New York Times Ombudsman Investigating Errors in Rep. Issa Story

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The New York Times public editor is reviewing Rep. Darrell Issa’s request for a front-page retraction to a story with as many as 13 errors, according to Issa’s office. Meanwhile, the reporter and editor responsible for the story broke their silence after nearly a week of criticism from the California Republican.

“Congressman Issa’s office forwarded us the request for retraction that was sent last evening to Times editors, so we will have to review it like we do any other complaint we receive,” Joseph Burgess, assistant to the Times’s public editor, told POLITICO. “Prior to that, we were looking into the correction requests made by Congressman Issa’s office.”

The public editor, also commonly known as the ombudsman or readers’ representative, operates independently from the newsroom. At the Times, the public editor “responds to complaints and comments from the public and monitors the paper’s journalistic practices.”

Issa’s communications director requested a front-page retraction to Monday’s story after identifying 13 errors in the 2,700-word article.

POLITICO reported yesterday that Dean Baquet, the Times’ D.C. bureau chief, rebuffed the idea of a retraction.

“I think if you look carefully at Mr. Issa’s complaints, and the story, you will see that there is nothing that gets to the heart of it,” Baquet told POLITICO. “Happy to consider any mistakes they point out, and we are looking at those. But I’m not seeing a need for any sort of retraction.”

Baquet also dismissed criticism of reporter Eric Lichtblau’s opening paragraph, which said Issa’s office overlooked a golf course. Google Maps, as well as photos and video provide by Issa’s staff, tell a different story. Baquet said criticism of the description was overshadowing the larger point of the story.

“I don’t think it implied — at least to my mind — that Issa’s office overlooked the golf course,” Baquet told POLITICO. “I think it is trying to give a sense that this is a building in a cool area. That’s the way I always read it. Otherwise it really would have said his office overlooked the golf course. That would have been even cooler to say.”

Lichtblau also spoke to POLITICO, telling reporters Jake Sherman and Keach Hagey that he did visit the third floor of Issa’s office but acknowledged he did not see the Shadowridge Country Club from there. Only when he was at the golf course, located in a valley about a half-mile from the office, could he spot Issa’s building. He told POLITICO the golf course reference added “some color” to the story.

Aside from the questionable reference to the golf course, there are even bigger problems with the story. In a statement Thursday, automaker Toyota contradicted Lichtblau’s claim that DEI Holdings, a company Issa founded, was a “major supplier” to the car manufacturer.

There are also errors regarding the value of a medical complex Issa owns and the alleged profit made by the Issa Family Foundation. Those two, along the Toyota claim, support Lichtblau’s thesis that Issa is using his powerful perch in Congress for personal gain. His office, citing government documents, has uncovered problems with Lichtblau’s claims.

The Times has corrected only one of the 13 errors cited by Issa’s communications director in yesterday’s letter. The full list of errors is available on Issa’s congressional website.

NOTE: The Issa Family Foundation has donated to Heritage in the past.

Source material can be found at this site.

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