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2002-10-31

Who Do You Believe, the New York Times, Or the New York Times? An Update

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Yesterday we talked about how the New York Times changed its story on Saturday’s anti-war protest in Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, the Times reported that "thousands of protesters marched through Washington’s streets" and that "fewer people attended than organizers had said they hoped for."

On Wednesday, the paper about-faced with a longer, more prominent article. It reads: "The demonstration on Saturday in Washington drew 100,000 by police estimates and 200,000 by organizers’, forming a two-mile wall of marchers around the White House. The turnout startled even organizers, who had taken out permits for 20,000 marchers. They expected 30 buses, and were surprised by about 650, coming from as far as Nebraska and Florida."

Before the program yesterday, we placed numerous calls to all levels of the Times, with no response. After the program, the reporter who wrote the original story in the Times called us back. She told us she had pitched a broader story on the protests, and had predicted it would be a big march, a turning point in the anti-war coverage. She advocated enthusiastically for broad coverage.

She said she arrived at the protest in the early morning, when the number of people there was still low. The editors pulled her off the story to work on a story on the Washington-area sniper. In the afternoon, as the numbers of protesters swelled, she called in a corrected estimate to her editor. That correction never made it into the article.

She said she received numerous calls from people angry about the coverage, which she referred to the editors. She said she is glad people called to complain.

She referred us for further comment to an editor.

When we called the editor, he refused to come on the program, and referred us to a corporate communications spokeswoman. We asked him why the Times didn’t run a correction. He said there was nothing to correct, and that it was a matter of emphasis. We confronted him with the fact that one article put the number of protesters at thousands and claimed protesters were disappointed, while the other put the number at between 100,000 and 200,000 and said protesters were startled by the turnout. He said he couldn’t explain that. He added that he was not part of the decision-making process on corrections.

When we talked with the corporate spokeswoman, she also refused to come on the program. She told us to send her our questions and maybe she could get responses for us. We sent the questions and are awaiting her response.

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