The Times stands corrected -- finally, sort of

After days of unexplained delay, the paper corrects part of a false story about Hillary Clinton.

Published July 19, 2006 12:45PM (EDT)

After several days of unexplained delay, the New York Times has finally corrected its false story about Hillary Clinton. As we've been reporting, the Times' Anne Kornblut falsely reported Sunday that Clinton had attacked Democrats for "wasting time" by pushing controversial issues that simply inflame the passions of Republican voters. In fact, Clinton was referring to the Republican-controlled Senate, not to her Democratic colleagues there.

In an "editors' note" appended to the the story and published with other corrections in the paper, the Times now says its headline -- "Clinton, in Arkansas, Says Democrats Are 'Wasting Time'" -- and the "opening sentence" of Kornblut's article "were based on a misinterpretation of a passage in [Clinton's] speech in which she first referred to the Democrats' agenda in the Senate and then went on to criticize the actions of the Republican majority in Congress. She was referring to the Republican-led Congress -- not Democrats -- when she said: 'So we do other things, we do things that are controversial, we do things that try to inflame their base so that they can turn people out and vote for their candidates. I think we are wasting time, we are wasting lives, we need to get back to making America work again, in a bipartisan, nonpartisan way.'"

Maybe it's a case of better late than never, but the correction understates the breadth of the error Kornblut and the Times' headline writers made. It's not just the first sentence of the story that was wrong. By saying in the first sentence of the article that Clinton had "chastised Democrats Saturday for taking on issues that arouse conservatives and turn out Republican voters rather than finding consensus on mainstream subjects," the Times made it seem that the quotations in two subsequent paragraphs were aimed at Democrats rather than Republicans. Moreover, the first bit of Kornblut's second sentence -- where she said that Clinton hadn't specifically mentioned gay marriage in her speech -- suggested that a political reporter for the New York Times either doesn't know or chose to misrepresent which party has been trying to use gay marriage as a political issue to drive voter turnout.

What do Kornblut and the Times have to say for themselves? We wish we could say. We tried to reach Kornblut Tuesday morning, but she sent us an e-mail saying that she was on vacation and therefore at a "severe disadvantage" in responding to our question about the prospect for a correction. She referred us to her editor, who did not return our call.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2006 Elections Hillary Rodham Clinton The New York Times War Room