Monday, May 23, 2005

Setrecs

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald:

Dear President Bush:

I see where your administration took Newsweek magazine to task last week over a report alleging that U.S. military personnel at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, defiled the Koran by flushing it down a toilet. Your spokesman declared you outraged. Who can blame you?

[…]

It is, I can promise you, a painful time in the Newsweek newsroom. But in the news business, we believe nothing is more important than credibility and that maintaining it requires a commitment to reporting truth and a willingness to be transparent when you fail to do so. Meaning that you correct mistakes forthrightly and level with readers about how they occurred.

My newsroom calls them “setrecs,” short for “setting the record straight.” Nothing I’ve ever written has led to rioting and bloodshed, but I’ve got a few setrecs on my record. Over the years, I have headquartered an electronics firm on the wrong continent, mislabeled a Bible quote, called a Robert, Richard.

[…]

Point being, I’m pleased by your concern for Newsweek’s accuracy. And I’m wondering if this means you will soon evince similar concern for your own.

Because if there is one trait that has characterized your response to the errors that attended our invasion of Iraq, it’s a refusal to concede that they happened. Indeed, asked during a news conference last year if you ever admitted mistakes, you got a look on your face like an unprepared fifth-grader called to work out a math problem in front of the class. You hemmed a little, hawed awhile and finally said you couldn’t think of any.

Your admirers call that refusal to admit to error evidence of your resolve. But you know, it’s a short leap from resolve to stubbornness and an even shorter leap from there to rigidity. So, Mr. President, I’ve taken the liberty of writing the following setrecs for you. Tell me what you think:

1.) “In 2002 and 2003, my administration made the case for invading Iraq by claiming that nation had weapons of mass destruction. It did not. We regret the error.” Or:

2.) “In 2002 and 2003, my administration encouraged Americans to believe Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. It was not. We regret the error.” Or:

3.) “In 2003, my administration said Iraq’s oil wealth was such that the invasion would pay for itself. It has not. We regret that error, too.”

See how it works, Mr. President? It’s not that bad, once you get the hang of it.

OK, granted, it will never be fun. But in my business, we believe owning up to error ultimately makes you better.

You should try it sometime.

Boy, will you feel dandy.