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The Rocky Mountain News's Obama-Kenya Mea Culpa

Rocky Mountain News editor/publisher/president John Temple.
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Rocky Mountain News editor/publisher/president John Temple's August 16 column "8-word Gaffe Ripples Across the Web" is an apologia for a big botch reported about in this More Messages blog -- an erroneous Rocky web piece that claimed Barack Obama holds joint citizenship with the United States and Kenya. But while Temple deserves credit for fessing up, the timeline of events he offers is marked by significant gaps.

According to Temple's account, an anti-Obama blogger contacted the Rocky about the August 6 roundup "Things You Might Not Know About Barack Obama" on August 8. Apparently, the subsequent e-mail exchange called the Obama-Kenya assertion into question -- and someone at the paper reached out to the Obama campaign for confirmation or denial. However, Temple writes, this staffer received an auto-reply asking for patience in waiting for a response -- and if one ever came, Temple doesn't mention it.

Let's pause for a moment and consider the story up to this point. If the Rocky had really wanted to determine the accuracy or inaccuracy of this factoid, the paper could have done so in short order, either by consulting its own archives or reaching out directly to local Democratic contacts, who are no doubt accessible to the tabloid 24 hours a day. Instead, presumably, the paper had someone -- an intern, perhaps? -- send an e-mail to the general mailbox of a national campaign office that's overwhelmed right about now, since the Democratic National Convention is less than two weeks away. That should give you some idea how seriously they took this issue.

Cut to Monday, when Colorado Media Matters, a left-leaning organization that looks for conservative media bias, sent Temple a message presumably related to an article about the Rocky's screw-up, which is time-stamped 3:08 p.m. on August 11.

Temple's column makes it seem as if the paper flew into action at that point, especially since the problematic column had been viewed 18,000 times by then. That's debatable, though. Temple hasn't shown a lot of respect for Colorado Media Matters in the past: In this January blog, he dismisses the folks there as failed "mind readers" and suggests that its work is hard to take seriously.

Further evidence: When I contacted Temple before 6 a.m. on August 12 on the topic, he didn't exactly seem focused on making things right. In a BlackBerry text from DIA, where he was about to board a plane for Los Angeles, he stated that he'd received a note questioning the item the previous afternoon and had asked editors to look into it -- but beyond that, he couldn't answer any of my other questions.

With Temple unable to provide more information, I e-mailed Rocky managing editor Deb Goeken and posed the same questions to her as I'd put to Temple -- asking, among other things, why the offending line had been removed from the "Things" offering but no correction had been affixed. She didn't get back to me until past 6:30 p.m., by which time a correction was in place. If Westword's inquiry played a part in the Rocky finally doing the right thing, Temple doesn't say -- and indeed, it's possible the real motivator was word that the paper was about to be named one of the three worst people of the day by Keith Olbermann on his weeknightly MSNBC staple Countdown.

"What a mess!" Temple declares -- and that's an understatement. As he concedes, "countless blogs" quickly cited the Rocky as the source of the Kenyan falsehood, which the tab's web desk had spotted in a trivia section on the Internet Movie Data Base. These mentions remain on the web in a kind of cyber-freeze -- and they'll continue to do damage through this November's election and beyond. The pain of this lesson won't go away just because Temple has said he's sorry. -- Michael Roberts

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