Missed Correction: Times slow to fix H.I.V. budget error

Is the Times saving a budget correction for a rainy day?

In a strongly worded editorial published in Wednesday’s paper, The New York Times argued that the budget deal reached Friday night between the White House and Republican leaders would neutralize the stimulative effects of 2010’s payroll tax cut and disrupt programs that aided the nation’s poor.

But one of the programs singled out by the Times as having taken a big hit has in fact been left untouched.

From the editorial:

…the bill damages many of the government’s most important programs and will hurt those on the economy’s lowest rungs. Many of those cuts, in particular, satisfy ancient Republican ideological urges but have little or no effect on the long-term budget deficit.

Among the most important programs that the Times highlights is funding for the prevention of communicable diseases, like H.I.V. The editorial says:

Money to prevent the spread of H.I.V., hepatitis and other communicable diseases was cut by $1 billion, and community health care centers lost $600 million. The program that provides low-income nutrition assistance will lose $504 million.

But in a story published Tuesday night—presumably after the Times editorial went online but before it came out in the Wednesday print edition—Politico’s J. Lester Feder and Kate Nocera reveal that the cut is not actually happening and that it made its way into a deal summary published on the House Appropriations Committee website through a technical error. From the Politico story:

Congressional staffers working quickly to summarize the 400-plus page budget deal accidentally cut $1 billion in AIDS and STD prevention funding from a document posted on the House Appropriations Committee website Tuesday morning.

“We had a collective heart attack when we saw that number,” said Ronald Johnson, vice president of the advocacy group AIDS United. “So we called to make sure it was correct and it wasn’t.”

A staffer for Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told Politico: “That was just a technical production issue. Remember what time we were working on this, it was very early in the morning. It was very early, 2 in the morning. Just a technical error. All the discussions [about what was or wasn’t on the table] are confidential.”

The Committee has now updated its table. A look at the editorial online and a check through today’s Corrections show that the The New York Times has yet to update its article. We have reached out to the Times for comment and will update when something comes through.

UPDATE: Politico wasn’t the only one to point to the “technical error.” In a CQ Roll Call report published before Politico’s report (you can find it here, behind a paywall), the outlet’s HealthBeat associate editor Jane Norman reported:

One problem in figuring out the impact of the 2011 spending deal — which averted a government shutdown—was that confusion over the numbers continued throughout the day after the details of the agreement (HR 1473) were released early Tuesday.

For example, an early version of a chart released by appropriators included an incorrect line item for a $1.045 billion cut in funding for HIV/ADS, viral hepatitis and other diseases. “That was really, really scary,” said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the Aids Institute.

HealthBeat’s managing editor Dena Bunis told me via e-mail that “the communications director for the committee sent me an email saying they had corrected the chart after Jane and I queried the committee about the apparent mistake.”

No doubt there are other outlets that have picked up on the error, too. But there still appears to be no change to the Times’s editorial online.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , , ,