The Day The WSJ Attributed My Quote To Someone Else

from the corrections... dept

Late Sunday night, I got an email from L. Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, saying that he had an apology he wished to offer, as he had misattributed a quote of mine in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about Europe’s attempt to create a “right to forget.” He took a quote from my Techdirt blog post on the subject from earlier this month, but accidentally attributed it to Adam Thierer of the Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF). The writeup was doubly incorrect, as not only was the quote not Thierer’s but PFF shut down at the end of September. You can see a screenshot here (since the actual article is behind the WSJ’s infamous paywall):

You can see a larger image that shows the quote in context if you’d like. Now, let me be clear: I don’t think this is that big of a deal, and I told Crovitz exactly that in an email response (I also told that to Thierer, who had emailed me separately to make me aware of this and to note that he had not “plagiarized” from me). Mistakes happen. We all make them at times — and I probably make more of them than others.

What interested me, however, is how the WSJ would respond. Crovitz told me that the paper version had already gone out, but that he had asked the Journal to fix the web version. So I watched during the course of the day to see if it happened. As of me writing this, it still attributes the quote to Thierer. Around noon on Monday, I had some fun and tweeted that the WSJ had quoted me, but attributed my quote to someone else. Following that tweet, Priya Ganapati, an editor at the WSJ tweeted back asking which story. I pointed it out, but didn’t hear anything back. As I said, as of this posting, the story still has not been updated.

Again, this really is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The quote was nothing special. I’ve been quoted in the WSJ before and perhaps I’ll be quoted in the future (well, perhaps not after this post!). Three things, however, struck me as interesting about this: (1) how much time it appears to take to get the WSJ to correct such things and (2) how people likely would have reacted if this had gone in the opposite direction and (3) why “links” are a good thing.

Imagine if I had misquoted a story in the WSJ on Techdirt. Within minutes, I can assure you, our comments would be full of people pointing it out (and probably accusing me of purposely misleading people). And, hopefully, soon after that, I would have corrected the mistake and apologized for it. And, that’s what I consider to be a good thing: as I said, I make mistakes. Plenty of them. But the community here makes for pretty damn good fact checkers, and they work hard at keeping me honest. It’s something I appreciate. One commenter, Ryan Radia, did mention the mistake in his own comment on the WSJ article, but I believe it was after my tweet (Ryan follows me on Twitter). But there has been no response to that comment as of me writing this.

Finally, this highlights the value of links. While not possible in the paper version, it would have been quite easy for the Wall Street Journal to link to my blog post where I made that quote, which would have made it clear for anyone who clicked the link to see who actually wrote the story. Of course, that would require admitting that the quote had simply been pulled from a blog, and the article at least leaves the impression that Crovitz spoke with Thierer to get the quote.

Now, of course, the WSJ is a big newspaper with lots of busy people doing things more important than getting a misattributed quote fixed. But in an era when we keep hearing how important the big legacy press is, and how bloggers have some sort of “lower standards” when it comes to their own efforts, it strikes me that this is an example of where that’s simply not true. We both might have made that mistake, but it’s likely that I would have first linked to the source material in question and would likely (I hope!) have been faster to correct it. This isn’t to say that blogs are “better,” but to challenge the idea that the big newspapers automatically have higher standards on these sorts of things.

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Comments on “The Day The WSJ Attributed My Quote To Someone Else”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Cool. This seems like a good time to point out that you need to update your story on Valdosta University, as the article stating that the school was going to report P2P users to the police was entirely incorrect. ๐Ÿ™‚

Interesting. No one had, in fact, pointed that out. But the details suggest that the problem was not by us, but by the original author of the story for the Valdosta paper who misunderstood what the university was doing. So, we were guilty of repeating the incorrect claims, but not of making a mistake ourselves, as you imply. Either way, adding an update now…

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“To be REALLY fair, he also said he makes a lot of mistakes…”

The newspapers also make alot of mistakes. The problem is that with newspaper there is a consistant denial of the value of the community. They set up comments sections then highly moderate them. They prevent any discenting voices from speaking or pointing out flaws in stories. They sideline any comments that don’t fall under the newspapers xxxxx (insert political, financial, etc) agenda. Here is the really big one. They don’t attribute comments or quotes to bloggers.

Commenting from my moms damp cold basment, wearing stained a terry cloth robe, and bunny slippers I wish wouldn’t look up my robe so much with those beady little eyes … Big Ole Grin … David

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Repeating without checking is a mistake and you made it yourself.

I disagree, actually. I repeat without checking all the time. This is a discussion site. Do you fact check everything you state before you talk about it with your friends? I don’t believe that I made any “mistake” here — I reported what was said accurately. It turned out that info was false, and I’ve updated the post to clarify that, but the mistake was made by the original reporter.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

To be fair, Mike, most mistakes made by reporters are just that: repeating incorrect claims without checking them.

Perhaps so, but this mistake by the WSJ is not of that variety. Besides, TechDirt and WSJ are not the same sort of thing. TD is not a news gathering organization. WSJ is, or at least claims to be.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Plan A, B, and C

After reading the earlier comments…

So the open peer review approach points to a flaw in the closed paywall system.

The WSJ probably then also realized that TD could make a little spectacle of this.

But by taking so long to make the change, they show that perhaps there is dishonesty at play.

What about the online customers paying for the privilege to get this lower attention to detail and foot-dragging?

Maybe they need to come up with a plan on how to spin the error, explain the correction, and justify why they took so long to come clean.

Maybe the plan should include an announcement of an upgrade to their system.

Maybe the plan should include $1 million into the coffers of legislators to help pass an act to make it illegal to point out mistakes in paywall articles and maybe even declare blogs illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:


On this topic, have a look at this page:

You’ve uploaded someone else’s graphic to Flickr under your name with no credit at all. You’ve even released it under a Creative commons license when it’s not yours to release.

How long will it take you to fix that?

ps. for context, the original story was this one:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, if you view it from the article it’s fine.

But it’s also possible to find it directly on flickr by several different means (browsing that users photostream etc). That’s perfectly legitimate – it’s how flicker was designed to be used. And if you do that, its not credited at all.

And worst than than, he’s falsely claimed it is available under a CC license. He has no right to do that.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And worst than than, he’s falsely claimed it is available under a CC license. He has no right to do that.

Ugh. That’s a mistake. I had set the standard on the Flickr account to be not to us CC, but have changed by hand the images that I was able to do so on. Not sure how the other images got changed.

That said, we used Flickr solely for embedding, rather than sharing. However, thanks to ToS changes to Flickr lately that’s become impossible and we no longer use them. Existing images have been left up so that the posts that use them still display the images. But we are no longer using it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“That said, we used Flickr solely for embedding, rather than sharing.”
I do appreciate that. But remember Flickr can be used in lots of different ways and others may use it differently, thus finding your images out of context. That’s how Flickr is designed to be used, so those users are doing nothing wrong. Do you not think you should go through and change the license and credit the images?

Thanks for your reply. I am a regular reader of techdirt and don’t mean this as an attack, just wanted to draw your attention to it. Altho I will point out I commented on the original article a month ago pointing this out ๐Ÿ™‚

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