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Half a cheer for the Stamford Advocate correcting its false statement that the court “agrees” Murtha

Last Wednesday, I lamented that in a Tuesday article, the Stamford Advocate falsely stated that the federal judge presiding over the discrimination lawsuit which named chief-of-police nominee Chris Murtha as a defendant “agreed” with mayor’s office that he had committed no wrongdoing.

On Thursday, the Advocate corrected that statement, writing that “A federal judge in Maryland last week dismissed Murtha from the civil suit for lack of evidence, but told the plaintiffs he would reconsider if they should obtain more information.

I would give the Advocate two cheers, but I’m still docking them because, first, they were not transparent with this correction, which should have been prominently displayed somewhere in print (the "correction' was implied, as the quoted comment above contradicts the statement made in the Tuesday article),* and second, they are still misstating what the district court ruled (although this misstatement is less material than the prior one).

Murtha was not dismissed for “lack of evidence”; he was dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. In fact, the whole point of a 12(b)(6) motion is to avoid even getting into evidentiary issues. In other words, it is not as though claims against Murtha were made, investigated, and found to be unsubstantiated; rather, the claims that were made do not reach the legal threshold that would even allow a court to find that he discriminated. Therefore, the court dismissed the claims against him, and accordingly, there isn’t a need to investigate evidence of the alleged claims, because it wouldn’t matter what, if anything, a factfinder determined.

Again, this is an honest mistake for a non-lawyer reporter to make (even I may be imprecise with my explanation above), but it’s embarrassing that no one at the Advocate with a legal background is reviewing lay writing about technical legal issues. In many respects, false information from the Advocate is much more harmful than from an organization like CNN or Fox News, because at least with the major news networks, the networks scrutinize the reporting of each other. When the Advocate misstated facts on Tuesday, unless you read this blog, or reviewed yourself the judge's opinion dismissing Murtha from the lawsuit, you would have no way of knowing the Advocate got it wrong.


*I think best practices would have called for a “corrections” section somewhere in the paper, noting the error and explaining why it was erroneous. Although now that I’m prompted to think about it, I can’t remember the last time I saw a “corrections” section in the Advocate.