The New York Times does not deserve praise for recognizing it published a contemptible lie.
As a paper of record, the Times' sole mission is the accurate communication of facts. When it fails that mission, as it did this week when it resurrected the vicious smear that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin incited a mass shooting in 2011, it doesn't deserve credit merely for identifying its errors, especially when they are massive and entirely avoidable.
On Wednesday, an Illinois man opened fire on GOP lawmakers in Alexandria, Va., leaving Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and lobbyist Matt Mika in critical condition. The alleged shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, reportedly hated Republicans and loved progressive politicians and pundits.
The Times editorial board saw the shooting event Wednesday as an opportunity to trot out the tired myth that a Palin-endorsed map featuring congressional districts in crosshairs incited the 2011 Tucson shooting.
There is no clear link between Palin and the reportedly apolitical shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, whose attack left six people dead and many more wounded, including former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. There is no evidence Loughner ever saw the political action committee's district map. There is, however, evidence that Loughner's obsession with Giffords began long before Palin became nationally known in 2008.
On Thursday, the Times attached a correction to its editorial, admitting it was wrong to suggest Palin was responsible for the shooting. The paper added an additional correction later noting it was also wrong to claim the Palin-endorsed map "targeted" Democratic members of Congress by name.
The Times doesn't deserve their praise.
First, it took the paper nearly 12 hours to issue a correction for an allegation its editors could've vetted in a matter of seconds prior to publication. Secondly, the Times had to issue two corrections, and all for an allegation that was long ago disproven. Lastly, it's worth pointing out that a Times columnist, Paul Krugman, is largely responsible for mainstreaming the myth that Palin incited the shooting (the Washington Post's Dana Milbank helped). The Times has never acknowledged or apologized for Krugman's role in pushing this fabrication. Lastly
Applauding the paper for correcting a despicable falsehood, which, by the way, made it into print only because the entire editorial board was too sloppy and too lazy to double-check the claim, sets the bar for praise embarrassingly low.
If you feel the urge to thank the Times for correcting its humiliatingly stupid and 100 percent avoidable error, resist the temptation. Take a note from Robert Redford's great 1994 drama Quiz Show, which is based on the real-life events of the 1950s quiz show scandals.
Near the film's conclusion, Charles Van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes, confesses at last to being complicit in a conspiracy to rig a game show in his favor.
"I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. I have deceived my friends, and I had millions of them. I lied to the American people," he admits during his testimony before Congress.
"I've been acting a role, maybe all my life, of thinking I've, I've done more, accomplished more, produced more than I have. I've had all the breaks. … Everything came too easy. That is why I am here today," he added.
The congressional panel responds immediately with gushing praise for Van Doren's honesty.
"Mr. Van Doren, I want to compliment you for that statement," said committee Chairman Rep. Oren Harris, D-Ark.
Another congressman adds, "Mr. Van Doren, I would like to join the Chairman in commending you for the soul-searching fortitude displayed in your statement.
"Mr. Van Doren, I just want to add my kudos. I have listened to many witnesses in both civil and criminal matters, and yours is the most soul-searching confession I think I have heard in a long time," says yet another member of the committee.
But then Rep. Steven Derounian, R-N.Y., chimes in with a bucket of cold water.
"Mr. Van Doren … I'm happy that you've made the statement, but I cannot agree with most of my colleagues," he said. "See, I don't think an adult of your intelligence ought to be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth."
The New York Times, with its meek correction this morning, mirrored Van Doren's sheepish appearance before Congress. The paper's readers and even its occasional critics should be more like Rep. Derounian.
The paper doesn't deserve praise for simply — and nearly six years after the Tucson shooting — telling the truth.
This post has been updated to note that the Times added a second correction to its initial editorial correction.