February 5, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: ‘Evidence Exists’: A reporter jumps to conclusions, and hilarity ensues.

You can see what happened here. Zernike (or perhaps her editor) didn’t pay close enough attention to Zegas’s weaselly wording. She got the impression one imagines he intended to convey–and it was a journalistically attractive impression. “He had evidence to prove it” is a more compelling claim than “evidence exists.”

That is for good reason, for they are two very different claims. Obviously one can know that evidence exists without possessing it oneself. Further, to assert that “evidence exists” is not necessarily a claim of knowledge. It could be a statement of belief or a mere surmise (or, for that matter, a bluff). And the awkwardly abstract description–”tying” Christie “to having knowledge”–suggests that the putative evidence being described is weak.

The Times’s overhyping of what now seems a minor development in the bridge scandal turned into a big journalistic kerfuffle. “Within the hour,” reports Margaret Sullivan, the Times’s public editor, the lead was rewritten accurately. But “there was no correction or note.” When she asked Metro editor Wendell Jamieson why, he answered defensively.

So the NYT’s reporters think the editorial page sucks. I wonder if the editorial page thinks the same thing about the NYT’s reporting? Hey, they could both be right. . . .

UPDATE: Contrast the rather weaselish behavior of the Times with this forthright behavior from Roll Call. Two points: (1) I tend to trust Roll Call and The Hill more than newspapers in general, because they have to work with both parties and thus have to be fairer — and are, though I very much doubt that the political leanings of their staff differ much from, say, the WaPo or the NYT; (2) A correction isn’t something to be ashamed of. Everyone makes mistakes. A mistake that’s corrected swiftly and transparently is actually a sign of a paper that’s trying to get it right, and makes me more, rather than less, inclined to trust their reporting in the future.