Earlier this month The New York Times reported that it has 7.5 million subscribers.
Yet one can’t help but wonder how many of those 7.5 million subscribers noticed how the Times subtly shifted the narrative in the most important news story of the year.
Two days after the tragic riot at the U.S. Capitol, the Times, among other news outlets, reported that Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from being bashed in the head.
“At some point in the chaos — with the mob rampaging through the halls of Congress while lawmakers were forced to hide under their desks — he was struck with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials,” the Times reported in its initial story.
Sicknick’s death prompted a strange new respect from those on the left who had just spent months, if not years, labeling cops as tools of oppression for a systemically racist nation and demanding that police agencies be defunded or disbanded.
The reason was easily understood. It gave Democrats a chance to argue that former President Donald Trump had promoted chaos over law and order and in doing so had caused the death of a member of one of his key constituencies.
But then a problem emerged.
As the one-month anniversary of the riot approached and still no one was arrested for Sicknick’s death, even as federal authorities used a vast trove of social media posts and video clips to round up others involved in the riot.
On Feb 2, CNN touched on this in a story explaining why the cops could not make a case against someone for killing one of their own. Buried eight paragraphs down was this nugget: “According to one law enforcement official, medical examiners did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma, so investigators believe that early reports that he was fatally struck by a fire extinguisher are not true.”
Others began to pick at this, such as Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and a relatively unknown group called Revolver News.
On Feb. 12, long after others had already refuted the initial account of Sicknick’s demise, and just one day before the Senate decided trump’s impeachment trial, the Times changed its story.
The critical passage now reads: “Law enforcement officials initially said Mr. Sicknick was struck with a fire extinguisher, but weeks later, police sources and investigators were at odds over whether he was hit. Medical experts have said he did not die of blunt force trauma, according to one law enforcement official.”
The Times also appended a note to the top of its story: “New information has emerged regarding the death of the Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick that questions the initial cause of his death provided by officials close to the Capitol Police.”
The problem is that the correction never gets the same attention as the original story. In other words, when America’s “newspaper of record” reports “all the news that’s fit to print,” it sticks.
One example: On Feb. 12, even as the Times was finally correcting the misleading record it had helped create, The Hill reported in a story on two police officers who committed suicide after the riot, “Officer Brian Sicknick died a day later after being hit in the head during the riot with a fire extinguisher.”
The issue is that for those 7.5 million readers and countless others, the Times shaped history, and fueled calls for Trump’s subsequent impeachment and demands for his conviction, even though the facts of a critical piece of the case were wrong.
But better late than never is a poor substitute for the old United Press slogan: “Get it first, but first, get it right.”