The verdict, take 3

Two weeks ago John and I wrote about Eric Lichtblau’s inaccurate account of the testimony of four FISA judges and the federal magistrate judge who had a hand in drafting the statute. The judges gave their testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28. John and I obtained a transcript of the judges’ testimony and took issue with Lichtblau’s account in “Verdict: The New York Times blew the story” and “The verdict, take 2.” Yesterday the Times ran a correction that has also been appended to the online version of Lichtblau’s story. The correction reads:

An article on March 29 about congressional hearings on the Bush administration’s program of domestic eavesdropping referred imprecisely to testimony about the secretive court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which requires warrants for eavesdropping under most circumstances. While two former judges said they believed that Mr. Bush was bound by federal laws governing intelligence gathering, they did not explicitly express skepticism about whether he has the constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order.

I don’t think the correction cuts it — it’s clueless in a way that serves the Times’s purposes. Read the relevant testimony that John and I quoted. The judges not only didn’t express skepticism as Lichtblau reported; they testified to the president’s constitutional authority to conduct warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance. In other words, the premise of Lichtblau’s story was false; he got the story backwards. Yet the correction is better than nothing.

Yesterday I wondered how it could take the Times two weeks to make a correction on this basic question of fact. After all, the transcript is available and relatively unambiguous. Today reader Brian Kuhn writes:

I corresponded with one Bill Borders, senior editor of the NYT, concerning your “Verdict” and “The Verdict, Take 2” posts of March 30, 2006. He responded to my first e-mail of two weeks ago a bit negatively, saying my criticism was a harsh when I said Mr. Lichtblau seemed to have knowingly distorted the FISA judges’ testimony, and he also passed along Mr. Lichtblau’s explanation of the paragraph disputed by your blog.

I responded thanking him for his reply, and then again gently disagreed with him and his reporter’s response, again referring to the transcript, and passing along a few other things I’ve learned in my many years as a publisher of a newspaper.

Anyway, this morning Mr. Borders sent an e-mail to me saying his Washington editors decided to review the transcripts again after my second e-mail. “You were right,” Mr. Borders wrote, and then referred me to the correction printed in the April 14, 2006 edition of the NYT, located on page two. He was very gracious in his response, I thought I’d go ahead and inform you about it so you can let your readers know they made an attempt to set the record straight.

Keep up the great work guys!

Brian Kuhn
Hemingford Ledger

Many thanks to Mr. Kuhn for his efforts and for sharing a part of the back story to the correction with us. See also Stephen Spruiell’s post at the NRO Media Blog and Clay Waters’s post at TimesWatch.


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