Howard Kurtz's brief career for Newsweek/The Daily Beast may be better known for its blockbuster corrections than for the content he actually set out to provide. Earlier this year, Kurtz drew criticism for waiting six weeks to inform readers that he had mistakenly attributed a host of quotes from Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) spokesman, Kurt Bardella, to Issa himself, because Kurtz was of the belief that he was on the phone with Issa at the time. Monday, we're at it again, with a strange correction appended to an otherwise garden-variety story on President Barack Obama's messaging strategy ahead of 2012.
The piece, which you can read in its entirety here, has the following correction appended to it:
Editor's Note: An earlier version of the story included a comment erroneously attributed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, criticizing the White House’s efforts at political messaging. Newsweek and The Daily Beast regret the error.
And that "erroneously attributed" comment? Well, it's a dilly! From the original piece:
“I think you need to talk about how poorly they [the White House] do on message,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tells Newsweek’s Howard Kurtz. “They can’t see around corners; they anticipate nothing.”
As you might expect, the White House's loyal opposition immediately drilled down on this supposed Pelosi quote, selling it as a meaty example of intra-party dysfunction and discontent between the White House and Pelosi. "They Said It! Pelosi Says Obama White House Can’t Message Or 'See Around Corners,'" reads the item from the RNC's Research Briefing blog. Representative Eric Cantor briefly included the item in his "Leader's Ledger" this morning. It has since been removed. Fox Nation got a "Pelosi Slams Obama Team" headline out of the story. It has also since been removed. It would be useful to know the actual provenance of the quote, seeing as how it has been released into the world and is being used as an oppositional brickbat.
And this is a horse that Kurtz definitely wanted out of the barn -- earlier Monday, it was the money quote he tweeted to his followers, teasing the piece. Three hours later, he corrected the record on Twitter. (According to Zeke Miller's tick-tock on Business Insider, Kurtz corrected Twitter sometime after the correction was appended to the piece online.)
Of course, the way this quote was presented to readers suggests that Pelosi gave the statement directly to Kurtz himself. We asked Kurtz if, as the piece implies, he had personally spoken to Pelosi, but Kurtz declined to comment, referring us instead to Newsweek/The Daily Beast's spokesman, Andrew Kirk. Kirk tells The Huffington Post:
The article, Behind Obama’s Populist Makeover, included a comment erroneously attributed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, criticizing the administration’s political messaging. The writer misread notes of an interview conducted by a colleague. The error has been corrected, and we’ve apologized to Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Along with Kurtz, this item on the Daily Beast has four other people listed as contributors -- Daniel Stone, John Solomon, Eleanor Clift and Lois Romano. Keach Hagey figures that the colleague whose notes were "misread" by Kurtz is Romano:
In fact, Kurtz never interviewed Pelosi for the story, but was the lead writer on a story pulling together reporting from a group of reporters that included Lois Romano, who had interviewed Pelosi earlier for a profile that ran in Newsweek/The Daily Beast on September 25th. During that interview, Pelosi said some things that fit the theme of today’s story –- about Obama’s return to populism –- and so Romano turned over some of her unused quotes to Kurtz for his piece.
Somewhere in the hand-off, however, there was a miscommunication, according to several Newsweek sources. Notes that framed the interview were misinterpreted as part of the transcript.
Pelosi's office denies that any such statement was made off the record. A Pelosi spokesman, Drew Hammill, tells The Huffington Post:
Newsweek has corrected the story and expressed regret for this error.
Leader Pelosi spoke with Newsweek twice and in both conversations she spoke positively of the White House’s messaging efforts. Leader Pelosi nor anyone on her staff said the words attributed to Leader Pelosi either on background or off-the-record.
Our understanding is that this was an internal Newsweek miscommunication.
Perhaps Howard Kurtz should stop writing about lawmakers for a while? This is just an idea I had.