Monday, March 8, 2010

David Warren: errors, retractions, corrections

A little taste of the Ottawa Citizen’s David Warren thumping his chest:

“Normally the pundit who has committed a factual error leaves the correction to the shortest possible postscript at the end of his next column. But I've decided to lead with mine…” (Jan. 23, 2008)

“The instinct of columnists, when they realize to their abject horror that they have made some factual mistake, or misrepresented some speaker in a material way, is to put a little correction in the most discreet and discrete place they can find, generally as an isolated footnote at the end of their next column. But I like the idea of putting it up front, and waving it around a bit.....” (Nov. 15, 2009)

Funny. None of the retractions following errors I found were “put up front” or “waved around”. The most serious, Warren’s description of a debunked, staged photo, was removed entirely from the version on his website - replaced with different material. Compare the last paragraphs in the two otherwise identical “copyright Ottawa Citizen” articles:

A correction about Senator Reid and oil shale drilling appeared at the end of a later article. And this correction, appended to a Jan 25, 2009 piece, is hardly gracious:

“The assertion in my Jan. 11 column, that the budget spent to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem is ‘several times larger than the combined UN effort on behalf of all the other refugees on the planet,’ has been challenged. In fact, UNRWA, the agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, had an officially declared budget of about $540 million U.S. for 2008; and the UN High Commission for Refugees an expected budget of about $1.57 billion U.S. I therefore should have inserted the adverb ‘proportionally’."

Warren’s latest retraction is again tucked at the end (with no mention of the attribution question):

While Warren addressed the most recent misidentification, he hasn’t done the same for earlier ones: “Hazel Blair, the British Home Office Minister”. That would be Hazel Blears. “Gail Donaldson, a Vancouver lawyer” involved in a “campaign to have George Bush tried in a Canadian court for torture and war crimes”, (according to Warren), is in fact Gail Davidson. “The very senior John Kerr”, was how Warren erroneously introduced a quote from U.S. Principal Deputy Director of Intelligence Donald Kerr. Or this quote from Richard Hooker, which Warren attributes to George Grant: "Lamentation, as George Grant once explained, is not an exercise in negativity. On the contrary, it is a celebration of the good that was, and is now lost, and that we would recall to life for posterity, 'That posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream.’ It was Grant who wrote, so prophetically in 1965, his book, Lament for a Nation”. Those were all left to stand.

There are many similar (and larger) issues - a long list. For today, just a few about Obama.

1. At the end of an article on June 7, 2008, Warren wrote: "Mr. Obama had only 143 days of sessional experience in the U.S. Senate, before his Presidential campaign began".

Warren doesn’t cite a source, but this is the same figure found in a widely circulated blog post/chain email that claimed Obama "logged 143 days of experience in the Senate. That's how many days the Senate was actually in session and working". debunks: "Wrong. That's not the number of days the Senate was in session. From the time Obama was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2005, until the day he announced his exploratory committee on Jan. 16, 2007, the Senate was in session 304 days, according to the Secretary of the Senate's official count".

CNN's "The Facts" addresses the same falsehood, confirming Obama’s overall Senate time (not just voting days): "Obama served 743 days in the Senate from his swearing in to the announcement of his exploratory committee..." "Another anti-Obama piece circulating on the Internet claims that Obama only has 143 days of Senate experience... This is Incorrect". Washington Post: "Obama served 743 days as a senator before presidential bid". Greensboro News-Record: "Obama’s mere 143 days in the U.S. Senate… the number is just plain wrong". And on it goes, but still no correction from Mr. Warren.

2. And days after his election, Warren produced this stunning announcement: "Maybe he wasn't black, but then neither is Barack Obama according to his own account of his ancestry. For even on the Kenyan side, he is more Arab than Luo”. Warren gives no source for a statistical comparative on Obama's "Arab" ethnicity, again similar to wacky internet smears saying "Mr. Obama is only 6.25% African Negro, and 43.75% Arab". A claim at an election “town hall” that Obama was “Arab” was smacked down by an embarrassed John McCain on national television and widely reported. Warren apparently missed that, or has an authentic source to prove Obama’s “Arab” ethnicity. That would be big news - enough to warrant confirmation, which I politely requested in a short letter to editor. No letter. No correction.

3. But then, Obama’s ethnicity appears to be a mutating, changeable thing, perhaps depending on how it can be used (mistakenly, it again seems) against him. In January 2008, following a church massacre in Kiambaa, Kenya, Warren claimed the perpetrators “were mostly Luo”, like “Barack Hussein Obama, whose father was a member of the Luo tribe and Luo opposition leader (now Prime Minister) Raila Odinga. Warren adds this zinger: “Mr Odinga was raised from his childhood (in East Germany) as a Soviet agent. The Soviets aren't there to control him any more; he has his own games going, including an interesting one alleged on the Internet (with documentary evidence) with a certain Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi...”

Biographies confirm that Odinga attended university in Germany, but was not “raised from his childhood” there as a spy or Soviet agent. The “games” and “documentary evidence” with Sheikh Abdi again seem to be debunked claims involving the supposed imposition of Sharia law.

And the Luo thing doesn’t work out quite so well either. Before Warren’s article was published, at least 30 news outlets - Reuters, AP, the Guardian – had reported, like the LA Times, that the perpetrators of the Kiambaa church massacre were "members of the rival Kalenjin tribe", not “mostly Luo”. No corrections.

Note: Warren wasn’t the only one to report the “bogus”(according to Factcheck) “143 days” chain email. On August 30, 2008, in the London Free Press, Edmonton Sun and Toronto Sun, Salim Mansur wrote: "The facts Middle America must consider about the two men vying for its votes is Obama’s record of barely 143 days in Congress with no military service, and McCain’s record of 26 years in Congress with 22 years of military service". No correction appeared.

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