On Wednesday, I wrote a brief post on ACORN’s lawsuit against those who made and distributed the now-infamous undercover videotapes of ACORN staff. In the post, I linked to a Washington Post story on the suit. Today, however, I learned that the story at that link is no longer the same as when I made my initial Wednesday post. As noted in an early comment on my post, the original story included the following:
In an exclusive interview with the Post, founder Wade Rathke said conservative claims that ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a “criminal enterprise” that misuses federal and donor funds for political ends — a claim contained in a report by House Republicans — are a “complete fabrication.” He said exaggeration and conjecture about the group are being passed off daily on cable television and web-site blogs as documented fact.
“It’s balderdash on top of poppycock,” said Rathke, who was forced out last year amid an embezzlement scandal involving his brother.
Portions from this passage no longer appear in the story as it now appears on the Post website. Now the relevant portion of the story simply reads:
Meanwhile, the departed founder of ACORN said many of the accusations about the group are distortions meant to undermine President Obama and other Democrats.
In an interview, Rathke said conservative claims that ACORN is a “criminal enterprise” that misuses federal and donor funds for political ends — an allegation contained in a report by House Republicans — are a “complete fabrication.” He said exaggeration and conjecture about the group are being passed off daily on cable television and blogs as documented fact.
Missing are the reference to the “embezzlement scandal” or the colorful quote. Gone as well is the mention of an “exclusive” interview. Yet there is no acknowledgment anywhere in the story that it was edited.
So, the Washington Post published a story on its website, revised the story to omit details that appeared in the relevant piece, and yet did not disclose these facts to the Post‘s online readers. Isn’t this a problem? There may well have been valid reasons for revising the story. Perhaps an editor thought the story got relevant facts wrong or concluded reference to the embezzlement scandal was unfair. Whatever the reason for the change, the Post should have disclosed that changes were made and that it had decided to excise information included in the original story.
This is not the first time I’ve noticed the web site of a prominent news organization failing to disclose that it had edited the web-based version of a story after initial publication. The NYT, for example, did it when reporting on the Administration’s decision to abandon a planned missile defense of Poland and the Czech Republic, as I noted in an update to this post. Is this now common practice? If so, it seems to be a major failing. Responsible bloggers routinely disclose anything more than the most minor stylistic and typographical revisions to published posts. I would think newspaper websites could do the same. Indeed, shouldn’t newspapers at least match the disclosure norms observed by bloggers? After all, they’re the real journalists.