Whom to blame

January 03, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Earlier today I posted about a passage in The Independent of Britain about the late William Rees-Mogg: 

Fraser Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, yesterday recalled the advice Lord Rees-Mogg gave him in 2001: "He said he took inspiration from Ben Johnson's essays: the originals, he said, were still the best."

I would like to masticate that a little further. Are we to conclude that the editor of The Spectator has trouble distinguishing between Ben Jonson and Samuel Johnson? That may well be so, but one should not leap to a conclusion. 

There is a possibility that the reporter mangled the quotation, hearing it imperfectly or recording it imperfectly. There is a possibility that an editor or sub-editor at The Independent made an edit and introduced error. There is really no way to be sure from the published text who was responsible for the error.

That is one reason, and a good one, that publications take collective responsibility for their mistakes, issuing an institutional apology rather than pointing fingers publicly at members of the staff.

It would have been nice, too, if someone had caught the error, but we don't point fingers publicly about that, either.

We would do well to keep in mind H.L. Mencken's early discovery of "the massive fact that journalism is not an exact science." 

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