The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Beating a Dead Quote

There are a couple of posts on Blogmore about a recent story written by David Montgomery in which he misquoted Sen. John Thune. The misquote significantly changed the meaning of what Sen. Thune was trying to say.

Montgomery immediately made a post on Blogmore apologizing for the mistake. It is a humble post.

There is speculation elsewhere on the blogosphere about the sincerity of Montgomery's apology. Quotes from seven years ago that Montgomery wrote in satire piece in a college newspaper when he was 18 years old, give a bit of a glimpse of what his bias may have been – seven years ago, when he was 18.

Most of the people commenting on Montgomery's mistake and his apology, are not journalists and never have been.

A second post on Blogmore, this one by Kevin Woster, tries to bring another perspective. Comments there suggest that the Journal is over-doing the apology posts. They aren't. Apologize they must and they must make a big deal out of the apology.

There is little doubt that Thune's opponents have snatched that misquote for use in an ad to be produced later, no matter that they know it is wrong. It's in print.

I have been a journalist. I have been a college journalist. I do not know Mr. Montgomery, but I share with him the wish that some of what I wrote in college might never see the light of day again. Sophomoric writing is excusable...when you're a sophomore.

I do not doubt Mr. Montgomery's sincerity. I believe him when he says his mistake was an honest one. That this mistake will haunt Mr. Montgomery for a very long time, is a good thing. We hope that the embarrassment will result in more careful reportage in the future.

We also understand the outrage in Thune's camp. Montgomery's misquote will almost surely be used against Thune in the future, long after Montgomery's, the Journal's, and Woster's apologies and explanations have been forgotten. The bullet has left the breech and cannot be un-shot.

That is perhaps the most difficult thing about being a reporter. Sometimes when a reporter does his job perfectly, innocent people are harmed. Every time he does it badly, innocents are harmed.

Montgomery's reportage will for many years be scrutinized for any hint of bias. That is a good thing, too.


caheidelberger said...

His writing will also be scrutinized because he is one of the few South Dakota reporters left dedicated to writing about politics. I'm glad we have him!

caheidelberger said...

[whoops! hit Enter too quickly!]

By the way, Michael, not a bad post. Reasonable, mostly balanced, not out for personal destruction.

Thad Wasson said...

A mistake is filling up with diesel instead of unleaded. This is pretty petty.