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.