The Times’ Sheryl Stolberg Explains Her Marilyn Musgrave Mistake

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Marilyn Musgrave.Photo: Brooks Kraft/Corbis

For a brief period yesterday, it appeared as if the unthinkable had happened: Republican Marilyn Musgrave, a leading crusader against marriage equality during her time in Congress, had signed on to an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to declare gay marriage a constitutionally recognized right. But Musgrave denied it, and before long, the Times ran a correction stating that it was Musgrave's district director who signed the brief, not Musgrave. How could such a mix-up happen? The story's reporter, Sheryl Stolberg, who has written for the paper since 1997, explained it to Daily Intelligencer.

"Here's what happened," she e-mails. "A former district director for Marilyn Musgrave signed the brief, but her title was so long that it actually took up two lines, pushing the congresswoman's name onto a line all by itself. So when you read down the list, it looked like Ms. Musgrave had signed — when in fact she had not."

Stolberg says she was "horrified" when she realized her mistake. "I corrected it immediately, called Ms. Musgrave and apologized, and she accepted. A good lesson in journalism: Check everything twice, and we are only human."