For a brief few hours Friday night, Time reporter Zeke Miller was under the impression that the Trump administration had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office.
Once he realized the error, Miller, who was serving as the White House pool reporter at the time, worked furiously ― and transparently ― to both own and correct his mistake.
In an article titled “A Note to Our Readers” published Tuesday, Time Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs walks through the details of just how the MLK bust story came to be and, more important, a timeline of the steps Miller took to correct his error.
“No news organization ever wants to make an error, but we all have procedures for handling them when we do,” Gibbs wrote Tuesday. “Zeke moved quickly to correct the record, and we stand behind him for taking responsibility for the mistake. He and our other reporters will continue to cover the new Administration thoroughly, fairly and fearlessly.”
Based on Gibbs’ article, 41 minutes went by between the first pool report (sent by another reporter) noting the bust’s absence and when Miller was able to confirm the bust was, in fact, present (it was apparently obscured by a door when he first looked) and email a correction to White House reporters.
Soon after, Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to one of Miller’s many tweets owning up to the error with “Apology accepted”:
”This is on me, not my colleagues,” Miller added in a follow-up response to Spicer. “I’ve been doing everything I can to fix my error. My apologies.”
(Miller also asked that his apology be passed on to President Donald Trump, Gibbs said Tuesday.)
Yet, at a news conference Monday, the Trump administration seemed to suffer from selective amnesia. Instead of moving on from the incident, Spicer amplified it, calling the report “racially charged” and Miller’s apology “insufficient.”
The irony wasn’t lost on Washington Post reporter Mark Berman, who pointed out Trump’s longtime, racially charged fascination with former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate:
“Where was the apology to the president of the United States?” Spicer asked, either unaware Miller had apologized to the president or purposefully ignoring it to make a point. “Where was the apology to millions of people who read that and thought how racially insensitive that was?”
“Over and over again, there’s this attempt to go after this president and say, ‘Well that can’t be true,’ and, ‘That’s not right,’ and, ‘The numbers weren’t there,’” Spicer said, appearing to refer to the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” about crowd size, “and there’s a rush to judgment every time.”
In sharp contrast to Trump’s deliberate falsehood about his inaugural crowd size, Gibbs has apologized and been transparent about how the mistake happened in the first place.
“The President and White House aides have cited this mistake as an example of ‘deliberately false reporting,’” wrote Gibbs. “It was no such thing. We regret that the error occurred, and believe it is important to share some detail about how it happened.”