Politico places editor’s note on story about Obama’s ‘composite’ girlfriend

After facing criticism from many news organizations (and me) for a post that included a false accusation against President Obama, Politico this afternoon added an editor's note to its story.

The note states that, "while POLITICO’s general policy is to post corrections at the end of content, in this case, the error was significant enough that it should have been posted at the top."

This is a welcome change, and I hope it leads to a new internal policy that places corrections to significant errors at the top of content instead of the bottom. If we typically place corrections at the bottom of stories, let's be flexible enough to escalate the correction's position to the top when an error demands it.

Here's the full note:

Editors’ Note: The original version of this post inaccurately stated that Barack Obama had not revealed creating composite characters in his book, “Dreams from My Father.”  An update to the post was added that Obama had acknowledged using composite characters in a reissue of the book. When POLITICO later learned that Obama had acknowledged in all editions of his book using composites, the incorrect information was removed from the post and a correction was added stating that Obama had, in fact, disclosed using composites in the first edition of his book. The correction should have included that the inaccurate information was removed from the post. In addition, while POLITICO’s general policy is to post corrections at the end of content, in this case, the error was significant enough that it should have been posted at the top.

Though Politico editors decided that more action was needed to correct the post and acknowledge the error, one reporter at the organization expressed different feelings today. It's important to note that he did so on his own, and not in any way as a spokesman for Politico.

Here's what Politico White House reporter Glenn Thrush tweeted at the Poynter Twitter account after it shared a link to my post earlier today (I didn't see the tweet at the time):

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post followed up and got this quote from Thrush:

I think the point is sometimes we pay more attention to the reporting of these stories than we do to the story itself. I think it’s incumbent on media critics to weigh the same news equities as we do and ask themselves if their story is more important than the original story.

Wemple didn't agree with Thrush's evaluation.

"The problem with the Politico post is way too simple for journalistic intellectualizing: It said that Obama hadn’t disclosed to readers his cheesy approach with composite characters when, in fact, he’d fully disclosed his cheesy approach with composite characters," he wrote.

Not surprisingly, I agree with Wemple: the biggest piece of news in Byers' original post was the false accusation that Obama used composite characters without disclosing it. That's what caused Drudge to link to the post and to accuse Obama of fabrication.

If the fact that the New York girlfriend in "Dreams from My Father" is a composite is such a big piece of news, then it shouldn't have been tarted up with a false accusation.

  • Craig Silverman

    Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification.


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