Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon

You may recall that I complained a few weeks ago about Rebecca Traister’s interview with Kate O’Beirne in Salon which repeated a fabricated quote from Catharine MacKinnon as not only fact but indeed old news. (The alleged quote was all heterosexual intercourse is rape; MacKinnon never said this, and has explicitly denied believing it when asked. It’s a gross misunderstanding of her views, and in the one notorious occasion on which she was quoted as saying it, the quote was actually authored by critics trying to describe MacKinnon’s views, but misattributed to MacKinnon herself by an antifeminist columnist too lazy to pick up the book again to get his citations straight. O’Beirne, too lazy or too dishonest to even pick up the book, got it from the columnist. Traister, understandably, repeated O’Beirne’s assertion; for which I don’t blame her, since it’s not her job to follow every footnote before she interviews the author of the book. I do, however, blame Salon for not fact-checking their stories after they are submitted when specific authors are quoted. Particularly when any idiot with access to Google could have discovered the problem in the time it took to type the most obvious query into the search engine.)

A few weeks later, I noted that Salon still hadn’t issued a correction even though the nonexistence of the quote had been pointed out by two different commenters within hours of when the story was first posted, and even though the New York Times Book Review had recently issued a nearly identical correction in its print and online editions.

Well, credit where credit is due: Salon should have caught the error when vetting the interview, and failing that they should have posted a correction within hours when they were made aware of the problem. But Rebecca Traister did file a correction on the interview on 26 February 2003 (and says that she would have filed it sooner, but she was out of town). Here’s the correction:

In the Jan. 17 story My Lunch With an Antifeminist Pundit, Rebecca Traister questioned Women Who Make the World Worse author Kate O’Beirne about the citation in her book of a quotation attributed to Catharine MacKinnon, calling the quotation old news. Traister failed to point out that the statement was incorrectly cited. MacKinnon never said, or wrote, that In a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give consent. This line is a characterization of the views of MacKinnon and Andrew [sic] Dworkin from Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women’s Studies, by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge. It was attributed to MacKinnon in a March 1999 piece by Cal Thomas, which is the source O’Beirne cites in her book. A clarifying note has been added to the story. Salon regrets the error. [Correction made 02/23/06]

And here’s the corrected copy from the interview:

R.T.: I was surprised that so much of your book was about Gloria Feldt, Ellie Smeal, Catharine MacKinnon. Only at the very end do you mention someone like Rebecca Walker.

K.O’B.: Are you asking about [why I didn’t discuss] twenty- or thirty-something feminism?

R.T.: Yes. The MacKinnon quote about how all heterosexual intercourse is rape is old news. [It is also incorrectly cited. MacKinnon never said or wrote it.] There has been a whole other wave of sex-positive feminism in part in response to ideas like that. …

Thanks to Rebecca Traister and Salon for doing the right thing.

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