Despite refusing to run a correction, the opinion page editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is now “embarrassed” he published a GOP lie about energy reform without checking it first. On April 8, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a notorious global warming denier, attacked green economy legislation in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, claiming that “cap and trade” is really “cap and tax”:
According to an analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the average American household could expect its yearly energy bill to increase by $3,128 per year.
This was a flat lie, as a letter to the editor published the very next day by the Star Tribune pointed out. In fact, Bachmann’s lie had been debunked publicly by MIT’s John Reilly with Politifact.com on Tuesday, March 24th. On April 1st, ThinkProgress published a letter from Reilly to the Republican leadership denouncing the fabricated figure.
Eric Ringham, the opinion page editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, recognizes now that the MIT lie was fully debunked before the column was submitted by Bachmann:
It wasn’t on my radar. I’m embarrassed to have let it go unchallenged.
In an interview with the Wonk Room, Ringham explained his decision to run Bachmann’s column without checking its veracity, despite her record of extreme anti-environmentalism and promotion of conspiracy theories about international finance and Islamic terrorism. With both the limited resources he has and the role of the opinion page as a forum for argument, he argued it is “an uncomfortable role” for an op-ed editor to run corrections after a column’s publication. “I’m not equipped – or really inclined – to go, after the fact, probing someone’s assertions.”
Ringham does try to do some fact-checking ahead of time: “What we do is check the facts that smell. This one didn’t to me.” He considers the strongly worded letter to the editor as a sufficient response, because: “The best remedy to offensive speech is more speech.” The policy that he follows as an opinion page editor is that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
“You can rest assured this study is never going to be represented in the paper again,” Ringham concluded, “without confirmation it’s being accurately portrayed.”