The Memory Hole

Stephen Moore at National Review Online seems not to understand the way the Web works. When he’s caught in an absurd error or nailed on a misleading statement, he just alters his web columns without acknowledgement. A month ago, he was promoting “brilliant supply-side academics” like “Brian Wesbury of Chicago” as alternatives to Greg Mankiw on the Council of Economic Advisors. When I pointed out that Wesbury was not, as Moore implied, an economist at the University of Chicago, but a spokesman for a bank there, Moore edited the post to delete the word “academic”.

Now, Kevin Drum at Calpundit has caught Moore out making the basic error of adding percentages instead of multiplying them. And what do you know. Kevin reports that NRO has stealthily fixed Stephen Moore’s column. Unfortunately the fix makes nonsense of his article, which promises to show a tax rate of 70 or 80 per cent, when the corrected calculation only makes 60.

If he’s quick enough, Moore can get away with this kind of thing before the Wayback Machine or Google archives catch him. But the blogs recording his trickery won’t disappear. And next time I cite him, I’ll be sure to take a copy of the page before he changes it.

Update Brad de Long joins in the fun, pointing out yet more examples of flagrant dishonesty from Moore and the National Review team.

8 thoughts on “The Memory Hole

  1. I seem to remember someone posting in the Corner (on NRO) that the percentage mistake had been fixed. I don’t know if it was pre- or post-calpundit, but if that posting happened before he mentioned it, that would seem to make the “stealth” claims sound a little overblown.

  2. Conversely, if the correction was post-Calpundit, and it was, the Corner post makes NRO look even worse. Stealthily fixing Moore’s article was bad enough, but then they lied (or at least prevaricated) about it afterwards.

    You can check the history of the earlier surreptitious correction, from a neutral source, here

  3. This is interesting…

    When a person writes a article for a magazine, a blog, or whatever they do two things:

    1. Provide useful, amusing, or interesting information to readers; and

    2. Signal or express something about themselves.

    If you assumed that readers were primarily interested in the information you were passing on (rather than being interested in you) you’d want to correct any mistakes to your posts so as not to mislead readers. If you wrote in print you’d want to make a big deal about it but if you wrote on the web you might just fix up the original copy.

    But if you assumed that readers were mostly interested in you and how clever, stupid, well or ill informed you were then you wouldn’t want to draw attention to your mistakes. Print writers might try to avoid corrections while web writers might correct ‘stealthily’.

    So the accusation of ‘stealthy’ corrections is also an accusation of narcissism. And the defense you might expect to this accusation would be something like “Aw shucks… nobody cares about little old me! They just come for the ideas.”

    Plagiarists sometimes accuse their victims of vanity – an indecent lust for attention and praise. It’s a poor defense. However those who are exacting about corrections and attributions are sometimes accused of being self-obsessed since such behavior implies that readers are interested in them.

    Blogging can get a bit Big Brotherish at times. Is it all about personality?

  4. Don, I think the intersection of these concerns is ‘honesty’. If you come to get information, it’s important that the source be honest. In both the instances I cite, Moore was accused of being dishonest (in the case of the math error, it’s relevant that it came out in favor of the case he was making) and responded by altering his article, without acknowledgement, in a way that protected him from the specific criticism but didn’t respond to the substantive concerns.

    A second point about this relates to the Web as a forum for debate. This is undermined if the records are revised ex post. It’s very much as if politicians were able to revise Hansard to remove evidence of erroneous statements that had been pointed out by the other side.

  5. I think Stephen Moore’s earlier ranting in NR (the one about comparing soccer to socialism) came across as unintentionally funny – this often happens when someone with an extreme black-and-white viewpoint vents their spleen.

  6. John

    About honesty and the internet as a forum for debate. When The New Republic discovered that writer Stephen Glass had been fabricating stories they took them down from their web site.

    Should they have left them up?

  7. The New Republic removed the articles and posted an explanation and retraction in their place. Given the difficulty of determining what, if anything, in the articles was factual, this was the appropriate course of action.

    An inappropriate course of action, analogous to Moore and NRO, would have been to remove the articles and give a 404 error or other unexplained form of redirection, in an effort to pretend that Glass and his fabrications never existed.

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