This should have been caught. The Washington Post recently updated a 2019 story about now-Vice President Kamala Harris and her sister that included an anecdote about Harris laughingly comparing life on the campaign trail to being a prison inmate begging for water. In order to recycle it as part of an inauguration package, that embarrassing detail was eliminated and new information was added.
But the Post didn’t change the URL. As a result, a moment that Harris probably wished would be forgotten was, well, forgotten, as it disappeared down the black hole of the internet.
Eric Boehm of Reason magazine, a libertarian publication, found it, though, and the Post had to backtrack, restoring the original version and republishing the new version with a different URL. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith took note, tweeting, “This is pretty weird.”
Although I don’t think it was a good editorial decision to delete Harris’ tasteless remark in the updated version, that was the Post’s prerogative. But it shouldn’t have required an inquiry from Reason to restore the original. I can understand why it happened — someone wasn’t paying attention to the technical details. But for all the Post’s vaunted technology, you’d think it wouldn’t be that easy to publish a new story using the old URL.
Boehm writes that the “disappearance suggests something about the Post, and about the way traditional political media are preparing to cover Harris now that she’s one heartbeat away from the presidency.” Well, maybe. I hope not. As I said, this sounds like a screw-up rooted more in technology than editing.
There’s also some cosmic connection between the Post’s error of judgment and The Boston Globe’s unveiling its right-to-be-forgotten initiative. Although I think the Globe is doing the right thing, what happened at the Post is a reminder that you have to be careful about rewriting the past.