03 Jul 2005 Poor, Uneducated and Easy to Command
On February 1, 1993, The Washington Post got into a heap of PR trouble after reporter Michael Weisskopf wrote in a news story that followers of the Christian Right are “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command.”
On Sunday, Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley revisits that infamous quotation, but gets it wrong. Kinsley first confuses “followers of the Christian Right” with “evangelical Christians” (they are not interchangable) and then gives the quote (twice, and in quotation marks, no less) as “poor, undereducated and easily led.”
Kinsley’s article appears in the Sunday Washington Post, whose editors apparently ran his column without noticing he had the quote wrong.
For Kinsley, no excuse. Journalism 101 says quotations should be checked for accuracy before they are used. In this case, it would have been super-easy, too: nearly a thousand Google citations have it right.
But more important questions: Do Post editors not edit? Or did the grassroots firestorm that followed the original “poor, uneducated, and easy to command” slur leave such a slight impression on them that they read Kinsley’s piece without noticing the misquotation of a phrase that — I’m guessing here — perhaps a hundred thousand conservative Christians have permanently memorized?
And — even more important — if the Post can’t get the easy stuff right, how can we trust it on the big stuff?
Addendum, July 9: Early in the morning of July 6 I sent the following e-mail to the Washington Post corrections page:
On Sunday, the Post ran an op-ed by Michael Kinsley stating that the Washington Post “got in trouble a million years ago for an article that described evangelical Christians as ‘poor, undereducated and easily led.'”
In fact, the original article (1993, by Michael Weisskopf) referred to followers of the Religious Right, not to evangelical Christians (evangelical Christians can be of any political persuasion), and the correct quotation was “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command.”
The url for the Kinsley piece is:
As of July 9, no correction has been posted, but the Post has had time to run corrections such as this:
A July 2 Real Estate article said that Michael Halpern had previously helped a friend renovate a house. At the time, that person was Halpern’s boyfriend.
(What — a boyfriend isn’t a friend?)
Michael Kinsley quotes aside, corrections pages can be some of the funniest pages in a newspaper. The blog Regret The Error, which collects noteworthy corrections from newspapers and magazines across the country, is one I often visit for a laugh.