How the LA Times botched its "whore" story

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

The Times recently made headlines by reporting that a private conversation between Democrat Jerry Brown and his aide inadvertently captured on voicemail revealed someone on the voicemail calling Brown's Republican opponent for California governor, Meg Whitman, a "whore."

The Brown campaign confirmed the authenticity of the tape and issued an apology to Whitman.

But the strange part was how the Times altered its reporting, at first claiming a Brown aide had used the whore slur, then changing the story and suggesting, inaccurately, that Brown himself might have been caught on tape using the derogatory phrase.

The Times' original online headline, posted Thursday night:

An associate of Jerry Brown calls Meg Whitman a "whore" over pension reform (ADUIO)

In the next day's newspaper though, the headline was changed:

Brown or aide is heard slurring Whitman

Why the change? Why did the Times suddenly suggest that the Democratic candidate for governor may have called his opponent a "whore"? (An opening that allowed right-wing bloggers to try to pin the blame squarely on Brown.)

Here was the Times' explanation [emphasis added]:

Two audio recordings of the conversation were released to The Times on Thursday by the police union. On the initial recording, the voice making the "whore" reference appears to be that of someone other than Brown. A union official later produced what he described as an enhanced version of the recording. In that recording, it is unclear whether the "whore" remark was made by another person or by Brown himself.

That seemed to suggest the Times listened to both recordings, although that was not entirely clear from its reporting. More importantly, the Times only posted one audio version online, and I defy anyone to listen to the posted clip and come away thinking that the voice that says "whore" belongs to Brown. It's so clearly not him saying that on the tape. As the New York Times notes today, it's not even clear whether Brown heard the comment, let alone said it.

In the end, the LA Times should have stuck with its original report that it was an aide who used the sexist term. Because that was the truth.

Network/Outlet
Los Angeles Times
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