We get a correction

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on May 16, 2008

Sort of. You'll recall earlier this week I criticized The New York Times reporting on the back-and-forth between the McCain and Obama camps over the latter's desire to have talks with Iran without preconditions.

Today, we got a half-hearted and incomplete correction.

An article on Saturday about Senator John McCain’s criticism of Senator Barack Obama’s Middle East policy incompletely described Mr. Obama’s position on negotiating with the leaders of countries, including Iran, with which the United States currently has little contact. While Mr. Obama and his aides have indeed described various conditions and limitations on such negotiations, Mr. Obama himself, in a Democratic debate in July 2007, also said he would be willing "to meet separately, without precondition" with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

Incompletely described Obama's position?

Ummm...no. You inaccurately described Obama's position. And by describing his position inaccurately, you used your inaccurate reporting as an unwarranted cudgel to criticize McCain.

This correction is dishonest. If Obama does have preconditions on meetings with the likes of Iran, then why didn't the reporter quote him instead of a policy adviser? Why not honestly note the discrepancy between the policy adviser's statements and Obama's own Web site which still -- a week later -- says that he will engage with Iran "without preconditions."

Of course, describing this particular debate accurately would give ample grounding for McCain's criticisms of Obama and would leave the Times having to take a different tack. The reporter wouldn't be able to write this:

But important nuances appear to have been lost in the partisan salvos, particularly on Mr. McCain’s side. An examination of Mr. Obama’s numerous public statements on the subjects indicates that he has consistently condemned Hamas as a “terrorist organization,” has not sought the group’s support and does not advocate immediate, direct or unconditional negotiations with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president.

Except that he does advocate immediate, direct and unconditional negotiations with Iran.

The "correction" also only notes the July 2007 debate quote. It ignores the Web site and a more recent, November 2007 interview with the Times itself all of which emphasize the immediate and unconditional nature of his policy.

I will try once again to get the paper's Public Editor to weigh in on this issue, but I won't be holding my breath.

My original letter requesting the correction is after the jump. No, the reporter never responded to my e-mail.

Mr. Rohter, I am curious about a couple of points of the aforementioned article.

First, you extensively quote Obama adviser Dr. Rice. She says that McCain's charge that Obama would meet unconditionally with the Iranian president is false.

Yet, Obama says it himself in this debate video located here.

He said the same thing to your newspaper here.

And he still vows to do it on his own Web site here.

Why did you not challenge Rice on her claims?

You also write that: "An examination of Mr. Obamas numerous public statements on the subjects indicates that he has consistently condemned Hamas as a 'terrorist organization,' has not sought the groups support and does not advocate immediate, direct or unconditional negotiations with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president."

I've provided you THREE instances where your last statement is false. Will we see a correction in the coming days?

Also, I think the final part of your article is disingenuous as you manage to contort McCain's condemnation of Obama's willingness to talk with IRAN into a charge -- never made by McCain -- that Obama would be willing to talk with HAMAS.

I'd appreciate a response, and I will be cutting and pasting this letter to the Public Editor.

Matthew Hoy


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