Web version of NY Times Gerth article left uncorrected 13 years after publication

Thirteen years after the publication of a New York Times article that made a false claim regarding President Bill Clinton's tenure as Arkansas governor, the online and Nexis versions of that article still do not include the correction.

In The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton (Thomas Dunne Books, 2000), co-authors Joe Conason and Gene Lyons noted that a falsehood regarding President Bill Clinton's tenure as governor of Arkansas that appeared in a March 18, 1994, New York Times article was not corrected until a month after the article first appeared, after the article “had been featured in scores of accusatory editorials and columns.” Lending credence to the charge by Conason and Lyons, the eventual correction noted that the error was also reflected in two additional Times articles in 1994 -- on March 19 and March 30 -- and a Times editorial on March 31. But 13 years later, the online version of the original article -- in addition to the version that is archived in the Nexis database -- still does not include the correction, nor do the subsequent articles or the editorial.

The March 18, 1994, Times article by Jeff Gerth -- who, along with Don Van Natta Jr., has written a soon-to-be released book about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) called Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, (Little, Brown, and Co., June 2007) -- falsely stated that, during Bill Clinton's tenure as governor of Arkansas, Tyson Foods Inc. “benefited from a variety of state actions, including $9 million in government loans, the placement of company executives on important state boards and favorable decisions on environmental issues.” The lengthy article suggested that Tyson Foods may have been the beneficiary of these purported “state actions” because a top lawyer for the company had reportedly advised Hillary Clinton on lucrative investments. On April 20, 1994, the paper issued a correction asserting that the article “misstated benefits that the Tyson Foods company received from the state of Arkansas” and noting that “Tyson did not receive $9 million in loans from the state.” However, that correction does not appear anywhere in the version of the article that currently appears on the Times website. Additionally, while the correction is available separately in the Nexis database, it is not attached to the version of the article archived in Nexis, and a search of the article's title, “Top Arkansas Lawyer Helped Hillary Clinton Turn Big Profit,” does not list the correction among the results.

In addition to noting that that the correction the Times offered came after “the fictive $9-million loan had been featured in scores of accusatory editorials and columns,” Lyons and Conason wrote that the correction itself was misleading because it said that Tyson “did benefit from at least $7 million in state tax credits, according to a Tyson spokesman.” According to Lyons and Conason, those credits were, in fact, “investment incentives available to every corporation.” Gerth and Van Natta offered the same misrepresentation in Her Way, in which they note the Times story and provide a footnote that asserts that Gerth's Times article had been “corrected to show that Tyson had not received $9 million in state loans but had benefited from at least $7 million in tax credits from the state of Arkansas” (Pages 135-136), still suggesting wrongdoing by failing to note the widespread availability of those credits.

In the past, the Times has added corrections to online versions of its articles, though not always immediately and at least once without noting the original error.

As Media Matters for America noted, the Times attached an “Editor's Note” to an archived version of a July 16, 2006, article by then-Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut, in which Kornblut falsely reported that Sen. Clinton had criticized her Democratic colleagues in Congress for “wasting time” and “for taking on issues that arouse conservatives and turn out Republican voters.” After Media Matters and others pointed out the central error in Kornblut's article -- that in the speech in question, Sen. Clinton had been criticizing the Republican-led Congress, not her fellow Democrats -- the Times attached the “Editors' Note” to the original Web-only version of the article on July 18. On July 21, Media Matters noted that the article had yet to be updated in Nexis, though by July 26, the update had been added. On July 24, ABC News' The Note flagged the apparent omission of the correction in the TimesSelect version of the article. That version of the article appears to have been removed from the Times' website.

On October 25, 2006, the Times published an article correcting a false assertion made in an October 24 article on Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (CT) -- that Lieberman had never “utter[ed] the words 'stay the course' ” with regard to the Iraq war. A note at the top of the original article indicates “correction appended.” Media Matters documented several instances in which Lieberman used that exact phrase when discussing Iraq. The October 25 article noted: “Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has used the phrase 'stay the course' several times in discussing the war in Iraq in recent years, echoing a key phrase of the White House, contrary to an article published Tuesday in The New York Times.” The Times also posted a correction to the online version of the October 24 article, noting that “Mr. Lieberman has indeed used the phrase; in the hundreds of statements reviewed, it appears at least half a dozen times.”

In a January 21 front-page Times article, reporters Pat Healy and Jeff Zeleny misrepresented the results of a Washington Post/ABC News poll to claim that Clinton's favorability rating was 13 points lower than what that poll actually reported. The Times has still not issued a formal correction in the either print or online editions of the paper for the error.

Furthermore, in a separate "news analysis" article published that same day, Healy falsely suggested that Sen. Clinton proclaimed that the poll shows her ahead of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) by 41 percentage points, writing: “Her new campaign wasted no time yesterday sending an e-mail message about a new Washington Post-ABC poll giving Mrs. Clinton a 41 percentage point lead over her closest rival, Mr. Obama, who had 17 points.” In fact, the misrepresentation of the poll results was Healy's, not Clinton's. Clinton sent out a press release noting, accurately, that according to the poll, 41 percent of respondents chose her in “a hypothetical primary field against 12 other Democrats,” while 17 percent chose Obama. On January 23, the Times corrected Healy's misrepresentation of the Clinton campaign's statement, but appended that correction to the online version of the front page article rather than the news analysis article that originally contained the error. Indeed, the version of the news analysis currently available on the Times website does not inform readers that the article has been corrected.