‘NYT’ Editors’ Note Reveals Every Reporter’s Nightmare

By: Joe Strupp

It’s a mistake any reporter calling someone they don’t know for the first time fears — tracking down the phone number that matches the name, but finding out it’s the wrong person.

That happened to Adam Nagourney of The New York Times, who went looking Saturday for New Hampshire Secretary of State William M. Gardner. Nagourney wanted Gardner’s comments for a story about the Democratic Party revising its primary calendar for the 2008 presidential elections.

One element of the story reported that the party was contemplating an earlier caucus in Nevada and an earlier primary in South Carolina. Obviously, these would have an impact on New Hampshire, which has long hosted the first primary in the nation.

According to an editor’s note published Wednesday in the Times, Nagourney reached a William M. Gardner in New Hampshire, believing it was the secretary of state and that he was in Manchester. When the William M. Gardner who answered the phone declined to comment, Nagourney wrote that in his story, even quoting him as saying, “Do not call me here.”

But as the editor’s note explained, that was not the correct William M. Gardner. The note, which did not name Nagourney as the reporter, said that the real secretary of state phoned the reporter on Monday to inform him that he had called the wrong person and had the wrong phone number.

“The reporter assumed he had reached the correct Bill Gardner, who lives in Manchester, but had actually called a Bill Gardner who lives in Rochester,” the editor’s note stated. It later added that “the reporter had identified himself to the person who did answer the phone, had asked ‘is this Mr. Gardner?’ and had been told ‘Yes, this is Bill.’ Later the reporter left a message at the same number, explaining why he was calling, but received no response by deadline.”

Nagourney welcomed the corrective effort, saying the most important thing was to set the record straight. He told E&P, however, that he had no doubts at the time that the man he called was the right person. “It never occurred to me it wasn’t him,” the reporter said. “It sounded like him and I called him back.”

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