Press Box

Where Did That Copy Go?

Archive questions for Time and the New Republic … plus the Washington Post boots a routine grounder.

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Truth rewrites history to the specs of the totalitarian state. To protect the new account, the ministry sends down the “memory hole” any document or photo that supports the purged history.

Memory Hole rescues from the Web’s trash heap and reposts various documents, news reports, publications, and even sound recordings that for one reason or another have been snipped from the Web. “The emphasis is on material that exposes things that we’re not supposed to know (or that we’re supposed to forget),” the site explains.

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In this spirit, the Memory Hole posted an essay by George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft titled “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam,” excerpted from their book A World Transformed and published in the March 2, 1998, edition of Time magazine. At the time of the Memory Hole posting, Sept. 21, 2002, the essay could still be found on Time’s Web site. When the essay disappeared from Time’s site sometime afterward, the Memory Hole noted its disappearance in a text box accompanying the essay. The essay doesn’t exist in Time’s Nexis archives, either.

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The suggestion is that Time might cleanse its archives for political reasons. But Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly says, “There’s nothing nefarious here.” He explains that book publishers often insist on limiting online use of an excerpt to the period the physical magazine is on the newsstand.

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“I don’t know when the Bush-Scowcroft excerpt came off [Time’s site], but the deal with that particular publisher is that it’s on for a week. If we took it off recently, it’s because we realized it should just be on for a week,” Kelly says. “When we do a book excerpt, we always try to get the publisher to agree to keep it on our archives forever, like we do the rest of the contents of the magazine, but publishers being publishers don’t like that.”

Says Memory Hole’s Editor and Publisher Russ Kick via e-mail, “Time’s reason sounds plausible, and that could be the case. But whatever the reason, the article was effectively withdrawn from public circulation. Oftentimes it is corporate reasons, such as copyright, that cause material to slide down the memory hole. No matter why it happens, though, it’s important to save certain things.”

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I discovered a different sort of memory holing a couple of weeks ago while rereading the NewRepublic journalism of Ruth Shalit. The Nexis text of her Oct. 2, 1995, New Republic article about the Washington Post differs in one important way from the print edition. In the magazine, Shalit writes:

When [Marion] Barry surrounded himself with old cronies like Roy Littlejohn, who had served time for his corruption in a previous Barry administration, the Post didn’t report that, either. [Emphasis added.]

[Correction, June 4, 2003: The print version also included Ivanhoe Donaldson with Littlejohn as having served time for corruption.]

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In the Nexis version, the text reads:

When [Marion] Barry surrounded himself with old cronies like Ivanhoe Donaldson, who had served time for his corruption in a previous Barry administration, the Post didn’t report that, either. [Emphasis added.]

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Who changed the text, and why?

Two weeks after the Shalit story appeared, the New Republic published a correction and apology, noting that “Mr. Littlejohn was neither indicted nor imprisoned.” Littlejohn, who had never been indicted for anything nor served time for “corruption,” sued the magazine for libel. (Shalit probably meant to write “Donaldson,” a Barry crony who did go to jail.)

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New Republic Associate Editor Jason Zengerle, who wasn’t at the magazine when the story was published in 1995, was delegated to look into the matter following Press Box’s inquiry. The magazine’s attorneys told him that in the summer of 1996, during a break between pretrial depositions, Littlejohn’s attorneys complained of a lack of good faith on the magazine’s part for not correcting the error on Nexis. The objection was noted by the NewRepublic, and somebody—nobody associated with the magazine can recall exactly who—submitted the change to Nexis.

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Zengerle says the magazine erred in swapping names on the Nexis version of Shalit’s story without noting that a correction had been made. Properly amended Nexis copy should be up on Monday, Zengerle says.

In today’s Washington Post “Sports” section, reporter Amy Shipley investigates drooping attendance at the new-fangled major league ballparks—Camden Yards, Coors Field, Comerica Park, Miller Park, Jacobs Field, PNC Park—as well as older venues. Shipley considers a number of explanations why Major League Baseball isn’t drawing fans the way it once did: Fans don’t want to watch losing teams; the new ballpark fad has expired; baseball attendance is cyclical; the economy; the war. Shipley writes:

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Baseball’s attendance has fallen overall this spring on the heels of a 6.1 percent decrease last year and .3 percent drop in 2001. The plummets in the glitzy new parks are simply more perplexing than the overall figures, which baseball people attribute to everything from last year’s labor battle to the troubled economy to the war with Iraq, not to mention miserable early-season weather in the Northeast and Midwest.

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The only factor Shipley doesn’t consider is that MLB might be pricing fans out of the park. Team Marketing Report, which charts the year-by-year rising cost of attending baseball games, calculated the average cost of a ticket in 1992, when Baltimore’s Camden Yards opened, at $9.41. Today it’s $18.69. (The TMR numbers aren’t adjusted for the mild inflation of the last decade.) Could the simple explanation be that the steady runup of ticket prices has detered many fans?

TMR also calculates a Fan Cost Index for a family of four’s trip to the park (two adult average-price tickets; two child average-price tickets; four small soft drinks; two small beers; four hot dogs; two programs; parking; and two adult-size caps). In 1992, the average ballpark’s FCI was $86.72. Today it’s $148.66.

Another factor in falling attendance might be the excessively loud and annoying music between innings. But that’s another column. (Shipley did not respond to e-mail for a comment on this story. If she does, I’ll amend this page.)

[Correction, June 4, 2003: Jack Shafer wrote that the print version of the story described only Roy Littlejohn as a Marion Barry crony who served time for corruption. The print version listed both Littlejohn and Ivanhoe Donaldson.]

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