Frank Ahrens and Howard Kurtz make a fairly big deal in the Washington Post (and on page A-2) on Saturday that "USA Today has acknowledged that it cannot prove key elements of a blockbuster May 11 story in which it reported that several telecommunications companies were handing over customer phone records to the National Security Agency."
"We take every error seriously," USA Today Editor Ken Paulson said in an interview. "This was obviously a big story. . . . All we can do is set the record straight."
Reporter Leslie Cauley revealed her unidentified sources to a top editor, Paulson said, and "the sources are credible," adding, "They have a track record with Leslie and she trusts them." But several members of the congressional intelligence committees later contradicted the sources on the question of whether Verizon and BellSouth had provided information to the NSA.
USA Today stood by much of its initial report, saying it had followed up with lawmakers and intelligence and telecom sources. Yesterday's article reported: "Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees confirm that the National Security Agency has compiled a massive database of phone call records."
In the next sentence, the paper wrote: "But some lawmakers also say that cooperation by the nation's telecommunication companies was not as extensive as first reported by USA Today on May 11."
Ahrens and Kurtz did not recall that Cauley may have been politically motivated to push the story before it was fully baked, considering she was a Dick Gephardt donor.