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AP Error About Funeral Picketing Restriction Makes Its Way Into New York Times:

Today's story in the New York Times says:

Under the Senate bill, approved without objection by the House with no recorded vote, the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act" would bar demonstrations within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral.
But as I wrote a few days ago, the law bars only access-impeding demonstrations within 300 feet of the cemetery entrance, and only demonstrations that involve "noise or diversion that disturbs or tends to disturb the peace or good order of the ... ceremony" within 150 feet of the entrance road. If the latter provision is interpreted the way it has been in other laws that contain this language, it will be simply a content-neutral ban on speech that disturbs because of its noisiness and not its message.

There are some possible problems with the law, which I discuss in more detail here. But the law does not, as the AP — and now the New York Times — suggests, "bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral."

By the way, does anyone know what's a reasonably reliable way of alerting the AP — not the particular newspaper that has run an AP story — to errors in its stories? Do any of you have a sense of whether such messages would be worthwhile? (For instance, do newspapers that rerun stories work off the master on the AP site, so that if the master gets corrected, future copies will no longer have the error? Have you ever had success yourselves with getting AP to make such corrections?) It would have been good if I could have persuaded the AP to correct the error when the story first ran; on the other hand, I don't want to take the time to send them messages about future errors if it seems likely that such messages will be futile.

Thanks to fellow lawprof Eric Freedman for the pointer.

UPDATE: Commenter Jason Fliegel correctly points out that the ban applies to all demonstrations -- including favorable ones -- not just to protests. I was using protest as an imprecise term for demonstration, but it's better to be precise, especially if all it means is changing one word; I've therefore changed the post (in which I used the term "protest") accordingly.

Anderson (mail) (www):
It's a little amazing to me that reporters don't take more advantage of Google and blogging than evidently is the case.

If *I* were a reporter for the NYT or the WaPo, writing on such a subject, I'd spend 15 minutes looking around the Internet for law profs writing about the new law. Yet EV's post is only the latest example of conspicuous failure to do any such thing.

Ignorance, or laziness? I incline to the latter theory. Most journalists, like most of anybody in any profession, are underachievers: talk to a couple of people on the phone, get the Five W's cranked out, dress it up however the editor likes stories to be dressed up, and you're done! Time to go shopping/hit the bars/get home to the family.

Like the student who's found he can get a consistent B-/C+ by doing the paper the night before, &is happy with that.
5.29.2006 6:12pm
Hamantach (mail):
See:
http://www.ap.org/pages/about/faq.html#1

for reporting errors.
5.29.2006 6:36pm
tefta (mail):
What makes you think the "error" isn't a deliberate distortion of the facts. It would hardly be the first time.
5.29.2006 6:36pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Journalism basically provides entertaining filler to space out the ads. Do you recall the coverage of Richard Jewell? Awful journalism if you're concerned with accuracy or responsibility, but it filled up a lot of J-space and, marvelously, filled up one more hour of it yet when Nightline did a special on how awful the coverage had been!

Now, that's journalism! Accuracy is for amateurs.
5.29.2006 7:11pm
Waldensian (mail):
I think you'll get almost no cooperation or interest from AP, or a local paper, in trying to get this story corrected. I suspect most editors would see your (valid and important) objection to the story as a minor technical quibble raised by some tweed jacket ivory-tower type.

Note that I have no object to tweed, your wearing of tweed (if any), or ivory towers generally. Just going for an image there.
5.29.2006 7:16pm
Waldensian (mail):
"objection" to tweed....
5.29.2006 7:16pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Both the NYT and Professor Volokh made another mistake -- the law isn't a restriction on protests; it's a restriction on demonstrations, and would presumably apply equally to disruptive pro-troop rallies as it would to Phelps and his ilk.
5.29.2006 7:59pm
Annonymous coward (mail):
The only success I've had with AP stories was going back to the paper of origin and talking to an editor - the editor then directed the byline to talk to me and make appropriate corrections - the story moved as corrected and other re-users made the same correction. Someone who had republished the story was a real concern but likely enough any second and subsequent user trusted the original move on the story more than they trusted me.
5.29.2006 8:43pm
Craig Oren (mail):
Eugene, since you're in L.A., you might want to call AP's Los Angeles bureau about the mistake. I suggest you do so in the a.m., when things are typically less rushed than in the afternoon with deadlines approaching.
5.29.2006 10:58pm
AF:
Actually, the law does "bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral." It just doesn't bar all such protests.
5.29.2006 10:58pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Devoted tho I am to the First Amendment, it is a pity that the statute only blocks "noise or diversion that disturbs or tends to disturb the peace or good order of the ... ceremony." This is the only case I can recall in my life in which I would regard content-based discrimination as justifying ... beating the holy living **** out of those involved. If not issuing the party firing the last salute live ammo.

The one comfort is that the individuals involved probably don't know about the Statutes at Large and will probably rely on the AP report.
5.30.2006 1:39am
cj (mail):
From experience, I would guess this is standard journalistic operating procedure: i.e., trying to get the "gist" of the facts without too much detail.

Might have been the reporter, might have been an editor.

I'd be surprised if it were a "deliberate distortion" (per one of the commenters). Probably just reporting/editing with an eye toward clarity (i.e. easy readability) and/or space constraints.

Also, I agree with another commenter: You might *possibly* get a correction from the wire service, but that would probably only be picked up on by local publishers who haven't yet run the piece. The chance of a local paper publishing such a "correction" (if you can get it in the first place) to an already-published item is slim to none.
5.30.2006 2:14am
Hoosier:
Dave Hardy--I commend you on your refusal to be dragged down by absolutism. In this case I, too, " would regard content-based discrimination as justifying ... beating the holy living **** out of those involved. If not issuing the party firing the last salute live ammo."

It would be unfortunate, of course, to shoot these people--but probably a sign from God that we are being too accepting of homosexuals. And His will be done . . .

Do you think the jury would find "temporary sanity" in my case?
5.30.2006 7:19am
Huh:
What's the possibility that the AP took the characterization of the law directly from a press release?

I'd say the odds are pretty good.

Also, I can see the legal import of leaving those words out of the law. But I don't much see how leaving those words out of the story is going to harm too many lay people. It might even confuse them. Perhaps over breakfast you can disabuse family or friends who have read the story over their misconceptions: "Oh, no, it's a content-neutral ban on speech that disturbs because of its noisiness and not its message."

Let me know how that goes.
5.30.2006 9:44am
Aultimer:

Dave Hardy wrote:
The one comfort is that the individuals involved probably don't know about the Statutes at Large and will probably rely on the AP report.

The individuals involved know a bit about the legal system.
5.30.2006 10:15am
Frank Howland (mail):
Here's an excerpt from a press release by my congressman, Steve Buyer (R-IN):
"As amended, H.R. 5037 reflects a compromise agreement with the Senate that would prohibit demonstrations at national cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery from taking place within 150 feet of a road, pathway, or other route of ingress or egress, 60 minutes before and after a funeral."
This is available from Steve Buyer's sites at www.congress.org and from www.house.gov
5.30.2006 4:05pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mr. Howland: I'm too swamped to get in touch with Rep. Buyer's office right now (though I was tempted), but if you can get in touch with them and report on the results, I'd love to hear about them.
5.30.2006 8:59pm