- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2000

Some of the most interesting news in the paper that boasts "all the news that's fit to print" is in the section where the New York Times corrects the "news" that turned out to be something less than that. The paper recently used its corrections page to acknowledge that, contrary to an earlier front-page story in the paper, the North Pole wasn't really melting after all. Now comes a correction, titled "Editor's note," involving U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The note had to do with a New York Times story running under several eyebrow-raising headlines. "Challenging a justice," read one headline. "Job of Thomas's Wife Raises Conflict-of-Interest Questions," read a second. The story, timed to run the morning after the high court heard final arguments in the case George W. Bush brought to throw out the controversial Florida vote recounts, suggested that the justice might need to recuse himself from the case because of his wife's work. Virginia Thomas, the story said, worked at the Heritage Foundation and had been collecting resumes to help fill appointments in a (then) possible Bush administration.

The nature of the "conflict" wasn't exactly clear. Perhaps it was that under the circumstances, Justice Thomas had an incentive to throw the case for Mr. Bush to keep his wife in the resume referral business. If Vice President Gore won, moreover, think of all the time and effort she wasted in the process.

Whatever the accusation was supposed to be, the Times noted that no less than a federal judge, unnamed, regarded her work as a "serious conflict of interest" for her husband. That was in paragraph No. 2. Readers hastened to succeeding paragraphs to find out just who this mystery judge was and his credentials for asserting a conflict. Alas there was nothing in paragraphs three, four, five, six and so on up to 10, where the mystery judge turned out to be Gilbert S. Merritt of the 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.

And what was Mr. Merritt's interest in all this? Well, in addition to his high-minded ideals for good government, it turns out in paragraph 12 that the judge "has long association with the Gore family and was considered a leading contender for the Supreme Court early in the Clinton administration." No conflict of interest there. In paragraph 14, the Times acknowledged that as a matter of fact the Times only called Mr. Merritt after the Gore campaign had given the paper his phone number. In summary then, the "news" here is that a Gore friend attacked a justice whose recusal might ultimately have meant that Mr. Gore, rather than Mr. Bush, won the presidency.

Concerned that the story as written was a little misleading, editors at the paper hustled out their "note," which said in retrospect that the "partisan nature of the source should have been made clear more promptly and reflected in attribution in the headline." Further: "The headline's plural reference to 'questions' exceeded the facts of the article." Further still: Some editions of the paper dropped quotes from Mrs. Thomas to the effect that her efforts were nonpartisan, not on behalf of the Bush organization.

Of course, with those stipulations in place, there's no real story to report in this case. Perhaps the editors should have noted that this "news" was not fit to print.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide