Monday, December 22, 2008

New York Times Publishes Fake Letter Criticizing Caroline Kennedy

The New York Times just apologized for publishing a letter purported to be from Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris, who wrote about Caroline Kennedy that "in my opinion she has no qualification whatsoever to bid for Senator Clinton’s seat" and her bid was "appalling".

The letter was published this morning, and now, after a day of damage, the Times says "we have already expressed our regrets to Mr. Delanoë's office and we are now doing the same to you, our readers." The letter was not written by Mr. Delanoë.

This isn't as bad as Jayson Blair, and his fictional and plagiarized reporting that went on for several years at the New York Times, but it's still plenty appalling. The Times says it is their "procedure to verify the authenticity of every letter. In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the email and did not hear back." And they published the letter, anyway.

This is the kind of error that could happen at a college newspaper - which, if it did, would become an important object lesson about what not to do when editing and publishing a newspaper. But at The New York Times, the newspaper of record?

The Times can't go back a day in history, and undo its publication of this letter. But with every day that passes, it is increasingly clear that newspapers are no more immune to errors than blogs or any other form of communication, and should not be treated with any greater respect. Everything anyone reads, in any venue, should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.
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