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Sunday, August 31, 2003

When do 'mistakes favoring your side' become 'lies'? Tick-tock ...

A very slick website called "SaveTexasReps" collects pro-Truant Texas Dems™ info, editorials, and links.  I've emailed its webmaster, however, to point out that on one purely factual matter — the number of Republican-appointed judges on the three-judge panel who created the present Texas Congressional district map — it's dead-bang wrong.  This particular falsehood is extremely widespread — Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has frequently repeated it at press conferences, for instance. 

So the question is, do the Truant Texas Dems™ and their supporters give a damn about being factually accurate?  When confronted on a falsehood on a matter of objective, historically verifiable fact, will they acknowledge and fix the falsehood?  Or will they continue in repeating something that — after they've been put on notice — can then only be characterized as a deliberate lie?

From my email to the webmaster:

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From: William J Dyer
To: webmaster@savetexasreps.com
Sent: Sunday, August 31, 2003 3:14 AM
Subject: Notice of factual error on your website and request for correction & acknowledgement of same

Dear "SaveTexasReps.com" Webmaster,

Your website's homepage at http://savetexasreps.com/ contains this blurb:

These partisan special interests are trying to force the Texas Legislature to draw new congressional districts -- even though the current plan was devised by a panel of three Republican-appointed federal judges and has been approved by the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court and ruled on by the Republican Texas Attorney General, who says that it can stay in place until 2010.

You are in error.  The Balderas v. Texas panel in 2001 that created the current Congressional district map consisted of one circuit judge appointed by a Republican President (Judge Higginbotham, appointed by Ford to the Northern District of Texas bench, and later elevated by Reagan to the Fifth Circuit) and two district judges appointed by a Democratic President (Eastern District of Texas Judges John H. Hannah, Jr. and T. John Ward, both appointed by President Clinton). 

I invite you to independently confirm these facts, or, if you'd like a shortcut, you can find links documenting these facts at this link.

Much of what is being said in the redistricting battle consists of opinions or metaphors or analogies, all subject to subjective interpretation and spin.  The composition of the Balderas panel, however, is a matter of verifiable and objective historical fact, about which there can be no reasonable doubt. 

The particular canard that appears on your website — and variations on it which claim that there were two Republican-appointed judges on the panel — have been widely spread in the press, on the internet, and even in press conferences by some of the Democratic Senators.

I request that you correct your error and — as would any good and ethical journalist — publish an acknowledgement of the correction that's at least as prominent as the original error.  If you decline to do so, it may suggest to fair-minded observers that telling the truth is a low priority on your website.

Best regards,

- William J. Dyer
a/k/a Beldar of BeldarBlog
http://beldar.blogs.com/beldarblog/

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UPDATE (Mon Sep 1):  I received this prompt reply by email from the webmaster:

From: Nathan Wilcox
To: William J Dyer
Sent: Sunday, August 31, 2003 3:38 AM
Subject: RE: Notice of factual error on your website and request for correction & acknowledgement of same

Thanks for the info, I'll research the issue and change if/when convinced that you are correct.

However, I'm not a journalist. SaveTexasReps is an openly partisan site, I'm not claiming to be objective, I'm a citizen expressing my own viewpoint.

thanks,
Nathan Wilcox
Save Texas Reps

Note the time — within minutes after my original email!  I was impressed, and surprised to find another holiday-weekend night-owl.

Mr. Wilcox' point about not being a journalist is a fair one.  The question, more fairly put, was whether he merely an honest and mistaken political webmaster, or a lying one.

Screen captureOver a full day later, the falsehood is still posted.  In fact, the same falsehood also appears on the "What's at Stake" and "Redistricting Primer" linked pages as well as the website's home page, by the way.

So now it would seem that the question is whether Mr. Wilcox is at best an honest, mistaken, and slow political webmaster, or instead a lying one.

And after some email exchange with him about a week ago, I'm still waiting for Dr. Josh Marshall to publicly correct his mistake in his article in The Forward in which he said the Balderas panel contained "two Republicans and one Democrat."  No one can say for certain whether any of these judges actually belong to either party, but one can say with absolute certainly which party the President who appointed them belonged to — which, it's clear from our email, is what he was trying to do when he made the mistake.  It appears I rather overestimated Dr. Marshall's integrity and attention to detail, which saddens me.

UPDATE (Thu Sep 4 @ 7:30pm):  A little after noon today, Mr. Wilcox emailed to advise me that his website has corrected its errors regarding the composition of the Balderas panel — "and rather quickly, I feel, considering the holiday weekend," said he.  One might quibble about that, given that during the same period he (or someone) managed to do more-frequent-than-daily updates of other parts of the website, send mass emails to their mailing list, and carry on with other activities.  One might also note that no acknowledgement of the errors or the corrections appears on the website, so those who have been misled by this falsehood in the past are likely to remain misled; this too says a great deal about one's passion for accuracy and ethics, or the lack thereof.  As he wrote, he is not a journalist, but rather a partisan; still, is it not possible to be partisan and concerned with accuracy?  But given that he did eventually make the corrections, I'll give him the benefit of concluding that he is an honest, mistaken, and slow partisan webmaster, rather than a deliberately lying one.

I've heard nothing from Dr. Marshall either, which truly does disappoint me.  I have no reason to believe that his was other than an honest mistake, made and repeated in good faith.  But he is a journalist, or holds himself out as one.  I had hoped for better of him.

Posted by Beldar at 03:19 AM in Texas Redistricting | Permalink

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Comments

(1) longwindedindeed made the following comment | Sep 5, 2003 4:46:25 AM | Permalink

Is it possible that Mr. Wilcox and Co. needed time to verify your assertion? Do you ordinarily go changing your website up based on nothing more than one message from cyberspace, the author of which is an obvious opponent?

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 5, 2003 3:30:10 PM | Permalink

Thank you for the comment, longwindedindeed. Did you by chance click the link referenced in my email to Mr. Wilcox? From it, there were links to a .pdf maintained by the State of Texas with the original slip opinion from Balderas, plus links to biographical entries from the National Judicial Center to each of the three judges whose names appeared on the front page of that opinion. Even on a 28.8 modem, that's less than two minutes of research from resources that are absolutely authoritative. Had he wished to ignore my shortcuts, though, and do the same research from scratch and entirely on his own, Google would have produced the identical information in not much more time.

The website editing to make the corrections — basic text edits of one sentence on each of three pages, not "changing [the] website up" — could not have taken more than another three minutes to perform.

Yes, if someone — especially someone who obviously didn't share my politics, but gave me authoritative links to follow — were to point out to me that I'd been completely misrepresenting a verifiable, objective historical fact for some time on my blog, then I believe I would expend the five minutes necessary to research and correct the misrepresentation in considerably less time than Mr. Wilcox took. And I'd note the correction, making sure it was at least as conspicuous as the original error — which as far as I can tell, Mr. Wilcox still hasn't done.

The ethical standards of my own profession would require this much and more, as would the ethical standards of journalists. Item No. 3 in Rebecca Blood's widely cited piece on Weblog Ethics — linked from every page on my blog via a sidebar icon — proposes this same standard for bloggers.

Mr. Wilcox may be neither lawyer nor journalist nor blogger. I leave it to you, gentle readers, to evaluate for yourselves his credibility, ethics, and timeliness.

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