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Calame Looks Into Times' Corrections Vault And Finds It Empty

Since I've been called everything from a "nonbudsman" to a "omblogsman," I feel the need to comment on yesterday's Public Editor column in the New York Times in which Byron Calame investigates the flap over Geraldo Rivera. The Fox News Channel reporter has demanded a correction of a story that claimed he had "nudged" a New Orleans rescue worker "out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety."

Noting that "one of the real tests of journalistic integrity is being fair to someone who might be best described by a four-letter word," Calame concludes that the Times "flunked" this particular one. Not that I feel the need to rush to the defense of Geraldo, but it is ponderous that the paper would not issue a correction, especially after reading Calame's account.

The story, written by media critic Alessandra Stanley, plainly stated that Rivera "nudged" a rescue worker. Even the paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, acknowledges that video of the act described "does not literally show" a nudge. Keller defended the decision, writing that "Ms. Stanley's point was that Mr. Rivera was show-boating – that he was being pushy, if not literally pushing – and I think an impartial viewer of the footage will see it that way."

Calame concludes, "the Times has long been a trailblazer in its commitment to correcting errors. This is no time to let those standards slip – even when well-known critics and columnists are involved."

I think it's safe to say that Geraldo Rivera is one of the more controversial journalists of his generation. It's also safe to say that the New York Times' reaction to his demand is one of the reasons an ombudsman was created at the paper – and the reason one is still needed. And it's a good example of why all news organizations benefit from someone or something to bark inside the house.