Wednesday, July 22, 2009

WTNH Blog fumbles, then recovers

Yesterday there was a minor local media controversy when the WTNH (Channel 8) blog posted erroneous data in a story about Sen. Chris Dodd's fundraising.

BTW, is "fundraising" a real word? Because my auto spellchecker always tags it, yet it allows "fundraiser".

Hmmm....can we get Noah Webster on the phone, please?

Anyhoo, here's a screen cap of the article as it appeared yesterday:

Two things really bother me about this.

First, I can't believe nobody told me "The Full Monty" was at the Ivoryton Playhouse! It better not sell out before I can get tickets! (el oh el)

Second, we had a big problem with the fact that this article used old numbers and repeated old Republican talking points about the alleged "five Conn. donors".

Well, the lovely and talented Tparty over on My Left Nutmeg posted this article examining the error below.

And who doesn't love the title "Anonymous WTNH Blogger Reaches Stratospheric Levels of Dumb"? My, we bloggers DO get a bit testy at times!:
"There are so many things completely wrong with this blog post by " Editor" at WTNH (the one that on first glance looks like the 100 other articles a week written about Chris Dodd's fundraising) that it's hard to know where to start. How about with the first sentence:
Of the 465 itemized individual contributions given to Sen. Chris Dodd's re-election campaign this year, only five Connecticut residents gave a donation to the senator, according to records posted online by the Federal Election Commission.
Wrong, and wrong. There have been many more than 465 itemized individual donations to Dodd this year, including over 100 itemized individual donors from CT in Dodd's second quarter FEC report alone. And 491 donors from CT in the 2Q, if you count donations both above and below the FEC reporting threshold of $200.

On to the second sentence:
The FEC lists Dodd receiving $608,995 in itemized individual contributions between Jan. 1, 2009 and June 30, 2009.
Wrong. The FEC lists Dodd receiving $664k in itemized individual donations in the second quarter alone, in addition to the $608k in itemized individual donations in the first quarter."
Now, the thing that rankled the lefty blogosphere, not to mention Democratic State Central, are the conclusions that are made in the article, and the way comments were turned off only after many Dodd-trashing posts were allowed, giving people who know the real story no obvious way to dispute the article.

I can easily imagine how the author, WTNH Executive Producer Jeff Bailey, felt when he'd realized he screwed the pooch. As a political blogger, I know well that feeling of having made a very public mistake. It sucks on a level that's difficult for the non-blogging public to understand.

First, your scalp tingles with embarrassment (is it possible to feel your scalp blush? 'cause that's what it feels like!) Then you feel a warm rush of heat throughout your body, often accompanied by a clammy flop-sweat. It's exactly what stage fright must feel like, except you're sitting in front of a hidden and probably much smaller than you imagine audience, who will enthusiastically boo you on the goddamned Internet, where the echoes of their catcalls will likely remain for years!

Believe me, it's never fun to screw up, nor is it pleasant to have to make the correction and publicly acknowledge your error. I've made one or two little errors in all my years of blogging (stop laughing, you idiots!) so I speak from experience.

So this morning, Jeff posted the following comment on MLN, where he owned up to his error and addressed specific complaints from the others who posted comments (you can see what I mean when I say we can get a bit testy at times):
From WTNH (4.00 / 4)
(CTBob: he's getting some nice ratings for this)

My name is Jeff Bailey. I work at WTNH and have been there since 1993. I am responsible for the "Stratospheric Levels of Dumb' posted on cited above.

Yep, I made an incorrect assumption that a link marked "itemized individual contributions" available on Sen. Dodd's FEC page was up to date. It was not. I should have looked more closely at the dates on the FEC query. I didn't. And I should have left comments open. There should also have been a 'Contact' link. I'll rectify that when I'm done typing here.

In all, a pretty fair criticism here.

ctkeith, while I am blonde, I'm a he, I have little hair left, no "assets" so to speak, and I have no desire to move to another TV station/paper/web site.

notcho, I recall seeing one donation record for East Haddam, and one for Chester in the second quarter document. Remember, donations under a certain amount don't have to be reported with names and towns.

Bob Adams, you're absolutely right. I blew it in this case. Bad research on my part, not a bad cut-and-paste job. I'm much better than this example would indicate.

Thank you for your time.
That is exactly the way to handle something like this. While my comment was certainly harsh (who knew anyone would read it?) it contained a valid complaint and Jeff addressed it in a sincere and forthright manner. That takes guts, and I posted as much both in reply to his comment and over on the WTNH blog, where commenting was recently turned back on for that article.

There were some changes to the article that helps clarify the situation, but I'm not altogether happy that it didn't go far enough. The first paragraph is a bit confusing because it still refers to the first quarter contributions, and after that lede, it then goes on to say it's picked up in the second:
Of the 465 itemized individual contributions given to Sen. Chris Dodd’s re-election campaign in the first quarter of this year, only five Connecticut residents gave a donation to the senator, according to records posted online by the Federal Election Commission. Donations from state residents have picked up substantially since then.
OK, it sort of clarifies things a little, but the other numbers in the article are still a bit shaky in that they reflect 1st quarter figures for the other candidates.

But I'm not going to split hairs on this, because it's pretty much over as far as I can see, and because Bailey did the right thing and owned his mistake. I usually take great pleasure in knocking the MSM because there are all too often instances when a reporter isn't fair-minded or evenhanded, either because of a personal or corporate agenda, or simply sheer laziness and ineptitude (boy I saw a lot of that sort of reporting during Ned Lamont's challenge!)

I'm sure Jeff Bailey isn't any of these things; he simply made a mistake and then owned up to it.

Which is a good thing to do in those circumstances. We applaud that.

(Clarification: we applaud the owning-up part, not the making-a-mistake part, which we still kind of frown upon)

So, there ya are. Oh, I finally heard back from Noah Webster:

(How does he do that with his arm? That looks painful!)


Kirby said...

I'd edit the title to say
"WTNH fumbles, then recovers, but still turns the ball over on downs."

CT Bob said...

Yeah, that's definitely more accurate; but it's a bit too wordy for a headline.

I was going for pithy. In fact, you might say I had a "pithy fit"!

LO frickin' L!!!