Did the Washington Post and Keith Olbermann Fact-Check Laurie David?

The National Science Teachers Association has now officially responded to Laurie David's Washington Post op-ed (see Noel Sheppard's Newsbusters post on the op-ed here) essentially accusing the group of being captive to corporate interests when it declined a gift of 50,000 "An Inconvenient Truth" DVDs for distribution to classrooms. It doesn't say so, but presumably the NSTA is also responding to MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann's Monday evening accusation that the NSTA president, Linda Froschauer, is "available at the right price," a statement made by Olbermann in a commentary that appears to have been based on the Laurie David Washington Post op-ed. It would be interesting to know where the truth lies here. David's Washington Post op-ed blames the NSTA (and ExxonMobil) for the fact that their 50,000 DVDs have not been distributed to classrooms:

While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they're teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed.

But the NSTA tells a different story:

During conversations with Ms. David's representative we suggested making the DVD available via alternative means of distribution (e.g. by providing a mailing list of our members to producers, announcing its availability in our publications, etc.). It appears that these alternative distribution mechanisms were unsatisfactory.

If the NSTA's statement is correct, all Laurie David, Al Gore and the others involved in the promotion of "An Inconvenient Truth" had to do to get their DVD, and their opinions on global warming, into the hands of the NSTA's membership was accept the generous offer of the mailing list and mail their DVD to the list. Could it be that the entire issue came down to the question of which organization paid the postage and handling charges for getting Al Gore's movie to America's youth? Maybe not, but if the NSTA is telling the truth, I'm having a hard time seeing any other legitimate reason why the movie's producers turned down the opportunity to mail the DVD out themselves. (I'm hoping the only other reason that occurs to me -- that the entire episode has been a set-up to gather publicity for the movie and its producers' views -- is just me being too cynical.) Of course, Laurie David may have the right of it and the NSTA may be spinning a falsehood. Maybe the generous offer of the mailing list never happened, and the NSTA just made up the story yesterday. That would explain why the NSTA's version of events does not appear in either the Post or the MSNBC commentary. If the Washington Post assiduously fact-checked Laurie David's op-ed; if MSNBC and its personnel independently and competently confirmed the NSTA president's policy prostitution (a fair term for Olbermann's chracterization, I believe) before its broadcast, then NSTA may have some explaining to do. It all comes down to the fact-checking. To get to the truth, I faxed letters Wednesday evening to Charles Tillinghast, president of MSNBC (a similar letter was faxed to Izzy Povich, executive producer of Keith Olbermann's Show), and to Deborah Howell, ombudsman at the Washington Post. The letters follow. I'll share any responses I receive.

November 29, 2006 Mr. Charles Tillinghast President MSNBC 1 MSNBC Plaza Secaucus, NJ 07094 By facsimile: 201-583-5081 Dear Mr. Tillinghast: On a November 27, 2006 MSNBC Countdown broadcast, Keith Olbermann slammed Linda Froschauer, a middle school science teacher and president of the National Science Teachers Association, saying: "Linda Froschauer, president of the National Science Teachers Association, available at the right price..." Few would argue that such a statement is defamatory. An important question: Is it true? Mr. Olbermann's assertions appeared to be based on claims made in a November 24 Washington Post op-ed by Laurie David, who is party to a dispute with the NSTA. Ms. David's reporting is contaminated by a conflict of interest, and the NSTA has now publicly said her article contained key errors. If the NSTA is correct about the errors, Mr. Olbermann's statement was defamatory and false. Did MSNBC independently confirm the facts to make certain the defamatory claim is true before the claim was broadcast? If not, in light of the fact that the NSTA denies critical elements of Ms. David's and Mr. Olbermann's assertions, does MSNBC intend to investigate the facts now, and issue an apology to Ms. Froschauer and the NSTA if the facts warrant? Or, will it let a potentially false and defamatory statement stand? I would appreciate a response, and thank you in advance for your attention to my questions. Sincerely yours, Amy Ridenour President National Center for Public Policy Research

and

November 29, 2006 Ms. Deborah Howell Ombudsman The Washington Post 1150-15th Street Washington, DC 20071 By facsimile: 202-728-3222 Dear Ms. Howell: On a November 27, 2006 MSNBC "Countdown" broadcast, Keith Olbermann slammed Linda Froschauer, a middle school science teacher and president of the National Science Teachers Association, saying: "Linda Froschauer, president of the National Science Teachers Association, available at the right price..." Few would argue that such a statement is defamatory. An important question: Is it true? The Washington Post presumably knows, as Mr. Olbermann's assertions appear to be based on claims made in a November 24 Washington Post op-ed by Laurie David. The NSTA has now publicly said Ms. David's article contained key errors. I write to you today to inquire: * Does the Washington Post routinely fact-check op-eds by outside writers before publishing? * If so, did it do so in this instance? * As Laurie David had an inherent conflict of interest in writing an op-ed about her own dispute with the NSTA, did any fact-checking process of this particular op-ed include getting the NSTA's side of the story? * If the Washington Post does not fact-check op-eds before publishing, would management consider publishing a disclaimer to the effect that the Washington Post stands behind the factual content of its op-eds only to the extent of unavoidable (and not particularly extensive) legal liability? * If the Washington Post did not fact-check Ms. David's op-ed before publishing it, in light of the NSTA's assertions that the op-ed contains significant factual errors, will it do so now? Will the Post issue a correction if errors are found? * In light of the MSNBC broadcast which, if untrue, may have been so because MSNBC relied on the Post, if the Post issues any corrections, will it move to help correct the more general record by informing MSNBC of its decision to issue said corrections? I very much appreciated your comment in the January 1, 2006 Washington Post that the Post "must renew efforts to be fanatical about accuracy and fairness." Given the tremendous influence of the Washington Post's editorial page, if the Post is not now thoroughly fact-checking all op-eds, I strongly urge the paper to begin doing so at the earliest possible time. I would appreciate a response, and thank you in advance for your attention. Sincerely yours, Amy Ridenour President National Center for Public Policy Research

Note: I mistyped the date the Laurie David op-ed appeared in the Post in my letters reproduced above. The correct date is November 26.