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March 15, 2004

Stupid White Publishers

Michael Moore's bestselling Stupid White Men is back in the news, e.g. a story in today's New York Times about a new book, How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office. HarperCollins, Moore's "estranged" publisher (he's since switched), is rattling chains over possible confusion between the two books (the latter title is published by Soft Skull Press).

I'm a Michael Moore fan and have followed his work for some time, so I stopped when I read in the story about how Stupid White Men was "originally scheduled to be released on Sept. 11, 2001."

When I interviewed Moore two years ago (for a US News & World Report story), he told me the book had been scheduled for publication within weeks following 9/11. In the intro to his followup book, Dude, Where's My Country?, he mentions that 50,000 copies of the book had been printed up by September 10. I also recall (although it seems unlikely) Moore himself, in public talks, citing the book's original release date as September 12.

But not September 11. If it had been scheduled for release September 11, after all, it would've been released.

I'm not sure how this "howler" could have gotten by the reporter and desk editors at The Times. I'm not even sure where the date of September 11 could have originally been associated with the book's release (there's one high-up citation from the Village Voice on Google). A Web search, the simplest of fact-checks, shows a few mentions of September 12 as the book's original release date. But other release dates are cited as well, and most coincide with my original reporting to the effect that the release was timed soon after September 11.

I'd concede this as a minor point except for the fact that it shows really sloppy research and even sloppier thinking. As a young reporter I made mistakes like this and can still recall one of my kindly city editors coming over, grease-marked copy in hand, with a simple question, akin to "Hey, are you sure the release date was September 11?" And then I'd think about it, and a light would go on, and I'd do a little more research, and get it right -- and later realize that the editor had known better all along, from experience and simple logic. The fact that this sailed through the editorial chain at The New York Times makes me think the paper needs to analyze how it handles fact-checking.

March 15, 2004 in Web/Tech | Permalink

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