Back in the days when newspapers and magazines were printed on paper once something was committed to ink that was pretty much it, you had to live with it. And while I do look quite fetching in my tin foil hat I generally like to save it for special occasions, but there’s something unexplained and a little disturbing going on with internet news scrubbing.
We’ve seen quite a few instances of it recently and it usually has to do with explosive comments that are unfavorable to the narrative being disseminated by the administration (and quite often the Vice President):
. Josh Marshall noticed that it happened in a Washington Post article referring to a conversation on Air Force II:
On July 12, the day Cheney and Libby flew together from Norfolk, the vice president instructed his aide to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on Wilson’s credibility by Fleischer, according to a well-placed source. (WaPo, October 30 2005)
. The comments about Sherrifs being turned away from the Armstrong ranch were removed from the CBS online site:
CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports Texas authorities are complaining that the Secret Service barred them from speaking to Cheney after the incident. (CBSnews.com, February 13, 2006)
. Katharine Armstrong’s references to alcohol being served on the day Cheney shot the old man in the face were scrubbed from the MSNBC site:
"There may be a beer or two in there," she said, "but remember not everyone in the party was shooting." (MSNBC, February 15, 2006)
. Now a comment Swopa made note of in a WaPo article about the bombing of the Golden Mosque has been deleted:
In Samarra, witnesses said that Interior Ministry commandos and Iraqi police were cordoning the shrine before the explosions took place. (WaPo, February 23, 2006)
CBS PublicEye actually did address what happened to their Cheney article and on its own would seem like a plausible explanation, but these are just a few examples of what appears to be a consistent motif in the mainstream online press. Not to go all 1984, but who is it that’s sitting around reading all this stuff, suddenly deciding that these phrases are not okay, then calling up and twisting arms ’til they’re taken down?
Bloggers change stuff in their posts all the time, usually as a result of people showing up and pointing out errors. But the presumption is that by the time a story goes up on the washingtonpost.com it’s already been approved by the editors and it’s not like they’re seeing it for the first time online. It’s also customary to make a correction note when a major change is made as the CBS Public Eye article noted. That’s not happening.
I’m sure there’s a partial explanation in the fact that now that things can be changed there is going to be pressure exerted on reporters to do so. But how are we to know that these comments are erroneous and not merely unflattering and/or inconvenient if nobody takes pains to explain that?
I don’t know how or why this is happening but it seems to be occurring with some frequency. It would be nice to hear an explanation.
(thanks to reader David F.)