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Caveat lector

9 December 1999

Our current howler (part II): Need much more

Synopsis: Where did Connolly get that quote? The Post owes its readers some answers.

Michael Lewis, Too Thumbs-Up?
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post, 11/29/99

We're not going to waste any more time with this, but we do think a few last words should be said about what the Post did last week. On Wednesday, the paper reported a false quote by Gore. The next day, it built a story around the false quote, which had been corrected the night before on TV (on a major show). It refused to correct the "quote" for four more days—and as the Post refused to correct its mistake, the bogus quote went all over the world.

Did Connolly's "quote" mean the same thing as what Gore said, as Connolly's editor told us? Of course not! That is why the Washington Times switched to the false quote on Tuesday. The poor Times! Having accidentally used an accurate quote, it saw the other kids having fun with the Post's ginned-up version. The bogus "quote" which Connolly "heard" is the perfect prosecutorial quote—it's the perfect quote for excitable scribes who want to tell readers that the veep makes things up.

Where in the world did this bogus quote come from? The Washington Post should tell readers. How did Connolly and Seelye have the same souped-up quote? On the tape which was played on the 12/1 Hardball, what Gore said was as clear as a bell. The students—unlike the Post's inventive scribe—were actually sitting there quietly listening. How did both scribes somehow hear the wrong thing? The Post ought to tell us that too.

And by the way, does the Post ever plan to stop misreporting the facts about the Love Story nonsense? Granted, reporters like Connolly love the tale—but does the Post make their scribes get things right? How can it be, two years later, that the Post is still misreporting this tale? Do Post writers have license to novelize news—to improve on the stories they like?

One last point. There is an excellent scribe at the Washington Post who ought to report this strange story. That is their press-watcher, Howard Kurtz, who we think is one of Washington's most valuable journalists. He certainly covers much lesser events. Just last week, Kurtz published this, about a minor press breakdown in Baltimore:

KURTZ: False note/The Baltimore Sun has no tolerance for plagiarism, musical or otherwise. The paper last week fired music critic Stephen Wigler for lifting a paragraph in his review of the Baltimore Opera Company's performance of "La Traviata." Editor John Carroll apologized to readers and the opera, saying Wigler had acknowledged copying the material from a 1993 music reference book.

This week, in Washington, another breakdown occurred. Phony quotes have flown around; it got so silly that one paper, which first used the accurate quote, switched over to the quote that was wrong! When the Washington press corps takes license like that, it's time for Kurtz to report it to readers. Hey—we're concerned about Baltimore music reviews too. But how about something that matters?