on the Times op-ed page. They wanted him fired before he had written a word, and their complaints prompted a response from the public editor at the Times.

Given that, you would think that Kristol would be particularly careful to get his facts straight in his pieces for the Times. Columns, after all, require solid facts to support their arguments. Errors of fact expose columnists to attack and damage their credibility. Editors can ensure that columnists meet the requirements of this part of the job. As an editor at The Weekly Standard magazine, Kristol should understand that.

So far, Kristol has stumbled on the facts. His first column had an attribution blunder. The latest mistake in Kristol's work on the op-ed page should give editors pause about the quality of his work. The subject of his most recent column is Barack Obama's church and the pastor's comments about the war and other political issues. Kristol alleges that Obama was in attendance when particularly controversial remarks were made from the pulpit. Yet, as noted here, Obama was not there that day in July 2007.

To its credit, the Times has quickly added this note from Kristol to the top of the online version of the column:
In this column, I cite a report that Sen. Obama had attended services at Trinity Church on July 22, 2007. The Obama camapaign [sic] has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error.
This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough because the error is still in the column. It's an assertion that is central to Kristol's argument, not just a piece of trivia. That part of the column needs editing as well, which is easy enough to do online.

Additionally, the column needs a rewrite for the wire services. Many newspapers run Times columnists a day or two after their works appear in the Times. It's possible some newspapers will run the Kristol column as is, which will spread the error.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann of MSNBC has named himself one of his nightly "Worst Persons In the World" for a goof related to the Kristol column. Earlier in the week, Olbermann had singled out Times executive editor Bill Keller for the Worst Person "honor" for not firing Kristol. Alas, Keller plays no role in the editorial pages and has no say on the hiring and firing of op-ed columnists. (Related post here.)
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:35 PM | Permalink |


  • At 11:52 AM, Anonymous George Donner

    Do you really not understand that the laziness and dishonesty of which you give an example here is a key reason that your industry is in the death spiral it's in? You point to Kristol as being "under a microscope" because he has "powerful enemies" due to his support of Bush and his advocacy of the Iraq war, and you characterize his hiring as an effort to bring "balance" to a "liberal" editorial page.

    In none of this do you address the reasons for the criticism; namely, that Kristol is a liar. His selection was criticized because the Times gave a forum to a liar whose every claim and prediction about Iraq had been proven wrong, and the critics wanted to know why the Times couldn't give a forum to someone who had been right about Iraq.

    Kristol's mendacity didn't come to the fore because he had been "put under a microscope"; his mendacity came to the fore because he intended from the beginning to use his space in the Times to mount a campaign of lies against his political opponents. Mounting campaigns of lies against his political opponents is what he does. He choice of a false piece from the right-wing smear site Newsmax wasn't a mistake, it was a deliberate effort to smear Obama. He wasn't trying to present a truthful piece, he was trying to present a piece that would accomplish the smear he wanted to accomplish.

    By hiring Kristol, the Times hired someone who intended to, and did, use the Times to launch right-wing smears into the mainstream media.

    If you were diligent or honest, you would have written your post along the lines of "Times's choice of right-wing smear specialist further degrades the reputation of the newspaper."

    But you aren't so you didn't.