Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare has been keeping a running track of factual difficulties in Times editorials over the last year dealing with Guantanamo detention and other terrorism related issues. The paper today issued a correction to an editorial, and the Lawfare discussion of the correct and the misstatements in the original editorial, as well its its inconsistency in important ways with earlier Times editorials, bears reading. I don’t understand why the Times has such trouble getting this right on the editorial page; its own reporters could easily fact check this stuff, or a quick call to Ben Wizner at the ACLU would spare it embarrassment. The editorial, says Lawfare’s Wittes:
deals with the detainee provisions of the Senate NDAA. And the Times is, while late to the party, no happier about the provisions than I am. Indeed, breathless, sky-is-falling tone aside, I’m largely in agreement with the editorial–some of which even tracks arguments that first appeared in public in posts of mine on this site.
But this laudable and sudden scrupulousness about getting facts right holds real danger for the Times editorial writers. I mean, where does it all stop? If the Times feels obliged to correct its error about the authorship of the NDAA provisions, what about the several other errors in the same editorial–some of which, at least, are glaring and not subject to dispute among reasonable people?
For example, if the Times feels called to get the provision’s sponsorship right, might it also feel it necessary to correct its reporting of a roll-call vote count? The editorial says of the recent Senate vote to reject the Ayotte amendment:
“And yet 42 senators voted for the measure, introduced by Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican who is a favorite of the far right. They included the usual gang of fearmongerers, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, but also so-called Republican moderates like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.”
This is a very special kind of 42, according to the actual vote tally–the kind of 42 that’s called 47.
What should most concern the Times are the couple of emails I’ve received from several eminent professors, smart and intellectually scrupulous folks whose opinion I value a lot, deeply committed progressives, who have asked that I urge Wittes to greater restraint, because it’s unsporting to shoot fish in a barrel.