Thursday, April 07, 2005
Schiavo memo's origin determined: A commentor in this post, challenged me to make a correction. The Washington Post's Mike Allen reports today that the legal counsel to Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, was the author of the memo.
Well, no correction from me -- basically because the gist of my post is still valid: If a reporter requests a correction be made to a story he's written because he believes he's gotten something wrong -- a wire service editor should not deny it unless they've got evidence the reporter is wrong. The wire service editor in question, didn't have any such evidence -- and was essentially overruling not only the reporter, but also all of his editors at the Post, out of hand.
As Mickey Kaus points out, there were still a lot of mistakes in Allen's original story, as today's story reveals.
But Allen doesn't come off looking too good in this latest account. a) The memo was apparently not "distributed to Republican Senators by party leaders," as Allen's initial story, sent out through the Post news service to other papers, reported. It was--at least judging from today's account--handed to one Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, by one freshman Republican senator (who isn't in the party leadership); b) Allen doesn't explain why he told Howie Kurtz he "did not call them talking points or a Republican memo" when he had in fact done just that in the news service draft; c) Even the later, more "carefully worded" account Allen published in the Post itself was apparently wrong. Allen wrote
In a memo distributed only to Republican senators, the Schiavo case was characterized as "a great political issue" ...
This is almost the reverse of what Allen now reports. We know the memo was distributed to at least one Democratic senator. We don't know whether it was distributed to any Republican senator other then the senator whose staffer wrote it (although it's hard to believe it wasn't given to at least some other GOP lawmakers). Allen's story left the now-unsupported impression that Republican senators were conspiratorially reading the memo amongst themselves; d) The whole "memo" fuss, as played up by WaPo and ABC's Linda Douglass, was wildly overdone even if the memo was a GOP leadership document--as if senators never consider what is a good political issue, as if that's a no-no in a democracy. (Phoning Martin Luther King Jr. in jail was a "good political issue" for Sen. John Kennedy--and if you were trying to convince him to make the call that's something you'd have pointed out!) But certainly whatever legitimate valence Allen's 'memo' story had depended almost entirely on the impression that the memo revealed and represented the strategy of the GOP leaders who pushed the Schiavo bill. If all that was involved was a staff memo Martinez gave to Harkin, Allen's story was way out of whack. The memo wasn't close to being worth the play it got in WaPo or in Douglass' report. (It's not worth the current Senate investigation either. What's the crime--politicians considering politics?) [bold type in original]
Check out Kaus' original post for a plethora of supporting links.