That said, I think that today's SNAFU with a letter (not) sent by the mayor of Paris getting published was an embarrassing mistake: the sort of thing that could happen anywhere.
Incredible but Not True: The Mayor of Paris Takes an Interest in New York State Politics!A letter, presumably from Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris, arrived at The New York Times this morning. It was in reaction to an article in The New York Times, and expressed some very definite opinions about Caroline Kennedy's efforts to take Hillary Clinton's Senate seat: providing that Clinton gets a position in the Obama administration:
"As mayor of Paris, I find Caroline Kennedy’s bid for the seat of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton both surprising and not very democratic, to say the least. What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat? We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling...."
My understanding is that the letter was written in English: a pretty good idea for anyone writing to an American newspaper. The Parisian mayor, though, is French. An employee of France-Amerique, a French language monthly based in New York City, was what the Associated Press called "skeptical."
" 'When we read the letter it just sounded very surprising, the choice of words sounded very surprising,' he [Editor-in-chief Jean-Cosme Delaloye] told The Associated Press. 'When we called Paris to verify the information ... they were very surprised.' " (Associated Press)
France-Amerique broke the story on its website, and The New York Times sprang into action. Someone at the paper called Paris, and discovered that the letter was bogus. Fake. Ersatz. A forgery. Not really from the mayor.
Credit Where Credit is Due: The New York Times, an Apology, and an Admission of ErrorMy hat's off to The New York Times: In addition to apologizing to the Parisian mayor, the paper published an apology to its readers, and an explanation, in an "Editor's Note."
The New York Times' "Editor's Note" concludes, "This letter, like most Letters to the Editor these days, arrived by email. It is Times procedure to verify the authenticity of every letter. In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the email and did not hear back. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoë's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us.
"We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.
"We are reviewing our procedures for verifying letters to avoid such an incident in the future."
- "The New York Times, Insularity, and Assumptions"
(October 21, 2008)