Update on the LA Times Fred Thompson Scandal – Updated 7/10

This is a continuing update to the original story.

Yes, I’m using the term scandal now because at 6:27pm eastern time on 6/9/07 I received this email from an LA Times spokesperson:

Dear Mr. *******,

Some of the changes you note are style changes, which occur as articles get posted online, and then get copy edited again.

When factual changes are made, though, a note needs to be attached to tell readers if there was an error and if so, why the story was changed.

Thanks for bringing up these specifics, and I’ll look into the changes now.

Jamie Gold
Readers’ Representative

As of 3:28am eastern time, there is STILL no correction or a note attached to the story explaining why the changes were made.

Examining the changes further:

Original section of the LA Times story:

At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson re-enacted a cowboy death scene from one of his movies. She also remembered him telling her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for one of Thompson’s sons and his wife.

Revised, current section of the same LA Times story:

Thompson kept her updated on his progress in telephone conversations and over meals at Washington restaurants, including dinner at Galileo and lunch at the Monocle, she said. At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson told her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for a Thompson son and his wife.

According to Jamie Gold, from his email, “When factual changes are made, though, a note needs to be attached to tell readers if there was an error and if so, why the story was changed.”

To me, omitting the fact that “At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson re-enacted a cowboy death scene from one of his movies” constitutes a change of fact. Or an omission of fact, if you will. Why was that part removed and no reason given?

There is something that doesn’t add up in this whole thing. Why did the LA Times make the changes and fail to post an attached note? Why is there no correction listed? Why did they omit the fact that their sources are known Hillary Clinton supporters?

Newsbusters also has more on the story now:

In the July 7th version of the story Judith DeSarno, the woman making the accusation that Thompson worked for her pro-abortion organization in ’91, mentioned that she had talked with the Senator about his “cowboy death scene” in a movie he was in. She claimed she talked to him about this scene during one of the diners she claimed to have had with him where they discussed his lobbying efforts.

The problem with DeSarno’s original claim is, Thompson was never in any westerns in the 1990s. In fact, he appeared in a western only recently with the HBO movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, which was released this year — and in that he played president Ulysses S. Grant.

So, in an apparent attempt to make DeSarno’s claims of a 1991 meeting seem more truthful, the “cowboy” section was removed from the story.

Then there’s the timing issue, according to Newsbusters:

There is no registration for Thompson to be a lobbyist until the month AFTER the L.A.Times story claims he was lobbying the White House for this abortion group. And the registration that does exist for the next month registers him as a lobbyist to foreign nations, not domestic concerns.

This story is seeing bigger and bigger holes blasted through it every day by the blogosphere, and it’s getting easier and easier to believe Thompson’s claims that it is all a straight out lie as this story falls apart around the L.A.Times’ ears.

It appears as though the LA Times has some explaining to do and so far they have not been forthcoming on the matter. I will be emailing Jamie Gold again tomorrow if there is still no correction or note explaining why the changes were made. Plus, they still have not returned my phone call. This is a story worth staying on at least just to force them to explain the changes.

Update @ 1:43pm eastern on 7/10

Still no change or note attached noting the changes. I’ve emailed Jamie Gold again, will post any further responses. You can check the story here to see if they have posted anything explaining the changes. If you find something, let me know!

Update @ 11:23pm eastern on 7/10

I have finally received responses from both the article’s author and the reader’s rep.

First, the author, Michael Finnegan:

Mr. *******:
The Thompson article was first posted on the LA Times website on Friday afternoon. It was replaced Saturday morning by the version that was published in the newspaper. The Times often reworks stories between the time of their initial posting on the web and their final publication in the newspaper. The print version is the one that we keep posted on the website. In this case, deletion of the movie reference was one of many final editing changes. Based on DeSarno’s account, the scene that she said Thompson reenacted appears to be from “Keep the Change,” a TNT television western that would have been in production around the time of the lunch and dinner that she described. A question about this came up in the editing process, and we decided to delete the reference until we could confirm the film title, which we were unable to do before final publication.
I hope that’s helpful.
Best regards,
Michael Finnegan

Jamie Gold, the reader’s rep emailed me back with the note now inserted into the story:

Thanks again for writing. I’ve pasted in below a the note that is now attached to the article online.
Jamie Gold
Readers’ Representative

An earlier version of this article included a passage in which Judith DeSarno said Fred Thompson reenacted a cowboy death scene from one of his movies. The version of the article that was printed in Saturday’s newspaper replaced the earlier, online version. That newer version omitted the reference, because confirmation of the name of the movie could not be made before the story got reprinted. Based on DeSarno’s account, the scene that she said Thompson reenacted appears to be from “Keep the Change,” a TNT television western that would have been in production around the time of the lunch and dinner that she described.

Legitimate reasons for dropping the information. I am pleased that we forced the LA Times to explain the changes because it would have been completely passed over. This does not explain the bias behind the story originally discussed by Newsbusters about the sources being tied to Hillary Clinton supporters.

I’m certain, that had it not been for the blogosphere asking for an explanation, this would have gone unchecked. The facts in the story remain largely true, which weren’t in dispute as much as the sketchy details and the appearance of bias on the part of the LA Times. The paper has been on a Fred Thompson tirade in the past few days posting stories trying to break down his conservative credentials.

Hot Air also has some thoughts on the issue:

The blogosphere has forced the paper to explain why it whisked away the sentence in question — and that’s a good thing. But the rumors of the death of the story’s credibility were greatly exaggerated.

By the way, I don’t think the story, if true, means that pro-life conservatives should despair at the idea of a Thompson candidacy. All this story means, if it’s true, is that he didn’t feel strongly enough about abortion in 1991 to turn down work for an abortion rights group. That doesn’t mean he agrees with the agenda of abortion rights groups — or that he would appoint bad judges, which is the only relevance of any of this.

Trust me, his judges would be better than Hillary’s.

I concur.