“Media Matters” ; by Jamison Foser

Why doesn't anybody seem to care that The New York Times isn't telling the truth about the Clintons?

A test of basic journalistic integrity

Why doesn't anybody seem to care that The New York Times isn't telling the truth about the Clintons?

On March 18, 1994, The New York Times published an article by Jeff Gerth that falsely reported that, during Bill Clinton's tenure as governor of Arkansas, Tyson Foods “benefited from a variety of state actions, including $9 million in government loans.”

Tyson's “primary outside lawyer,” according to the Times, was James Blair, a close Clinton friend who was involved in Hillary Clinton's commodities trading. The clear implication of the article was that, as a result of Blair's personal and financial relationship with the Clintons, his client, Tyson, benefited from favorable state actions.

But Tyson did not, in fact, receive $9 million in government loans. It took The New York Times a month to acknowledge this, but they finally did so, in an April 20, 1994 correction.

In May of this year, Media Matters for America discovered that the March 18, 1994, article is available on the Times' website, still containing the false claim about the government loans. We posted an item noting this, adding that the false claim also appeared in two subsequent Times articles and an editorial, all of which were available, uncorrected, on the Times' website. We also pointed out that the articles and editorial were available on the Nexis database without corrections appended. A correction subsequently appeared on the Nexis version of the March 18 article, but not the others.

On August 10 of this year, I noted that the March 18 article still appeared, uncorrected, on the Times' website.

Now, nearly a month later, all three articles and the editorial are still available, without correction, on the Times' website. All but the March 18 article are still available, without correction, on Nexis.

In four different places, a visitor to the Times' website can read that Tyson benefited from $9 million in government loans while Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. It isn't true, and The New York Times has admitted it isn't true, yet they leave the false claim on their site, without appending a correction, even after it has been publicly brought to their attention multiple times.

This is really very simple: if The New York Times cares about the truth at all, they'll append a correction to these three articles and this editorial.

It should take about three minutes to do so, tops. It requires no new admission of error; the Times has already acknowledged getting this fact wrong. It requires writing no new text; they can just use the correction they have already used.* It requires no new policy about appending corrections to old articles: The March 30, 1994 article already includes a correction of a different inaccuracy appended to the end of the article.

There is simply no good reason why the Times cannot append the corrections immediately. And it couldn't possibly be easier for the Times to do so. If they continue to fail to add the correction, it will be impossible to conclude anything other than that they are knowingly and intentionally spreading falsehoods about the Clintons.

Thirteen years after the Times first printed the falsehood about Tyson and the Clintons, the falsehood itself may not matter all that much. Countless official investigations of the Clintons' finances came and went without a single charge being filed against them. Endless media coverage (from the same news organizations that completely ignored evidence that George W. Bush benefited from illegal insider trading) likewise failed to uncover financial misdeeds.

Given that, it matters not a whit to the Clintons' reputations whether these articles are corrected. What is at stake is The New York Times' reputation.

As I wrote in August:

Nobody expects reporters to be perfect. Nobody demands that news organizations never get anything wrong. But until news organizations adopt as one of their core values the notion that errors must be promptly and thoroughly corrected, they will continue to lose the trust of the American people.

And they will deserve to lose it.

* * *

* Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, who have done exemplary work cataloguing and debunking a wide range of flawed reporting relating to the Clintons' finances, have noted that the correction the Times ran was itself misleading. The correction, in what reads as an attempt to save face, said that Tyson “did benefit from at least $7 million in state tax credits, according to a Tyson spokesman” -- but according to Conason and Lyons, those credits were, in fact, “investment incentives available to every corporation.” This criticism is compelling, but at this point, we'll take the flawed correction over none at all. Back to column.

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.