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Caveat lector

7 December 1999

A Howler extra: But who will correct the corrections?

Synopsis: The grumbling Post finally made a correction. Predictably, the correction is wrong. (Plus: Brian Williams does "margin of error.")

The Washington Post, 12/7/99

Commentary by Brian Williams
The News with Brian Williams, MSNBC, 12/6/99

We pretty much knew there would be a correction, based on our conversation with a grumbling editor. But when we opened this morning's Washington Post—and signaled the analysts to start in on their bagels—we had a pretty good idea that the Post's "correction" would itself be wrong. The editor with whom we had spoken on Monday had clearly never seen the text of Gore's statement. And she kept asserting that Ceci Connolly's bogus "quote" meant the same thing as what Gore had said.

Sure enough—here is the hapless Post's sorry effort to "correct" its gruesome error:

THE WASHINGTON POST: A Dec. 1 article and a Dec. 2 Politics column item about Vice President Gore's involvement in the Love Canal hazardous waste case quoted Gore as saying, "I was the one that started it all." In fact, Gore said, "That was the one that started it all," referring to the congressional hearings on the subject that he called.

But "That was the one that started it all" plainly does not refer to the hearings. Here, once again, is the actual text the Post editor had apparently never seen:

GORE: I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee—that was the one that you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all. We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous waste sites. And we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country. We've still got work to do. But we made a huge difference. And it all happened because one high school student got involved.

"[T]hat was the one that you didn't hear of" clearly refers to Toone, Tennessee. Gore also includes this element in his account of this matter in Earth in the Balance—Love Canal became famous, Toone didn't (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/7/99). "But that was the one that started it all" also, plainly, refers to Toone. ("[T]hat was the one that you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all." Children could figure this out.) What Gore is saying is rather plain to those who aren't pushing agendas. GORE: You never heard of Toone, Tennessee. But that was the one that started the process that led to hearings and to important "new efforts." And it all happened because of that kid in Tennessee. Ironically—given the widespread buffoonism that followed—this statement was an exhortation to students not to be cynical, to get involved in the public process.

In this statement, Gore does not say that his hearings "started it all." He clearly says that Toone, Tennessee—and that high school kid—started it all. The fact that the Washington Post can't figure this out helps explain why their reporters—Ceci Connolly, for example—should do as little interpreting as possible. Quite literally, any college-bound high school student would be expected to scan a text like this. One prays that the average high school teacher would not accept work of this caliber.

We repeat what we have said before—work like this is an ad for C-SPAN. What happened last week in the Washington Post continued and extended an eight-month-long fraud. Sorry, folks—we hate to be rude. But in the Post's bumbling correction this morning, we see the very limited skills of the hapless elite that's involved.


And speaking of hapless elites: Newsweek's current New Hampshire poll has Bradley ahead, so Brian Williams featured the numbers last night (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/16/99, to recall what happens when Gore polls ahead). In the process, Williams offered the most incompetent application of "margin or error" we have ever seen anyone make:

WILLIAMS: Let's go to Democrats. [ON SCREEN: Bradley: 47, Gore: 40] Bradley-Gore, six point margin of error. Gore wishes that was a little bit more of a comfortable margin for him. He's behind by one percentage point.

That is the most ridiculous application of "margin of error" we have ever seen. It is incredible to think that, in a nation of 270 million people, this absolute, groaning technical ignorance sits at the head of our national discourse.