The New York Times has quietly (and extensively) revised a history of Senator Bernie Sanders’ legislative accomplishments, initially published on Monday morning under the glowing headline, “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years via Legislative Side Door,” which eventually became the far more reserved “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories” and, in print, the even more ambivalent “Sanders’s Roster of Modest Wins.”
Written by congressional reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, the article reflects on the Senator’s strategy for legislative accomplishments over the past 25 years — often passing new measures by attaching them to larger bills.
By Monday afternoon — once many people, including Sanders himself, had already shared the article widely on social media and other sites — the Times evidently rewrote rather significant portions of the article. (No mention has been made anywhere that the article was retroactively altered.) Several new paragraphs were injected, while other wording was subtly changed to shift the praiseful tone of the article to one of shrugging ambivalence toward Sanders’s accomplishments.
“The good part about digital publishing is that we get more things to our readers more quickly but it also means that complete editing sometimes comes ends at the end of the day,” Steinhauer explained to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi. “Two or more versions are now pretty common with all our work, as you probably know.”
But, as Taibbi points out, the revisions the Times made substantially change the meaning of the piece. (Haha, also: “I took notice of the piece by Jessica Steinhauer because I wrote essentially the same article nearly 11 years ago. Mine, called ‘Four Amendments and a Funeral,’ was a Rolling Stone feature.”)
Some of the changes are subtle, but significant, like the shift in this turn of phrase, early in the piece:
Others are much more substantial, like the addition of a line about Sanders enacting his agenda “piece by piece, in politically digestible chunks with few sweeping legislative achievements in a quarter-century in Congress” and the excision of a laudatory quote (“It has been a very successful strategy”) from Sanders policy advisor Warren Gunnels. Now, that quote has been replaced with two completely incoherent sentences:
But in his presidential campaign Mr. Sanders is trying to scale up those kinds of proposals as a national agenda, and there is little to draw from his small-ball legislative approach to suggest that he could succeed.
Mr. Sanders is suddenly promising not just a few stars here and there, but the moon and a good part of the sun, from free college tuition paid for with giant tax hikes to a huge increase in government health care, which has made even liberal Democrats skeptical.
What does that mean? And why is it so terribly written? It is not clear. Indeed, many of the cuts would seem to deprive the reader of (helpful, if not necessary) context:
And then, towards the end of the piece:
Hmm. So the Times has rendered what was an illuminating and informative, if somewhat begrudging, story about Bernie Sanders into an aggravatingly confusing story about a senator who (maybe intentionally??) torpedoed Democratic legislation, just like—hint hint, nudge nudge—the Tea Party. Why in the world would the paper of record do something like that?