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Dallas Morning News Editor Plays Brilliant Game of Email Dodgeball

I don’t know Chris Siron, but I feel for him. He’s a night editor on the Metro desk at the Dallas Morning News. The reason I feel for him is because a mistake was made on his watch. Either his reporter made the mistake or he made the mistake or a copy editor made the mistake. I’ve made lots of mistakes, professional and otherwise, so that’s one reason I feel for him. But whenever I’ve made a professional mistake, or whenever a mistake has occurred on my watch, I’ve done my best to own up to it and correct it. Not Chris Siron. Four days ago, I asked him about the mistake in question, and he’s still dodging the issue. That’s the other reason I feel for Chris Siron. Because I’ve grown so frustrated with him that I’ve decided to post our email exchange.

First, the mistake: the paper ran a recap of a talk given at SMU by lexicographer Bryan Garner and Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a book together. The DMN story was written by Tasha Tsiaperas. Garner wrote an open letter to the DMN explaining the mistake. It read, in part:

[S]he ends her short piece quoting Justice Scalia as saying of the Constitution: “It’s not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead.” End of piece. That may make an eye-catching headline (as in your online edition), but it’s a serious distortion. Here is what he actually said:

“I used to say that the Constitution is not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead. But I’ve gotten better. I no longer say that. The truth is that the Constitution is not one that morphs. It’s an enduring Constitution, not a changing Constitution. That is what I’ve meant when I’ve said that the Constitution is dead.”

So even though the DMN story accurately quoted Scalia, by omitting the rest of the quote, the story did Scalia a real injustice. As Garner pointed out in his open letter, “Less than 48 hours after the event, Google shows 1.8 million hits for your seriously acontextual ‘quotation.’”

I sent Tsiaperas an email asking her how the abbreviated quote wound up in print.

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Tasha:

It’s a tough day when Bryan Garner takes you to the woodshed. I feel for you.

http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2013/01/31/bryan-garner-is-not-happy-with-the-dallas-morning-news/

I’m curious if you have a response. Did you include the full Scalia quote in your draft or no?

Tsiaperas promptly responded:

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 2:22 PM

Hello Tim,

Thank you for your email. I recommend asking my editor for comment. You can contact Chris Siron at [email redacted].

Totally understood her not wanting to mixed up this mess. So I forwarded to Siron the email I’d written to Tsiaperas, saying that I was doing it at her suggestion. Siron responded later that night:

Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 7:58 PM

I appreciate your contacting me. I have looked at your blog post, and I will read it more closely later.

Thank you.

The next morning, I pestered him:

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 8:18 AM

Chris:

Have you had a chance yet to read that post more closely?

And then again that afternoon:

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Chris:

I’d really hoped to have an answer by now. Any word?

At which point, I got the following from him:

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 1:30 PM

I think our schedules probably are out of sync, and I should have explained I am a night editor.

Someone in my office had mentioned your blog post to me, but I had not had a chance to give what you wrote much thought till after my shift yesterday.

I apologize for the gap in answering, but, yes, I have read your item carefully now.

Thanks again for letting me know about it.

Again, I am sorry for the delay in responding.

This is when I realized that the game was afoot! Brilliant! He plays to my sympathy by explaining that he’s a night editor, a tough job indeed. The Richards Group could probably make a Ram Truck commercial with a voiceover by Paul Harvey. “So God Made the Night Editor.” It might work. But then look at what Siron says next. On Thursday, he said he’d looked at my blog post, the one where I discussed the botched quote and promised to find out how it happened. Then, the next day, he lets me know that someone in the office mentioned the post to him. This is the same post that I sent him a link to in my first email. In other words, here’s his response: “Yup. I’ve seen the post. Someone mentioned it to me. And I’ve read it carefully.” Yet no answer to my question. This guy is good. Really good. I played back at him:

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Ah, the night editor thing makes total sense. Sorry for being a pest.

Again, though: I’m searching for an answer. Did Tasha write the quote the way it ran in the paper, or was the quote truncated in the editing process?

Siron didn’t respond, so I called him at the newspaper and left him a detailed message. I’m all about escalation. That evening, when I still hadn’t heard from him, I sent another email:

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 7:09 PM

Hi, Chris. Hope you got my voicemail and have had a chance to listen to it carefully and closely.

Then came my favorite part of our exchange. Siron quickly responded to my email with this:

Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 7:41 PM

Thank for alerting me to the voice mail. I probably would have missed it if you had not followed up with an e-mail. I don’t receive many telephone messages, and I sometimes forget to check for them daily.

I understand Mr. Garner has concerns about the article that appeared Tuesday.

I have not spoken to him, but he delivered a letter about those concerns to The Dallas Morning News.

I am examining the situation.

Thanks again for checking with me.

If Dallas still had a press club (I mean one that actually concerned itself with matters of the press, one that wasn’t overrun by PR flaks), surely this chap would win a Katie Award for evasiveness. I have no doubt that with skills like these, Chris Siron won’t be working the night desk for long.

I doff my hat to you, sir. Well played.

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