How Not to Correct the Record – TNR Edition

Earlier this month, The New Republic posted an article by Stanford law professor Richard Thompson Ford on the Zimmerman trial. As noted by my co-blogger David Bernstein and Michelle Meyer at The Faculty Lounge, this article included some factual inaccuracies. Most notably, the article (as originally published) contained the following sentence:

. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy. (emphasis in original)

As written, this sentence contained three errors: 1) the 46 calls were not all to 911, some were to a non-emergency police number, 2) the calls were made over several years, not 15 months, and 3) Zimmerman called the police to report that a young boy was unattended by an adult and was concerned for the boy’s safety, not to report that the child was engaged in “suspicious activities.”

Both the author of the post and TNR were alerted to these errors. I personally e-mailed both last week, as did others. Eventually, TNR made some changes to the sentence. The sentence now reads:

. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the polics 46 times in 15 months, once to report on a seven year old black boy. (emphasis and typo in original)

Yet as Michelle Meyer points out, after the quick revision the sentence still contains an inaccuracy (and a typo) and one of the revisions is such that most readers will still be left with a mistaken impression about the nature of the call about the seven-year-old boy. On top of that, the editor’s note at the bottom only acknowledges one of the changes. It reads:

This article has been corrected. Zimmerman called various law enforcement officials 46 times, not just 911, as originally stated.

It’s almost as if the editors don’t care about the errors, can’t admit to their mistakes, or can’t bring themselves to disrupt the narrative. As Meyer notes, “It’s one thing to make a mistake about facts. It’s quite another to double down on damaging falsehoods after having your mistake pointed out. In that respect, TNR‘s cure here is worse than the disease.” I don’t always agree with what I read in TNR, but I did give them credit for higher editorial standards.

UPDATE: The article has been revised again. Now the statement reads: “Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the police 46 times in 15 months.” This is still inaccurate, as the calls were made over several years, not 15 months. Moreover, the additional corrections are not noted in the editor’s note at the bottom. At some point, it’s best to stop digging.

FURTHER UPDATE (7/26): The article has now been corrected and a full correction notice now appears at the bottom.