Seattle Times Runs Misleading Piece On Darcy Burner

11/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Seattle Times is running what amounts to a hatchet job on Democratic Congressional contender Darcy Burner, seizing on a quip she made at a recent debate and manipulating the facts to make it appear as if Burner has been lying about her academic degree.

In her opening statement at an October 10, 2008 debate, Burner said, "I loved economics so much that I got a degree in it from Harvard...Now everywhere I go in this district, the only thing people want to talk to me about is the economy." From there, reporter Emily Heffter leaps to this conclusion: "But Burner doesn't have an economics degree from Harvard."

In fact, she does. Harvard graduate and Open Left blogger Matt Stoller explains in detail:

Having gone to Harvard, I know how this works. You get a degree under one department, take classes in another, write a thesis joining the two, and that thesis is reviewed by professors from both departments. It's actually much harder to get a joint degree, but the registrar shows a degree only from one department because Harvard doesn't have minors. In fact, economics is a fairly easy degree to get, while computer science and economics takes a lot more work.

At first blush, Heffter would appear to have the basics of this clear, but, as Stoller found out, Heffter manipulated at least one source's statement to make Burner appear nefarious. Harry Lewis, a computer science professor at Harvard, is quoted as saying, "She doesn't have a degree in economics...It's a specialty within the computer science degree that she has." According to Mr. Lewis' recollections, however, it's clear that Heffter indulged in a little selectivity:

LEWIS: Talked to her and told her you had a degree in CS with a specialization in Ec. She said you were claiming to have a degree in Ec and I just repeated myself. She asked me what that consisted of and I said a block of Ec courses. She started to ask me if that would make you qualified ... and I cut her off, saying I couldn't judge economics qualifications. She thanked me and said that was helpful.

As Heffter notes, Burner's own website notes the degree correctly in her biography. Burner's campaign gets to respond in the article with a pair of sentence fragments. By comparison, Burner's opponent gets to read a prepared statement into the record: "It calls into question everything that she has said to this point...It demonstrates an arrogance that she thinks she can say what she wants and that no one is going to learn the truth." Obviously, there is more truth to Burner's statement at the debate than Reichert's rhetoric here, but I guess Heffter's critical eye was done for the day.