- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

Tracking the ever-changing saga of Memogate has proved a complicated business, even for nimble news organizations already well-versed in the foibles of CBS News, anchorman Dan Rather and bogus documents.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram briefly fell into the category of the confused in a story published yesterday, which offered one more delicious detail about Mr. Rather’s claims he had obtained documents proving President Bush compromised his military service three decades ago.

“A campaign official for Sen. John Kerry asked for the forged memos about President Bush’s National Guard service, according to the retired Texas Army National Guard officer who provided the documents to CBS News,” wrote reporter Jack Douglas Jr.

The story was picked up by news organizations around the country, including The Washington Times, which ran it yesterday under the headline, “Burkett: Kerry aide asked for memos, assertion contradicts Lockhart.”

But the account was wrong.

The Star-Telegram offered a correction online yesterday, and another in its daily paper today:

“This article has been corrected from the version published in the newspaper and online Friday morning to reflect that Bill Burkett was referring to conversations with CBS when he said ‘They tried to convince me as to why I should give them the documents.’ The earlier version incorrectly reported that he had discussed the documents with Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign.”

The reporter had confused the identity of “they” while transcribing a taped interview with Mr. Burkett, Star-Telegram Managing Editor Rex Seline said yesterday.

“It was one of those long, complex conversations that our reporter thought he got right while making the transcript,” Mr. Seline said. “The reporter missed the proper reference for ‘they,’ meaning the Kerry campaign as opposed to CBS News.”

The delicious detail proved not so delicious after all — but a cautionary tale for the press, which still must rely on the street skills of a good reporter no matter how quick or fancy the news cycle has become.

“The mistake attracted the national spotlight, and we corrected it as quickly as possible,” Mr. Seline said, noting that the situation underscored the value of such old-fashioned news standards as accuracy and context.

“And believe me, we would react just as quickly to a local citizen who called a fact into question in our paper. That’s just what you have to do,” Mr. Seline added.

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