Watch CBSN Live

Can Party Affiliation Error Really Be A Sign Of Conspiracy?

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we received quite a few e-mails about a story that appeared on Saturday concerning the ongoing standoff between the Justice Department and House leaders over the recent raid of Congressman William Jefferson's office. The story originally identified Jefferson as a "Louisiana Republican" when he is, in fact, a Louisiana Democrat. The error sparked e-mails like the following, from Jon L:
This paragraph appeared in a story today regarding Congressman William Jefferson:

"Top law enforcement officials at the Justice Department and the FBI indicated to their counterparts at the White House that they could not, and were unwilling to, return documents to the Louisiana Republican which were seized as part of a bribery investigation."

We on the right are used to the willful lies of CBS news, but this is beyond belief. Jefferson, of course, as you may wish to inform the news department, is a Democrat.

Please do not pretend that this was an inadvertent error. The network of Mary Mapes and Dan Rather has no credibility.

I asked Mike Sims, Director of News and Operations for about the error and he told me the following: The error appears to have been one made on the part of, not the Associated Press which supplied the original version. The editor on duty Saturday said the story was up for "several hours" before the mistake was noticed by the editor personally.

While the story was then corrected to identify Jefferson correctly as a Democrat, the editor was not aware of the need to note the correction or add an editor's note to reflect the change but, according to Sims, that editor now recognizes the need. The story has since been updated with an editor's note that reads as follows:

For several hours on Saturday, May 27th, this story incorrectly identified Jefferson as a Republican. We regret the error.
Given the fact that Congressman Jefferson has been in the news a great deal over the past weeks, it seems to me a weak argument to say that misidentifying his party affiliation in a single story is part of some conspiracy to fool or mislead the general public. Indeed, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, received heavy coverage for questioning the legitimacy of the raid precisely because of Jefferson's party identification. Having written about politics for nearly 14 years, I can recall making many similar "inadvertent" errors myself, some much more embarrassing than this example. But, as usual, I leave that up to your individual judgment.