On Making Mistakes

It gets more pathetic by the hour, but let’s talk about the one-day story.

A friend of mine who’s writing a journalism book was talking with me about blogging and feedback, about the amount of response you get and the crit and whatnot, and what the difference was between that and “real journalism.” And of course my point, as always, ad infinitum, was that it’s pretty much the same response you give when you get 15 phone calls about something.

You fuck up, you make a mistake, you get something wrong, you admit it, apologize, fix it and move on. It’s a one-day story. You look stupid for a while, a year later the thought of that mistake still makes you want to crawl in a hole and die, still makes you question whether you have any skill at all, whether you should just give it up and go work in a toll booth if the toll-takers will have your pathetic self, but as far as the public and your phone callers and feedbackers are concerned, it’s over. It sucks, but it’s over.

You do what Klein’s doing, what Deborah Howell does, what Gwen Ifill does, and deny, and obfuscate, and whine about “bloggers” and how mean they are, and how they say fuck, and you drag this out for weeks and weeks and weeks and it never ends. And to your critics you’re no longer just a dude who made a mistake, you’re a coward and a liar. All because you couldn’t see what third graders are taught every day: That we all make mistakes and it doesn’t make you smaller to admit that and say you’re sorry.

Now, granted, Klein’s mistake was one on which he premised his entire story. Oooh, been there. Winced in sympathy, actually, because do I ever know what THAT feels like. Years later the thought still makes me nauseous. But you don’t gain anything and you only prolong the agony by doing what he’s doing, and what he actually did was worse than that: He admitted it was laziness, not honest mistaken information or getting his stupid rented fingers mixed up on the keyboard or being late or drunk or lied to or whatever, but actually admitted he just couldn’t be arsed to get it right and anyway, it fit in with the overall narrative that Democrats are stupid and Republicans say so, so fuck you. I’ll also grant I can imagine what that feels like; what I simply can’t fathom is having the big swinging ones tooffer it as a defense of your actions. And a huge part of this is that they simply didn’t expect there to be anyone out there to challenge it, the usual Republican line, because until the last 6 years or so, there really wasn’t.

I don’t for a minute think Klein’s going to face any actual consequences for this or any other mistake. He’s a star, and high-level journalism is all about starfucking these days, and on-staff columnists anywhere are notorious Bigfoots, even if they’re really nice about it. His editors are sitting around a table right now talking about how he’s a “phenomenon” on the Interwebs, and OMG isn’t it the coolest, that all the Internet peeps is talkin’ about little old us? They’ve been weaned on the concept that any talk about them on this newfangled wireless Web thingy is good, and we’re all just pretend people out here anyway, so who cares? Plus there’s the defensive thing going on, one of “theirs” being attacked, and no matter how much of a dick the guy is, you want to defend him so as not to tarnish everybody’s rep.

Would that he was so concerned. Maybe he wouldn’t have fucked up in the first place.



8 thoughts on “On Making Mistakes

  1. Right on! You make a mistake on the facts, you admit your error and then you are less likely to make a similar mistake in the future.
    You try to pretend the mistake didn’t exist and blame it on someone else and I’ll never trust you again.

  2. A.,
    Thank you.
    Brilliant analysis.
    A better commenter than I could adequately connect the dots from this post to Ezra Klien’s (no relation to Joe) post re: the enduring force of false beliefs, even when proved to be false.

  3. >Ezra Klien’s
    My mind instructed my fingers to type “Ezra Klein’s”; I swear it did.
    My apologies.
    Typos on the ‘net: The bruise that never goes away.

  4. >typos mean nothing on the internets.
    I thought it was spelled “teh internets”.
    My bad.

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