Close readers of The New York Times might have been puzzled today to run across one Diane Brewer, an interior designer in Crawford, Ga., saying the same thing twice in the newspaper’s pages.
In a piece on Sen. John Kerry’s widespread appeal among Democrats, Katherine Seelye and Janet Elder quote Brewer disdaining Kerry:
“He’s so liberal,” Ms. Brewer said. “He’s over the top. One week he’s for gay marriage, the next week he’s not. I can’t deal with somebody who can’t make up their mind.”
A separate story by Rick Lyman on anti-Bush sentiment among Democratic voters contains precisely the same quote from precisely the same voter.
What’s going on here? There are news sources who spend their lives trying to get quoted even once in the Times. And here’s Brewer, repeating herself on pages A18 and A19 on the same day.
Did Seelye, Elder and Lyman all corner Brewer, then go their separate ways, each with her quote in their notes? Or did Brewer race around the town square in Crawford, Ga., buttonholing every New York Times reporter she could find and plying them with the same quote? There were clues to this mystery in paper.
First, we noticed, Lyman’s story was written from Cleveland, Ohio, and a tag line at the end credited three stringers — two based in Georgia — with additional reporting. Seelye and Elder’s story had no dateline and credited no stringers. Curious minds wanted to know more, so we called the Times.
Alison Mitchell, a national editor for the Times, told Campaign Desk that Lyman, like Seelye and Elder, had simply taken the quote from a memo compiled by stringers to which numerous reporters have access. Even if editors had noticed that two separate stories contained the same quote, she said, they wouldn’t have seen that as a problem.
As to why the stringer would be credited in one story and not in the other, Mitchell explained that (even post-Rick Bragg) the Times credits stringers only when they’ve contributed a significant amount of reporting to a story. For Lyman’s piece, that threshold was met. For Seelye and Elder’s, it wasn’t.
Just one more piece in the ever-evolving picture puzzle of how the campaign press puts together its reports.