Several times since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve received requests to delete or amend posts. Until now, I never have. These requests never said my post was inaccurate or even unfair. Rather, the typical request was one in which the circumstances had changed but my post continued to show up in search engines. For example, one came from a company that had been sued. Later, well after the lawsuit was settled, searches for the company name continued to bring up my post. Given that the post was accurate when I wrote it, I saw no reason to delete it later on. Lawsuits are settled every day, after all, but that’s no reason to pretend they were never filed in the first place.
Today I received a phone call asking me to alter a post I wrote yesterday. The post pointed back to an earlier post I’d written about Sept. 11. Yesterday’s post included a parenthetical that I labeled an “odd footnote” describing an e-mail I’d received about that earlier post asking me to change a reference it contained to a corporate name. My post yesterday described this e-mail as “either callous or clueless.”
Today’s call was from the author of that e-mail. He apologized for sending it, conceded it appeared callous, and explained that he had not, in fact, read the substance of my earlier post. He did not work for the corporation in question but for an outside agency helping with its marketing and branding efforts. Given that he recognizes his e-mail was a mistake, and given the feedback he was receiving due to my post, would I consider taking it down, he asked.
I think it is my background as a newspaper editor that makes me bristle at such requests. The record is the record, after all. As much as we all sometimes wish we could undue the past, we all know we can’t. In the days when news was published only on paper, there was no thought of deleting the historical record, only of correcting or updating it. When news went digital, newspapers wrestled with how to maintain consistency between their print and electronic reports and, for the most part, decided to handle both the same way. News Web sites generally do not delete stories even when they may have been incorrect, but instead append the correction to the story.
After I hung up from today’s phone call, I tried to research whether other bloggers have considered this issue. As it turns out, just yesterday at The Volokh Conspiracy, law professor Eugene Volokh wrestled with much the same question, asking readers for their thoughts on how he should handle the situation. The comments are thoughtful and enlightening. After reading through them, I found myself thinking that my old-school newspaperman’s distaste for changing what’s been written is, perhaps, irrationally rigid.
In my situation, the “odd footnote” was gratuitous. It had nothing to do with the reason for my post or the solemnity of the day. At the same time, it had the effect of embarrassing or possibly even undermining someone within his company — someone who probably first sent me the e-mail with the best of intentions and in furtherance of his job responsibilities. Why would I care enough about a gratuitous comment to ruin someone’s day or endanger someone’s job? I asked myself. The answer: I don’t. So I deleted it.