Phantom corrections don't fly in Mobile

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on July 28, 2003

Mobile Register editor Michael Marshall has banned New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd from the pages of his newspaper over the Times' refusal to acknowledge the "Dowdified" quote from President Bush:

An opinion column by Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, published in the May 15 Mobile Register, should have quoted President Bush as saying, "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top al-Qaida operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore." Dowd's column changed the president's meaning by omitting the quote's second sentence and the opening words of the third sentence: "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated ... They're not a problem anymore."

Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins' responses?

And I got two responses from Ms. Collins Tuesday morning.

Hi Mr. Marshall,

Maureen feels very strongly that she clarified the Bush quote. I appreciate your taking the trouble to write, and I'll ask Maureen if there's anything else she wants to say about the matter.

Best wishes, Gail Collins

Here's Response No. 2, sent a couple of hours later, I suppose after she consulted with Maureen Dowd:

Dear Mr. Marshall,

Thanks for writing to ask. After Maureen received complaints about the editing of the quote she decided to reprint it in full in a later column, which ran on May 28. We're confident it was never her intention to distort the meaning.

Best wishes, Gail Collins

Set aside the fact of Dowd's (to paraphrase Ben Bradlee) "non-correction correction" -- does Collins really expect us to believe she's "confident it was never her intention to distort the meaning."?

Of course it was her intention to distort the meaning. The doctored quote allows the high-and-mighty Dowd to cluck her tongue as if to say: "See what a dimwit we're dealing with? He actually believes al Qaeda isn't a problem any more. Anyone with half a brain knows better."

The full paragraph containing the Dowdified quote:

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. ‘Al Qaeda is on the run,’ President Bush said last week. ‘That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated…They're not a problem anymore.’”

Replace the Dowdified version with the full and correct quote and Dowd's intro doesn't make sense. There is no textual support for her "spent" argument in that quote.

There still may be hope, Register editor Marshall cc'd his concerns to new executive editor Bill Keller. This will be another (easy) test to see if Keller can restore some credibility at the Times.


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July 2003



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