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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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This weekend's column: A case of media mistaken identity ...

Above: Newsreel account of 1952 Ike vs. Taft campaign. A little scratchy, but interesting.

Telephone chirps.

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Me: "Tribune. George Pyle."

Him: "Hi there. Is this the editorial page department?"

Me: "Yes it is."

Him: "Can I talk to you about this? That column you had in the paper yesterday had such an atrocious error in it."

Me (rummaging around on my desk for the previous day’s paper): "Oh? What was that?"

Him: "Well, I don’t mean to be too hard on anybody. But this really got to me. In Sen. Bennett’s column, where he said Dwight Eisenhower beat William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination. It wasn’t William Howard Taft. It was Robert Taft. It seems like there should be somebody there to edit these things so these mistakes don’t get into print. It makes everybody look bad."

Me (failing to contain glee): "I’m sorry. But that column was in the Deseret News. You’ve got the The Salt Lake Tribune here."

(Pause)

Him: "Oh. I’m sorry. We take both papers. My wife likes the DNews and I prefer the Tribune. But I read them both. Sorry."

(Pause)

Him: "You wouldn’t happen to have their phone number handy there, would you?"

I didn’t. But it wasn’t long before the article was fixed on the Deseret News website [though not, as of Friday, in the summary blurb alongside]. And a correction — blaming an "editing error" rather than the involuntarily retired senator — ran in the next day’s print edition. I don’t know if my friend was the one who pointed it out to them, or if someone else beat him to it. [Likewise, the Robert Bennett who was a Utah senator, and who now opines for the DNews, should not be confused with the Robert Bennett who is a big-time Washington lawyer or the Robert Bennett who used to be governor of Kansas.]

The point here is not to bag on my opposite numbers at the DNews. Mistaking one long-dead politician for another is the kind of mistake that newspapers large and small make all too frequently.

Any schadenfreude other ink-stained wretches might feel about it is likely to be punished by the fates implanting a howler of a goof in their own publication. (There was almost one in this column. I started to write sangfroid instead of schadenfreude, before I looked it up.)

It is an example of how hard it can be to keep your sources of information straight, even when you’ve only got two newspapers to mix up. Our own editorial board meetings are often punctuated with statements on the order of, "Gee. I know I saw that somewhere. Where did I read that? Or was it on NPR?"

Not only do we read a lot of newspapers, magazines and books, as editorial writers always have, now we’ve got websites and Twitter feeds to follow, and to keep straight.

And it is our job to follow this stuff. It’s going to be increasingly hard for people who just try to be good consumers of news and information to keep all these sources straight. Especially when more and more information comes unfiltered, or openly bent by folks whose job is not to inform, but to spin.

Maybe, after all the dust settles, folks will just come back to The Tribune, and we’ll sort it out for them. Value added, and all that.

• • •

More teasing • Let me respond, in the same good humor the gibe was intended, to Alan Matheson Jr.

The governor’s new environmental adviser, in a column published here last Sunday, defended the administration’s voluntary clean air initiative from our editorial argument that voluntary anything isn’t going to cut it. He suggested that it is easy to criticize.

"Wouldn’t it have been refreshing," Matheson wrote, "if The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board, instead of criticizing U-CAIR before it had even begun, had committed to ... convert some of their truck fleet to cleaner fuels."

Editorial writers have a truck fleet? Geez, Alan, we’re lucky to have our own coffee maker.

[Besides, three of the five people in this department us regularly ride UTA buses or TRAX, despite numerous delays and the maddening change of the University line away from our office at The Gateway. How do you get to work, Alan?]

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, can’t even drive a stick shift. You can call him at (801) 257-8807. But have your facts straight, or you might be fodder for a future column.



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