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Update: Reuters makes 5 correx on Rubio hit piece

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

Here is my original post on the matter. Reuters' mega-correction follows below:

Reuters is out with an embarrassing hit piece on Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., this morning. Over at the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis notes a number of errors. The news agency has already issued two corrections, but as of this writing it has not published (at least on its website) a correction for two of the most egregious and easily verifiable errors – that “Rubio also voted against Sonia Sotomayor” and he “voted against Obama's healthcare overhaul…” As most of those who follow politics know without even Googling it, Sotomayor was confirmed in 2009, Obamacare passed in 2010 and Rubio wasn’t sworn into the Senate until 2011.

I just wanted to offer a bit of insight as somebody who worked at Reuters for more than three years. The news agency, though you may not think it from this piece, prides itself on accuracy. The idea that “you can never be later than wrong” is something that was drilled into us from the day one.

Oftentimes, in spite of this, corrections are simply unavoidable given the incredible deadline pressure wire reporters are placed under, in some cases judged against competitors down to the second. During my time at Reuters, I made more than my fair share of errors. Typical errors, at least on the financial news side where I worked, involved things like mixing up millions/billions, writing the wrong day of the week for when an event happened, accidently plugging in the wrong quarter’s figures into a corporate earnings story that you had to get out in two minutes, and so on.

I remember the most embarrassing correction I had quite well. In 2003, when top Freddie Mac executives resigned over an accounting scandal, I ended up having to write our main story. As the news was breaking and I was under heavy pressure, I decided to tighten the lead to say that one of the executives was accused of lying to the auditor, when in reality he was accused of lying to the audit committee. It’s a key distinction, and because it was the most important news of the day and it was rattling many markets, other Reuters reporters simply grabbed my wording to put into our stock report, bond stories, foreign exchange dispatches, and so on. So after I corrected the story, it triggered what my co-workers teased was a “global correction tsunami,” as reporters throughout the world had to issue corrections because of my bungle. It was one of the moments in my career where I could have starred in a Southwest “Wanna get away?” commercial.  

I’m writing all of this to say that I’m tremendously sympathetic to the way errors can happen, specifically at a place that has the deadline pressures of a wire service like Reuters. But there’s no excuse with this Rubio story because this isn’t the type of breaking news financial news story that needs to be pumped out in minutes. It’s a longer feature that the writer and editor had more time to work on. There’s no excuse for being this sloppy.

Also, as Lewis notes, the whole premise of the story is odd to begin with, even if it were true. Rubio is a suspect vice presidential pick because he’s struggled to pay his mortgage? Seriously? In an era where candidates are fighting to prove they're “in touch” with the problems facing the rest of the country and when Mitt Romney is under fire for his wealth, this is an attack line now? The author also writes that, “He has not endeared himself to Hispanic voters on several fronts, analysts say.” Yet the only “analyst” (singular) he quotes to back up that claim is “Fernand Amandi with Bendixen & Amandi, a political consulting firm in Miami that has been retained by the Obama campaign.”

Major misfire by Reuters, on multiple levels.

UPDATE: Reuters has now issued five corrections on the story. What a mess!

Here the explanation of the changes:

(Removes words "and at times has had difficulty paying his mortgage," paragraph 7; removes "he did not make payments on a $100,000-plus student loan" and instead states "he did not pay down the balance of a $100,000-plus student loan," paragraph 10; removes "he was caught up in an Internal Revenue Service Investigation" and instead states "his name surfaced in an Internal Revenue Service investigation," paragraph 12; removes "voted against Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's Supreme Court nominee" and instead states "opposed President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor," paragraph 41; removes "voted against Obama's healthcare overhaul" and instead states "opposed Obama's healthcare overhaul," paragraph 41)

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Philip Klein

Commentary Editor
The Washington Examiner