What Politico deletes from its articles without telling anyone.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
July 20 2010 3:56 PM

Politico Incorrect

What the politics Web site deletes from its articles without telling anyone.

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But at the end of 1988, Byrd surrendered the majority leadership, and 10 years later, the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee—for the good of the Senate and his party.

Almost there! But Politico again miscalculated the year Byrd surrendered his Appropriations Committee chairmanship. At 9:24 a.m., the sentence made one more attempt at scaling Mount Accurate:

But at the end of 1988, Byrd surrendered the majority leadership, and 20 years later, the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee—for the good of the Senate and his party.

Actually, Republicans controlled the Senate from 1981 to 1987, so Byrd had surrendered the majority leadership for those years, too—a fact the article doesn't acknowledge until 10 paragraphs later. At least we know that, whatever he did, it was always for the good of the Senate and his party.

Among the pool of articles we monitored, Politico issued just three corrections. One notified readers that Howard Kurtz did not publish the first report of a massage therapist's sexual-harassment allegations against Al Gore in the Washington Post. * One regarded the participants in a recent climate meeting. And one acknowledged that the site misidentified the author of a letter to President Obama. On the other hand, Politico failed to acknowledge changes it made on roughly a dozen articles, depending on how you count it. (See our list of deletions, corrections, and changes to judge for yourself.) After we contacted Politico with our list of unacknowledged corrections, the site's editors appended correction notices to most of the articles in question. *

The Web provides countless ways to deal with corrections—inline notices, hyperlinks, RSS feeds, and so on. Scott Rosenberg, Salon.com co-founder and director of MediaBugs.org, last week published four basic guidelines for online corrections. They're by no means the only solution, but they form a solid framework:

    • Append a note to any article that's been corrected, explaining the change;
    • Keep a list of these changes, linking to the corrected articles, at a fixed location on the site;
    • Post a brief corrections policy, with information about how readers can report errors they find;
    • Make sure that your corrections listing page and your corrections policy (whether they're on the same or different pages) are part of your site navigation—they should be accessible by one click from any page on your site.

By this standard, Politico fails on all four counts. The site has no plans to publish a corrections policy, Editor-in-Chief John Harris said: "I'm not sure there needs to be a black-and-white policy." But Politico "ought to think about" keeping a running list of corrections, and its unwritten policy. Politico's unwritten policy is to append notices to articles "where something substantive was not correct," Harris said. In many of the stories cited in the sidebar, Harris acknowledged, "there was no thought or judgment applied."  .

[Update, July 20, 11:35 p.m.: As Politico's editors also pointed out to us, many of the changes Politico made to its stories would have been permitted under Slate's own corrections policy. Under Slate's policy, we do not notify readers about minor corrections that we ourselves catch within 24 hours of publication.]

Since its launch, Politico has garnered widespread attention—and some derision—for its obsessive and detailed coverage. In many respects, it serves as a wire service for the digital age. But in the service of its "Win the Morning, Win the Afternoon, Win the Evening" strategy, Politico seems to have rewritten the old wire-service motto. It's no longer, "Get it first, but first get it right." For Politico, it's more like, "Get it first, and if you don't get it quite right, quietly change it later."

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