On Sunday, Salon.com’s editor-in-chief, Kerry Lauerman, did something that’s far too rare in the media: He acknowledged his publication had made a mistake in judgment and he took steps to correct the damage. The piece in question was “Deadly Immunity,” an error-laced story by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that initially appeared in both Salon and Rolling Stone. It was filled with outright errors, embarrassing misquotes, and clumsy mischaracterizations. From Lauerman’s statement:
In the days after running “Deadly Immunity,” we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy’s exposé. At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book The Panic Virus, further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.
(The Salon retraction accompanied a Q&A the magazine ran with me about my book, which contains a chapter about the RFK piece titled “A Conspiracy of Dunces.” I want to make clear that many other writers had pointed out the flaws I highlighted in my chapter.)
Salon’s actions contrast sharply with those of Rolling Stone. Initially, the magazine doubled down, putting a statement on its website that read, in part:
It is important to note, however, that none of the [more than 500 words worth of] mistakes weaken the primary point of the story. … “Science,” as one doctor in our story insisted, “is best left to scientists.” But when the scientists fail to do their job, resorting to closed-door meetings and rigged studies, others in society have not only a right but a moral obligation to question their work.
This combative statement, along with the article itself, remained on Rolling Stone’s website until early last year when…they simply disappeared. Now when you go the URL that used to lead to the article (or the one for the statement supporting their piece) you get this:
That doesn’t mean curious readers can’t find the original article’s text: Kennedy still features the piece on his own website…although he doesn’t include the corrections that both Salon and Rolling Stone were forced to run. (I’ve included them here for posterity’s sake.)
But what’s perhaps most incredible is that the piece remains posted on the website of someone not even tangentially involved with the initial story: Jay Gordon, the popular Southern California pediatrician/Andrew Wakefield supporter:
(For more on this story, and more on my initial reaction to the Salon move, see this post Ivan Oransky’s always enlightening Retraction Watch.)