“Did I Say That?”

Thanks to an email from the Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, we were guided to an instance of the New York Times’ Elisabeth Rosenthal red-handedly lifting a quotation from…The Times’ Elisabeth Rosenthal.

Rosenthal pasted into a story printed yesterday entitled “Disenchanted Bush Voters Consider Crossing Over” a quote close to, but not identical to, one that she had used earlier this month during the South Carolina primary.

To save time, daily news reporters often cut-and-paste, or summarize from, interviews they conducted for previous stories. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, as long as readers are informed when it’s done and as long as the facts remain consistent between stories.

But in this case, readers weren’t informed, and the quote used changed between February 3 and February 22.

Check out the The New York Times, February 3, 2004:

“I don’t think I could vote for George Bush again when I think of the 500 people killed in Iraq and what’s happened to the economy in this country,” said George Meagher, an independent, who runs the American Military Museum in Charleston and said he now favors Mr. Kerry.

Now read this from February 22:

George Meagher, a Republican who founded and now runs the American Military Museum in Charleston, S.C., said he threw his “heart and soul” into the Bush campaign four years ago…”People like me, we’re all choking a bit at not supporting the president. But when I think about 500 people killed and what we’ve done to Iraq…”

In the first story Meagher’s an independent who blames Bush for deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and for the poor economy; 19 days later, Meagher is a Republican who blames Bush for the deaths in Iraq and the disarray in that country.

Will the real George Meagher please stand up? As it happens, he will; Campaign Desk called George, and he was happy to talk. He is an independent, he says, and has “never been a Republican” because he dislikes “labels.”

Rosenthal admits she made a mistake, citing Meagher’s involvement in Bush’s 2000 campaign (which she mentioned in her Sunday piece) as the root of her confusion. She says that the two different quotes were pulled from the same interview, conducted during the run-up to the South Carolina primary. Meagher says he can’t remember exactly what he said nearly a month ago, but he confirms he was interviewed just once.

A correction has already been written, and will be printed in tomorrow’s Times.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.