Is the NYT trying to torpedo its own credibility?
June 16, 2003 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Why was this changed to this? In an switch that's reminiscent of Fox News (remember how "DIA Had No Evidence of Chemical Weapons in Iraq Last September" became "DIA: Intelligence Report Supports WMD Claims"?) The New York Times removes the lede from their story, rewrites the headline, and walks away whistling quietly. (Via This Modern World and Different Strings.) [More Inside]
posted by soyjoy (27 comments total)
What, does this happen all the time? This isn't a misspelled name, it's the lede of the whole article, the part that explains why there's such an "ambitious timetable" for the new WTC site: "This would allow them to lay the cornerstone of a 1,776-foot tower in August 2004, during the Republican National Convention." Now it's just "This would allow them to start construction by the summer of 2004." Doesn't such a dramatic alteration of the content of the story beg for a pretty serious correction, if not a clear disclaimer on the altered page?
posted by soyjoy at 12:11 PM on June 16, 2003

All I can say is, the Republican convention is going to be one helluva feel-good jingoistic orgy of phony patriotism--if you can look past the GOP co-opting the World Trade Center for craven political gain.

Which should be no problem for most people.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2003

Good call to change the lede. The original made a statement in the lede that might well be true (and therefore does not need a correction) but is irrelevant to the rest of the story and is unsupported by any quotations or even any prose beyond the lede.

If I were an editor, I would have killed the lede unless the reporter could cite a report or quote someone saying that the reason for the accelerated schedule was to lay the cornerstone during the GOP convention -- as the story was written, it was an innuendo that entirely vaporized after the lede.

It was a good call to change the story -- the question is why it got past the editors in the first draft... and if the innuendo's true, why they didn't hold it until they could pin it down more firmly.
posted by ptermit at 12:34 PM on June 16, 2003

ptermit - Unless the author, Edward Wyatt, is some anti-GOP fanatic who thought he could slip this conjecture into an unrelated story, a credible reading of the original version is that the lede was borne out by all the detail that followed, but he didn't have anybody who would go on record with the plan. It's definitely sloppy editing either way, but if you were the New York Times, would you be wanting to play hide-and-seek games like this at this time in your history?
posted by soyjoy at 12:43 PM on June 16, 2003

I blame Jayson Blair myself.
For the front page "Iraqi WMD" story (thanks for nothing Judith), for the Gerth Whitewater stories, and especially for Safire.
Damn liberal media!
posted by nofundy at 1:01 PM on June 16, 2003

Is a lede like a lead?
posted by alumshubby at 1:02 PM on June 16, 2003

No, lead is a metal, which is why we have ledes

Damn liberalconservativearchaic media!
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2003

Is a lede like a lead?

Perhaps in some renaissance festival kind of way?
posted by spilon at 1:07 PM on June 16, 2003

soyjoy -- First, I don't see how the original version supports the lede; there's no mention of the GOP or even an August cornerstone date beyond the lfirst paragraph.

Some very basic facts would have to be supplied before going with the first lede. For example, who makes the claim that the cornerstone will be laid during the GOP convention? Is the "aggressive timetable" because of the GOP convention timing?

If you can't attack these questions with a quotation or a citation or a document or a paraphrase of a source or even something anonymous, the original lede is inappropriate... even if it's probably true. That's the difference between real journalism and the Drudge Report.
posted by ptermit at 1:10 PM on June 16, 2003

sojoy, this kind of editing happens all the time at all different kinds of papers. It may not just be the difference between a print edition and an online edition; it could also be a difference between early and late (or regional and national) editions of the same paper. If there's time between the editions being sent to press, there are probably going to be content changes or revisions between those editions.
posted by mrbula at 1:14 PM on June 16, 2003

alumshubby -- lede is journo-speak for the lead of a story. It makes as much sense as TK for "to come."
posted by ptermit at 1:14 PM on June 16, 2003

Live End Dead End
posted by danOstuporStar at 1:24 PM on June 16, 2003

I guess my problem is that when I read the RNC-free version of the story, it leaves me asking "why?" What's the big hurry to get construction started? There's not one sentence that offers any reason these agencies would be moving hell and high water to get this started within a specific timeframe. If I saw some sentence like that, I wouldn't be so paranoid. Without it, though, it seems likely that the reporter had the RNC information from an official source, and problems arose in the editing process with attributing the information so that the "very basic facts" that are missing, as you say, ptermit, had to be cut out, but they somehow missed it in the lede.

And mrbula, if by "this kind of editing," you mean removing the lede of the story, so that the whole reason for the story's existence is altered, I'd have to disagree that it "happens all the time." As I said, this is not a typo or a bad date - it seemed to be the central point of the original story.

Whichever way it happened, it seems very odd that the Times, struggling to re-establish its journalistic credibility, would leave this out there with no explanation whatsoever.
posted by soyjoy at 1:32 PM on June 16, 2003

I took journalism in school, and it was always lead where I stuided.

lede, lead (see n 7a)

Not to get too off topic, but that was bugging the crap out of me.
posted by willnot at 2:16 PM on June 16, 2003

willnot -- sorry it bugs you, but it's common parlance, or no. Just do a search for "lede" on Columbia's J-school website or in Romanesko's medianews, for example.
posted by ptermit at 2:52 PM on June 16, 2003

Sorry, I was a journalism major and worked in it for awhile. I never saw anyone spell it "lede".
posted by nyxxxx at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2003

nyxxxx -- I'm a working journalist with a journalism degree and most journalists I know spell it lede. So there. :P

(Apologies for the emoticon.)
posted by ptermit at 3:05 PM on June 16, 2003

Still off topic: It is the lead paragraph of the story, but (inside baseball) it's deliberately misspelled "lede" so that won't accidently make it past spellcheck and editors and into the final copy. I believe this is more common in magazines than newspapers, due to the former's tendency to print lead grafs (there's another one) in different fonts.

On topic: Does the Times have an ombudsman yet?
posted by chino at 3:16 PM on June 16, 2003

And yes, things like this have happened before.
posted by chino at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2003

My browser's not cooperating in finding the MeFi discussion, but the linked article is here.
posted by chino at 3:33 PM on June 16, 2003

soyjoy, the fact the original lede completely changes the tone of the article is probably one of the main reasons it was removed. I suspect it may have been a theoretical statement by the the writer, or something he heard someone mention off-hand, as there's no other mention of the convention anywhere else in the article. No attribution, no inclusion. (Also, it's worth noting the article says construction could start well before when the convention is supposed to be held.)
posted by mrbula at 3:58 PM on June 16, 2003

Thanks for the flashback, chino. At this rate, Chile Pepper Magazine will soon have better journalistic credibility than the NY Times. (As if it doesn't deserve to already.
posted by wendell at 4:08 PM on June 16, 2003

I doubt, it Wendell. I am the Jayson Blair of Chile Pepper Magazine. And they're not on to me yet.
posted by chino at 4:55 PM on June 16, 2003

I read somewhere that the purpose of lede, graff, hed, and other weird journo-spellings was to distinguish an editor's comments from actual text changes. So that, like, "Insert New Hed," was not accidentally typed into a story.
posted by Mid at 5:14 PM on June 16, 2003

Here's a nice glossary, by the way.
posted by BT at 9:02 PM on June 16, 2003

"lede" is how you spell it when you want everyone to know you went to journalism school.
posted by jpoulos at 9:49 PM on June 16, 2003

ennnnt. I didn't go to journalism school. I was just trying to be clear in speaking about an editing issue.

mrbula, I get that it could've happened that way. Sure. But even if so, it says something pretty unsettling about the Times' ongoing commitment to good editing. If not though, it may come out sooner, or later, that this was in fact the reason (one I'm still looking for) for the "ambitious timetable." Which would, again, say something damning about the editing.

Guess we'll just have to see what the view is from the 2004 RNC.
posted by soyjoy at 10:36 PM on June 16, 2003

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