As of last night, this version of the story which Boston.com has, had been stricken from Nexis, and the first instance of the "booing" report was in the longer Hays piece from 2:12 p.m. Perhaps Hays simply appropriated the reporting from the earlier item. We have no way of knowing unless the AP comes out and tells us.
This morning, the AP is moving to further cover its tracks. The Hays story from Nexis which I posted last night has been removed from Lexis-Nexis altogether. Now, the first mention of President Bush's remarks about President Clinton's health comes in the form of this entry which has no byline and no time-stamp:
Copyright 2004 Associated Press
September 3, 2004 Friday
SECTION: NATIONAL POLITICAL NEWS
LENGTH: 185 words
HEADLINE: Bush Offers Best Wishes for Clinton
DATELINE: WEST ALLIS, Wis.
President Bush on Friday offered former President Bill Clinton, who faces heart bypass surgery, "best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery."
"He is in our thoughts and prayers," Bush said at a campaign rally in Wisconsin.
The crowd reacted with applause and with some "ooohs," apparently surprised by the news that Clinton was ill.
Later, aboard Air Force One, Bush called Clinton to express his concern for his heart problems, according to presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.
The president told Clinton that he and the first lady were praying for him and wished him a "speedy recovery," McClellan said.
Bush offered his wishes while campaigning one day after accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in New York. Clinton was hospitalized in New York after complaining of mild chest pain and shortness of breath.
Bush recently praised Clinton when the former president went to the White House for the unveiling of his official portrait. He lauded Clinton for his knowledge, compassion and "the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president."
First of all, good for the AP for fixing the faulty reporting and including what seems to be an accurate description of the Republican crowd's reaction to bad news about President Clinton's health.
But the AP's conduct with regards to the rest of this story is not reassuring. We have an un-bylined bit of faulty reporting which was incorporated into the bylined work of another reporter without accreditation. After being confronted by the blogosphere, the AP pulled versions of the bad reporting from the web and the first instance of it from Lexis-Nexis. After it was revealed here at Galley Slaves that the bad reporting lived on in other versions of the story in Nexis, the AP went into Nexis and disappeared it from there, too. Then, they inserted a cleaned-up version with no time-stamp whatsoever. By the time media reporters like Jim Romenesko and Howard Kurtz and Jack Shafer get back to the office on Tuesday, there will be no story, because the AP will have completely altered all of the evidence.
In fact, as it stands right now, the only evidence that the AP ever made this enormous error is on blogs, such as this one, which copied the offending stories--remember, Lexis-Nexis does not page-cache the way Google does.
The AP's conduct reminds me of the famous Soviet picture of the Bolshevik leaders sitting on the couch. It began with the entire high command, and over the years, as individuals fell out of favor and were disappeared, was airbrushed over and over until, in the end, it showed only Lenin and Stalin, who were mysteriously seated on opposite ends of an enormous sofa.
For its own good, the Associated Press should not be allowed to get away with this. It's a fine and valuable media institution. Mistakes get made all the time. There's nothing particularly damning about a reporting screw-up. But this cover-up casts real doubt on their organizational judgment and ethics.