Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Times Editors Cut From Story Their Own Reporter’s Debunking Of GOP Mouse Tale

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 24, 2009

The Plum Line

mickey-mouse-munching-mulch-in-muddy-marshOkay, this is pretty interesting. As I noted here yesterday, the infamous GOP talking point that the stimulus package contains gobs of cash for saving marsh mice found its way into a New York Times story, without the paper mentioning that the claim is untrue.

It turns out, however, that earlier drafts of the story did describe the claim as “misleading” — but Times editors removed that description from the copy, leaving the assertion to stand on its own. An email from the author of the story to a reader confirms this.

The line in the final story read:

Mr. Gingrich sees the stimulus bill as his party’s ticket to a revival in 2010, as Republicans decry what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh-mouse preservation. “You can imagine the fun people will have with that,” he said.

The story doesn’t note that there are no such funds in the bill.

A reader tells me that he emailed the author of the story, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, to discuss the omission. Here is part of her reply to him in her email, which I obtained:

I did write in the story I submitted that the assertion was misleading, but I’m sorry to report that language was removed by editors and that I didn’t notice the deletion. My initial text read like this:

“….as Republicans decry, often misleadingly, what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh mouse preservation.”

So the words “often misleadingly” were removed by editors.

Often such editing decisions are made in haste or to save space. But this was only two words, and it’s worth recalling that the notion that there was millions in the bill to save the marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi’s district isn’t just some garden variety talking point. It has been a major component of GOP push-back for weeks, repeated by high profile GOP officials in all sorts of settings.

In the email, Stolberg (who declined to comment) also wrote: “Still, I think the wording as published was not inaccurate.”

I can kind of understand this argument — to a point. The final Times passage doesn’t quite say that the money is in the package. Nonetheless, this was clearly a reference to the GOP talking point that the money is, in fact, in the bill. And the paper removed its own reporter’s assertion that it was “misleading” before publishing.

3 Responses

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  1. LOUDelf said, on February 24, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I felt the bill was full of pork, or at the very least low-ROI spending… but I do love to see when people jump onto a bandwagon, only to find out it has no wheels — like many in the GOP did with this story.

  2. allisonkilkenny said, on February 24, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    For a stimulus bill, a good amount of pork is expected, since a large part of infrastructure and spending will be on state highways, bridges, and transportation. However, I agree that there needs to be regulation on bidding for contracts as “pork spending” is just another term for “no-bid contracts,” which breeds cronyism.

  3. LOUDelf said, on February 24, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    When the bill is promised to be pork/earmark-free, I fully expect it to be just that. And for a stimulus bill, I expect it to stimulute, and nothing more. Anything else can go in the budget, or seperate bills.

    But I agree, and you make an interesting point on pork=no bid. Both need to be eliminated. Period.

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