Questions Arising Over Quotations Of Zinsmeister
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
A magazine editor named to a top White House policy post, Karl Zinsmeister, altered his own quotes and other text in a published newspaper profile of him posted on the Web site of the magazine he has edited for more than a decade, the American Enterprise.
In response to queries from The New York Sun yesterday, the White House said all of the changes were to correct errors in the August 2004 article, which was written by Justin Park and published in a weekly newspaper, the Syracuse New Times.
“These were corrections that were made due to misattributions or misunderstandings by the reporter that were cleaned up when they were reposted,” a White House spokeswoman, Jeanie Mamo, said.
Mr. Park and his editor, Molly English, rejected that explanation. “If there’s an inaccuracy, he should have called me or he should have called Justin,” Ms. English said. She said it was unethical for Mr. Zinsmeister to post an altered version of the story without permission. “It’s reprehensible, frankly,” Ms. English said. “Once this is published, it’s not his property. From that point in time, he can’t just pick and choose.”
The version of the story posted by the American Enterprise runs under Mr. Park’s byline and states that it was published in the Syracuse New Times.
Mr. Zinsmeister did not respond to a phone message and an e-mail seeking comment for this article.
The New Times reporter, Mr. Park, said last night that he was “fairly certain” that he taped the interview with Mr. Zinsmeister, which the journalist said took place at a noisy restaurant. Mr. Park also said he was taken aback by the White House claim of inaccuracies, since Mr. Zinsmeister sent an effusive e-mail soon after the article appeared. “I just read your story on line, and wanted to thank you for an extremely fair and thoughtful treatment,” Mr. Zinsmeister wrote in an August 18, 2004, message provided to the Sun by Mr. Park.
Mr. Zinsmeister, an avowed conservative and staunch proponent of the war in Iraq, also expressed surprise at Mr. Park’s approach, since the New Times is a left-leaning publication. “I really appreciate your professionalism and kindness. You wrote it straight up, which is the best and hardest kind of journalism. Let me know when I can next help out your journalism,” the editor wrote.
“I’m sure he would have said something if he felt misquoted at the time,” Mr. Park said yesterday.
President Bush announced Wednesday that he was appointing Mr. Zinsmeister as the White House’s new domestic policy adviser. Mr. Bush called the editor “an innovative thinker and an accomplished executive” and predicted he would bring “a fresh perspective” to the West Wing.
The Sun yesterday republished a quote from the original New Times story, in which Mr. Zinsmeister, who lives and works in upstate Cazenovia, expressed his antipathy for the nation’s capital and its denizens. “People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings,” the Syracuse weekly quoted him as saying.
However, in the version posted on the American Enterprise site, his quote reads differently and sweeps less broadly. “I learned in Washington that there is an ‘overclass’ in this country stocked with cheating, shifty human beings that’s just as morally repugnant as our ‘underclass,'” the revised article said.
In addition, what Mr. Park described as Mr. Zinsmeister’s “strong distaste for the Washington elite,” became, in the later version, simply, “a distaste for the Washington elite.”
Mr. Zinsmeister, who has written three books based on his reporting trips to Iraq, also removed or reworded quotes that could be viewed as critical of the Bush administration or inflammatory to some in the Middle East.
The original article quoted Mr. Zinsmeister as saying, “[Bush] said, ‘I’m gonna do something for history.’ To say nothing of whether it was executed well or not, but it’s brave and admirable. It got depressing to have to be [in the Middle East] every couple years like cicadas.”
The version posted by the American Enterprise omits the suggestion that the war was poorly run, drops the insect metaphor, and substitutes nobler language. “[Bush] said, ‘I’m gonna do something for history.’ It’s a brave and admirable attempt to improve the world,” the second version said.
Mr. Park also quoted the magazine editor as saying, “I can’t think of one Iraqi I met that I’m confident never lied to me.” Mr. Zinsmeister’s version said he passed on the comment from “one officer who’d been in Iraq for a full year.”
One of the changes Mr. Zinsmeister made corrected a factual error about D-Day casualties.
An online Web archive consulted by the Sun indicates the changes to Mr. Park’s story were made soon after it appeared in 2004. Friends and associates of Mr. Zinsmeister said his discussions about the White House job began in the last several weeks. The editor’s colleagues said they are certain he had given no thought to joining the administration before being approached about the post. The American Enterprise is published by a conservative Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
Ms. English, who acknowledged that she is no fan of the Bush administration, said of Mr. Zinsmeister’s action, “I don’t know why he did it. I’m guessing he was thinking about his future.”