This morning I sent the following email to the corrections department, firstname.lastname@example.org, with the title “error in today’s paper”:
In “Enter, Pariah: Now It’s Hugs for Lieberman” by Mark Leibovich, Sen. Lieberman is described as a member of the Democratic party.
E.g. “the Democratic Party he still belongs to”
This is not accurate: although he caucuses with them, he’s in his own party, either “Connecticut for Lieberman” or “Independent Democrat” as he has recently apparently renamed it. Even Sen. Lieberman doesn’t claim he’s rejoined the Democratic party, nor has the party accepted him back into full membership.
Thus, he’s no more (or less) a Democrat than Bernie Saunders — a distinction the Times makes clear in the case of Vermont’s Senator. Connecticut deserves equal clarity.
Please correct the error.
If this is not accident, but a deliberate policy choice on the part of the Times, then I think an editorial note explaining why the paper treats the two Senators differently is in order. Connecticut’s Democrats, who rejected Lieberman both in the Primary and the general election, will read that note with some interest.
Very promptly, I received the following reply from Greg Brock:
Dear Mr. Froomkin:
This issue was raised immediately after the election. We have talked to Senator Lieberman’s office more than once now and he assures us that he is still registered on the voter rolls in Connecticut as a Democrat and as of now, he has no plans or reasons to change that registration.
When it is on point to our coverage — a vote he casts in the Senate or other issues he raises — we will, of course, reflect that he is an Independent Democrat or a similar designation.
But saying that he is a member of the Democratic Party is not incorrect. At least according to Mr. Lieberman.
I was appalled, as this appeared to me to take stenography to a new level of credulousness. I wrote the following note:
Thank you for the prompt reply. But now I’m even more puzzled.
Why on earth is Senator Lieberman’s opinion definitive? Surely it is the *Party’s* view that matters? Why not find out what, say, Howard Dean says on this (I don’t myself know what he’d say).
Nor is the issue Lieberman’s registration, but rather what line he got elected on. And that is a matter of public record. It was not the Democratic line.
I can claim to be President, and I doubt the Times would take my word for it. It’s quite surprising to see that you took his self-serving word as the final answer on this obviously controversial issue.
It of course serves Sen. Lieberman’s interests to claim to be a Democrat. And it is good to quote him and reflect his views. That is not what is at issue. If in fact his view is erroneous — which it pretty clearly is — then it does not serve the public interest to repeat that claim as fact if it is not actually true.
I wonder if I could have your permission to share either your comment [above] or some other statement (your choice), with readers of my blog, http://discourse.net?
After a little more to-and-fro, Mr. Brock responded with an email giving me permission to quote his message above and adding “I had discussed this with our Washington editors and reporters and the consciousness has been raised that we need to be more precise in all references in the future.” He also noted,
… that just because I explained that his office confirmed that he is still a registered Democrat does NOT mean that we will call him that in the paper every time we refer to him. … we plan to give the specifics:
He is an independent. He caucuses with the Democrats. . and where applicable, we will remind readers that he was elected on a specific independent line on the Conn ballot.
I suppose in some technical sense, if Lieberman is still registered as a Democrat that could be said to be “the party he belongs to” — but I still think that’s really misleading in the context of an article about his relation with Senate Democrats in which Lieberman is called a “wayward Democrat” and which refers at one point to “every Democrat in Connecticut’s Congressional delegation except Mr. Lieberman.”
It doesn’t seem that I’m going to get my correction. But I hope that Mr. Brock’s note means that the Times is going to be more careful about Lieberman’s party affiliation in the future. If not, my next step will be to write to the Public Editor (ombudsman).