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Pioneer Press corrects Soucheray; Star Tribune resists same for Bachmann

The PiPress fixes a recount omission, though it wasn’t Joe’s alone, while the Strib op-ed editor mulls what to do about Michele.
By David Brauer

Following up on yesterday’s blog post about Joe Soucheray’s bizarre recount time line, the Pioneer Press corrected the error this morning. Good for them.

Although they may have hung Joe out to dry just a little bit. It seems Joe was cribbing from his own paper’s time line, run a day earlier, which also left out the key point that Al Franken led the recount before any improperly rejected absentee vote was counted.

I know Sooch is all about personal responsibility, so he’ll own his mistake and failure to further report, but the mistake wasn’t his alone.

Meanwhile, over at the Star Tribune, there’s the Case of the Non-Correction.

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It started last week with a Michele Bachmann op-ed asserting that “According to an analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the average American household could expect its yearly energy bill to increase by $3,128 per year” due to the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade plan.

The claim is blatantly false: the report‘s author told the St. Petersburg Times’ Polifact two weeks before Bachmann’s piece ran, “It’s just wrong. It’s wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin.”

At worst, author John Reilly told Polifact, the cost would be $215 for a family of four. (I could not find such figures in the report itself.)

The lefty site Think Progress chatted up Strib commentary editor Eric Ringham, producing this attention-grabbing headline:

“Editor: ‘I’m Embarassed’ [sic] I Published Bachmann’s Lying Column.”

Well.

I waited to blog this until I could talk to Ringham and ask him if Think Progress had fairly reported his comments. He acknowledged using the word “embarrassed,” but said he wasn’t talking about publishing the piece (much less lying). He was referencing only that “I didn’t know about the MIT study, didn’t know to question it.”

I asked Ringham how much fact-checking his staff does on pieces such as Bachmann’s. “We check the facts that smell. If we’re smart enough to know it smells, we check it.”

But given that Bachmann’s piece was built around the whopping $3,000-plus figure, shouldn’t that have been checked automatically? “What do you think the answer to that is?” Ringham responded.

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One can only assume “yes.” But errors can be corrected. What’s weird is that Ringham won’t.

Think Progress wrote Ringham “considers the strongly worded letter to the editor as a sufficient response, because: ‘The best remedy to offensive speech is more speech.'” Or, as he told me, paraphrasing Milton, “As a general practice, it is best to let truth and falsehood grapple.”

Generally, perhaps. The ops section could become one long correction if every shaky assertion received an upbraid.

But to quote John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.” In this case, there’s a primary source asserting Bachmann’s mistake. Hearing “she screwed up” from a letter-writing public isn’t the same as hearing it from an institutional voice. (By the way, Strib editorial writers, feel free to chime in.)

The saga may not be over, however. Ringham says he asked Bachmann for her response to the criticism, and is “mulling” whether to publish it. This has the odd effect of letting Bachmann spin twice on the issue, though how Ringham frames the second piece will be crucial.

Even though he’s holding Adams’ ghost at bay, I asked Ringham if in the spirit of Milton, he would publish an op-ed by the study’s author. “If I got a piece from [him], sure.”

At the very least, the editor should make that call, or find a good substitute.