Blumner had accused radio personality Neal Boortz of comparing Supreme Court justice appointee Elena Kagan to the cartoon monster "Shrek."
Here's how she did it:
A recent tweet from radio host Neal Boortz asked, "Has anyone seen Mike Myers and your new Supreme in the same room at the same time?" comparing Kagan to Shrek, the cartoon ogre character of which Myers is the voice.Finding it hard to follow the logic? Maybe this will help:
(I'm not sure why the video doesn't appear on the main page. It appears if you click "Read more" at the bottom of the post)
If you claim somebody looks like Boris Karloff then you're actually claiming that the person resembles Frankenstein's monster. Likewise for any example where the actor fails to significantly resemble their character.
Blumner's comment made absolutely no sense, and the comparison was stated as a matter of fact, not as a matter of opinion. Boortz either did or did not compare Kagan to Shrek. If opinion entered into it than there is no such thing as a fact divorced from opinion.
Thus began the painful process of holding the Times to account.
I contacted the St. Petersburg Times (May 18) seeking to address the mistake.
Dear corrections department,
In her Sunday editorial column, Robyn Blumner stated that radio host Neal Boortz likened Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to the cartoon character Shrek via a comparison with Mike Myers, who did the voice acting for that character. That interpretation is very unlikely, certainly not to the standard of accuracy the St. Petersburg Times sets as its goal.
Boortz made the following two consecutive tweets to his Twitter account:
Has anyone seen Mike Myers and your new Supreme in the same room at the same time? 3:56 AM May 11th via web
Justice Shrek? O come on now. That's just a wee bit below the belt. 5:13 AM May 11th via web
1) Mike Myers' appearance has been compared to that of Kagan independently of his role as the voice actor for Shrek.
mjs538/24-people-who-look- like-supreme-court-nominee- elen
2) Given the historical pedigree of that comparison, it is extremely likely that the 3:56 a.m. tweet was simply a comparison to Mike Myers, not a comparison to Shrek. The subsequent tweet appears to be Boortz's response to that comparison coming from a different source, with Boortz rejecting it as too mean-spirited.
It seems difficult at best to rationalize the interpretation provided by Blumner:
"A recent tweet from radio host Neal Boortz asked, "Has anyone seen Mike Myers and your new Supreme in the same room at the same time?" comparing Kagan to Shrek, the cartoon ogre character of which Myers is the voice."
That's not up to standard, is it?
Dissatisfied with the lack of reply, I sent a message (May 22) directly to the author of the editorial:
Dear Robyn Blumner,
I believe I have very probably detected a error of fact in your previous week's column.
In your editorial, you claimed that talk radio personality Neal Boortz had compared Elena Kagan to the cartoon monster "Shrek." The facts do not appear to bear out that claim.
You quoted Boortz (via Twitter) as saying "Has anyone seen Mike Myers and your new Supreme in the same room at the same time?" Immediately after, you wrote that Boortz had compared Kagan to Shrek, for whom Myers did the voice acting. From Media Matters or from some other source you were probably aware that some hours after the Twitter statement you quoted, Boortz wrote the following tweet: "Justice Shrek? O come on now. That's just a wee bit below the belt."
You may be aware of how the Twitter interface works. A Twitter account will show the rough equivalent of an online chat with those who follow the tweets from a given account. That Boortz started his second Kagan-related tweet with a question mark ("Justice Shrek?") makes it extremely likely that Boortz was responding to another person's elaboration of Boortz's comparison of Kagan's appearance with that of Myers, and his subsequent statement to the effect that the Shrek comparison crosses the line ("O come on now. That's just a wee bit below the belt") indicates that he was not creating the comparison but rather discouraging it. I should note that Boortz was not the first (nor the last) to compare Kagan's appearance with that of actor Mike Myers.
Our standard at the St. Petersburg Times is simple: to get things right the first time. This being a human endeavor, we sometimes fall short.
When this happens in the news report, our policy is to correct factual errors, promptly and prominently. Readers who spot factual errors are encouraged to contact the news department, by telephone, letter or e-mail, so that we can address the mistake.
I've contacted the corrections department via e-mail (early May 18) but have as yet received no response at all (nor have I noticed any change in the text of your column). Perhaps they're swamped. In any case, the response does not seem in keeping with a policy of "promptly and prominently" fixing errors of fact. I decided that it wouldn't hurt to alert you directly.Bemused by the continued lack of response, and thinking that the "news report" language in the Times' corrections policy might be serving as an out, I sent yet another message (May 24):
P.S. Also of note, bearing in mind the theme of physical appearance being used as a reason to oppose Kagan's appointment to the Court:
It's been all over the news ... Barack Obama's latest pick for the Supreme Court: Elena Kagan. You've heard all the stats: She's young (50), she's never been a judge (who cares), and her appointment would mean the first time in history that the Supreme Court had three female justices - though it won't be all that obvious.
Look, folks ... this is part of the gig. When you elected Barack Obama to the presidency, you knew that as the President he would have the power to appointed Justices to the Supreme Court -- It is stated in the Constitution, for cryin' out loud. And when you elected a big government Marxist into the White House, what kind of justices did you expect him to appoint? These are the kinds of things you should think about next time you go to the polls to elect someone based on the fact that they are "cool" or have a nice "bod" or a catchy campaign slogan. This is what they mean when they say, "elections have consequences." The appointment of Supreme Court justices is perhaps the most long-lasting and visibly crucial consequence there may be.
So all of this talk about gay marriage, military campus recruiters, or .. abortion .. all I can say is get over it. Confirm the woman, hand over the robe and get used to hearing her name for the next 40 years.
Oh ... and try to think about consequences the next time you get caught up in a focus group-based campaign.
It doesn't sound like he's objecting to her appointment based on her appearance or anything else.
Dear Paul Tash,Finally, on May 25 my efforts produced a response:
I note that the Times' standard of accuracy for a "news report" prescribes the correction of factual errors promptly and prominently.
Is there a separate standard of accuracy for stories from columnists and editorialists employed by the paper?
If there is such a standard then I'd be very curious to know what it is.
Mr. White,The standard of accuracy applies to the entire paper (supposedly)! Under the assumption that good Mr. Nickens was unaware of the issue that prompted my query, I sent yet another message:
Your question about the Times' standards of accuracy and their application has been forwarded to me. Those standards do indeed apply to the entire paper. With respect to editorials and opinion columns, readers often have differences with the opinions expressed in those pieces. As I'm sure you understand, those are differences of opinions and not questions of fact.
Editor of Editorials
Dear Mr. NickensAnd there we stand.
Thank you very much for the reply.
Of course I am aware of the distinction between opinion and fact. But obviously even opinion columns contain statements intended to (be) taken as fact, or else PolitiFact would not bother rating the truyth (sic) of statements from the Rush Limbaugh Show (for example).
Similarly, when an editorial column claims that person X compared A to B, it is reasonably taken as a statement of fact and as such amenable to verification or falsification. Otherwise, there would be no point in holding opinion columns to any sort of truth standard. All of it could be claimed as opinion.
I've pointed out a fairly unambiguous instance of error to the corrections department. I am dissatisfied with the silence to which I have been treated in response.
Thanks again for answering my query.
The Times never attempted to defend Blumner's misstatement of fact and never corrected it.
It is as though the Times may declare any statement in an editorial--even those unambiguously presented as objective fact--to fall within the realm of opinion and therefore immune to the charge of falsehood.