You may have heard that Wisconsin Supreme Court justice David Prosser allegedly put his hands around the neck of justice Ann Walsh Bradley in an argument in her office. Justice Bradley has accused Justice Prosser of doing this just before the vote that upheld the union busting bill.
It appears that after Justice Bradley made the accusation, Bill Leuders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism wrote a news story that said, “Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers earlier this month.” Which is true; it is alleged that Prosser did that.
Then, as more information on the story unfolded, the story was revised to include this new information, which alleges that Prosser was defending himself from a frenzied onslaught by Justice Bradley. The newer story replaced the older one. And it clearly says that the story has been changed from an earlier version.
This is an old practice going back to the days when wire services sent updates to newspapers via those old machines that were installed in every newsroom and which continuously spewed out typed copies of stories sent via telegraph. My mind is going blank over what we used to call them. But if there was a breaking story, over a period of time you’d get several versions of the same story, each one rewritten to include whatever new information or corrections came to light, with instructions that this version replaced the earlier version. Newspapers would print whichever version was most recent when the paper was “put to bed” and ready for printing.
New information was not just tacked on to the end of the story but incorporated into it, so that it was ready to be typeset into newspapers without revision. It was the practice in those days to write news stories with the essential information at the top, so that if the text ran too long to fit the column allocated to it, you could just lop off the last few paragraphs and not lose anything essential.
But Ann Althouse, apparently assuming that journalists go by blogger’s rules, smells a rat.
Yesterday morning, I first read the story written by Bill Lueders [note: link didn’t work at the time I wrote this, but I’ll put it in anyway — B.] â€” of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism â€” saying that “Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers earlier this month.”
I’m linking to the publication of the article in the Wisconsin State Journal, because it seems to be the original version of what Lueders wrote. The version that now appears at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has been â€” according to a note in red at the top, time-stamped 10:15 p.m. â€” “updated to reflect reports of a statement from Prosser denying the allegations.” But “updated” does not mean that there is an update at the bottom of the original text, adding new material or noting mistakes. The article has been rewritten, so the flaws that I am going to write about here can no longer be detected.
Well yes, Ann, that’s kind of standard practice when a story has changed substantially from an earlier version. And stories change because more information comes out over time. This is how news works. Often the first reports of an incident have errors or missing pieces, because if you sit around and wait for all the information to come out, you will have been scooped by the other newsies by several hours. So you run with whatever information you do have that seems solid, usually draped with a lot of “allegedlys,” and then send corrected stories as updates, with the stories rewritten so that new information is incorporated into the text.
One reason this is still done is that it’s assumed most readers don’t get past the first paragraph or two. So if you’re just adding new information or corrections to the end of the old story, a lot of people won’t see the corrections. Is that what you want?
So far, I haven’t seen any news report that says Justice Prosser really did try to strangle Justice Bradley, just that Justice Bradley alleged that he tried to strangle her. It is beyond dispute that Justice Bradley made the allegation. And when one state supreme court justice accuses another of assault, that’s pretty big news. That’s not a story any newsie would sit on waiting for all the counter-accusations to come to light.
Althouse is picking news stories apart trying to show that there was some dastardly plot afoot to make Justice Prosser look bad. But news is what it is. And you know that if a liberal justice were accused of assaulting a conservative one, she’d be screaming her head off for all the gory details to come out NOW NOW NOW.