Real, But Inaccurate

Powerline follows up on the story of the supposed GOP “talking points” memo on Terri Schaivo , finding that it was written (without authorization) by the legal counsel to freshman Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL). The staffer who wrote the memo has been asked by Sen. Martinez to resign.

While the memo itself was genuine, the original story in The Washington Post made it out to be some kind of official Republican strategy document rather than a what it really was. Mike Allen’s original story was still misleading and didn’t reflect the actual nature of the memo.

This isn’t as egregious a journalist offense as the Bush ANG memos (which were outright fakes — and crude ones at that), but it still doesn’t leave the mainstream media off the hook. By describing the memo as if it were some kind of official strategy document written at the highest levels of power rather than a solitary note passed by a staffer in the office of a freshman Senator, the media clearly didn’t do the basic research they should have. The numerous errors in the document should have been a tipoff that the claim that this document was some kind of official memorandum didn’t pass muster. An official memo would at least get the right bill number.

It’s clear that an error was made here, and the Post should issue a retraction and move on. Reporters should realize by now that their work is going to be fact-checked, not by the increasingly lax editors at the country’s newspapers, but by millions of citizens with an unprecedent level of access to information. Trying to pull a fast one on the public just won’t fly anymore, and neither will failures to do basic research.

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