Jonathan Saltzman reports in today’s Boston Globe that the story about the kid who ended up on a government watch list for going to the library and asking for a copy of “The Communist Manifesto” — er, make that Mao’s “Little Red Book” — was a hoax.
Earlier this week, the story made its way into a Globe op-ed submitted by Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office. (I’m not letting the senator himself off the hook — after all, he let it go out with his name on it. I’m simply acknowledging the fact that he had only slightly more to do with that piece than you or I did.) Saltzman writes:
Laura Capps, a Kennedy spokeswoman, said last night that the senator cited “public reports” in his opinion piece. Even if the assertion was a hoax, she said, it did not detract from Kennedy’s broader point that the Bush administration has gone too far in engaging in surveillance.
Accurate but not true, in other words — a fine standard for the Globe op-ed page.
Needless to say, when a newspaper chooses to publish an op-ed piece by an outside contributor, its editors have an obligation to edit and fact-check that piece just as rigorously as they would if it were written by a staff writer — maybe more so.
I don’t think the Globe did anything particularly wrong in publishing Kennedy’s op-ed as it was written. After all, the “Little Red Book” story had been broken the previous Saturday by a well-regarded newspaper, the New Bedford Standard-Times.
But by Thursday, when Kennedy’s piece appeared in the Globe, the story was already the subject of widespread speculation that it was a hoax, an urban legend or both. Ideally, someone at the Globe should have flagged it before publication.