Back on November 19, in an item headlined "Subway Salaries," I excerpted some numbers from a New York Times investigation into the city's subway system:
Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.
The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.
Now the Times has published a correction:
An article on Nov. 19 about the history of problems with New York's subway system overstated compensation figures for subway workers and managers, based on a Times analysis of federal data. Subway workers, including administrative personnel and managers, make an average of about $155,000 a year in salary, overtime and benefits, not $170,000 (the higher figure includes some labor-related overhead costs). The average figure for managers alone, not including overhead costs, is $240,000 a year, not $280,000 (and not "nearly $300,000," as the article said in one reference).
Lesson: Never trust content from the New York Times, even when it appears to confirm your existing views about public-employee union workers being overpaid and New York government being inefficient.
The original Times article carried the bylines of Brian M. Rosenthal, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, and Michael LaForgia and a credit line that said "Agustin Armendariz and Vivian Wang contributed reporting. Doris Burke contributed research." Maybe the lesson is never trust content from the New York Times that carries the names of more than five Times personnel? Rosenthal and LaForgia both joined the Times this year, roughly when the Times eliminated the public editor position that might have explained forthrightly to readers exactly how an error like that happened.
It's also the sort of error that would have easily been caught beforehand had the Times showed an advance copy of the article to some of the interest groups involved. News organizations usually don't like to do that because they feel like they are giving up control, but their reluctance is a sign that they prize control over accuracy.
The Times article on the subway already had won a $500 prize from the Sidney Hillman Foundation, "honoring excellence in journalism in service of the common good." One could argue that the journalism remains excellent notwithstanding the correction. But it's more excellent to get these sorts of numbers right the first time, especially in an article that involves a lot of staff, including unnamed editors, and a lot of time before publication.
Needless to say, if President Trump or a White House spokesman or a Treasury or EPA "analysis" got concrete, checkable facts like this wrong, then let them stand for more than a month, Times "fact-checkers" and columnists would be all over them about an unprecedented war on truth itself, a post-factual administration, and so on.
Some people on Twitter are saying the correction doesn't matter because even the corrected pay is still higher than in other cities. I don't think that's quite right. Imagine a prosecutor in a drunk driving vehicular homicide case going back post-conviction and telling a judge, "you know what, the driver was actually going 70 miles an hour, not 80, and his blood alcohol level was .10, not .12, but you know what, it doesn't really matter, because both numbers are still above the legal limit."