Confusion and its Sources

I’m home in bed today with a wicked cold, and have whiled away the time with various email exchanges. In the course of these, I found that I was being denounced as a “liar” because of my description in the Weekly Standard of the two versions of the mysterious “talking points” memo on the Schiavo case. I wrote that there were a total of six errors in the ABC News version of the memo. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably skip to the next post.) The first of these was that the Senate bill number was wrong. That leaves five errors in the body of the memo. ABC News caught four of these five errors and marked each with a “sic”; one in the first paragraph (“Teri”), two in the sixth paragraph (two “ors” and “withdrawl”) and one in the seventh (“withdrawl”). ABC missed (along with the bill number) another typo, “applicably” for “applicable” in the sixth paragraph.
I wrote that in the version of the memo that was later leaked to a web site called Raw Story, and appeared in jpeg format, all four of the errors that ABC had caught and identified with a “sic” were corrected, but the two that ABC missed–the bill number and “applicably”–were not corrected. I went back and forth between the two versions of the memos at least five times to make sure that I was right about this. Each time my eyes saw the same thing: all four typos corrected. This afternoon, I got an email accusing me of being a “liar” because only three of the four errors were fixed in the Raw Story version. I went back and checked the memos twice more. Sure enough, all four were fixed. Then I got another email pointing out that “Teri” in the first paragraph is still “Teri” in the second version of the memo. I went back and looked again, for what must have been the tenth time. To my horror, I found that the emailer was right: “Teri” is misspelled in both memos. So, to recant: as I had said in the first place in a post on March 23, relying on an email from a reader, three of the four errors identified by ABC were corrected, not all four.
How does that happen? The same way, I guess, that we sometimes proofread a brief over and over, and then, when we pull it out a month later, see a typo. The memo said “Teri,” but my eyes saw “Terri.”
Does this have any significance? Not much, but I wanted to set the record straight because earlier today I repeated my conviction that all four mistakes noted with a “sic” had been changed. For what it’s worth, the fact that not all of the ABC-designated errors were corrected makes it less likely that whoever corrected the memo did so on the basis of having seen the ABC post. As far as the genuineness of the memo is concerned, this is obviously a minor point, at best. What we know is this: There were at least two versions of the memo, the second a cleaned-up version of the first. The second version appeared online after the text of the original had been posted by ABC, with errors noted. We don’t know who created either version, or when, or why; we don’t know when or why the corrections were made. The errors are a minor part of the story, but they illustrate how little we know about the provenance of the memo. And, of course, the very poor quality of the memo is at odds with its purported status as a high-level strategy document.
Beyond that, I guess the moral of the story is that we middle-aged lawyers have spent too many years poring over law books, and can no longer trust our eyesight!


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