A "retcon"--short for retroactive continuity--is a storytelling technique often seen in serial fiction (TV shows, comic books, professional wrestling, movie series, video games, etc.). Basically, when some new story element contradicts something previously established in the series, the historical background of the series is altered--either to reconcile the two conflicting elements, or to eliminate one (normally the older one) in favor of the other.
The all-knowing, all-perfect authors/producers/editors are, of course, not usually eager to trumpet these maneuvers, because each is an implicit admission that they screwed up; fans, for their part, will often wryly note them, for the same reason.
But that's fiction for you--nothing's real; it's all part of the game.
It's a bit different when it apparently happens with a newspaper. NewsBusters notes that, without notice or explanation, the LA Times has altered a highly problematic paragraph from its story a few days ago about Fred Thompson's alleged pro-abortion lobbying:
In the July 7th version of the story Judith DeSarno, the woman making the accusation that Thompson worked for her pro-abortion organization in '91, mentioned that she had talked with the Senator about his "cowboy death scene" in a movie he was in. She claimed she talked to him about this scene during one of the diners she claimed to have had with him where they discussed his lobbying efforts.
The problem with DeSarno's original claim is, Thompson was never in any westerns in the 1990s. In fact, he appeared in a western only recently with the HBO movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", which was released this year -- and in that he played president Ulysses S. Grant.
So, in an apparent attempt to make DeSarno's claims of a 1991 meeting seem more truthful, the "cowboy" section was removed from the story.
The old paragraph read:
At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson re-enacted a cowboy death scene from one of his movies. She also remembered him telling her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for one of Thompson’s sons and his wife.
The new paragraph reads:
Thompson kept her updated on his progress in telephone conversations and over meals at Washington restaurants, including dinner at Galileo and lunch at the Monocle, she said. At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson told her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for a Thompson son and his wife.
There you go, all nice and cleaned up so that the dissembling is removed and NOW it looks more truthful... again!
Now, it's possible that the DeSarno inconsistency could be explained by the film in question not being recent (when the year is 1991, the '90s don't cover much ground). It wouldn't explain the paragraph being altered, but it would make it look less sinister.
So, let's double-check. Here, from his IMDb profile, is Thompson's complete movie filmography, up to and including the year in question (1991):
- 1985: Marie (historical drama; played himself)
- 1987: No Way Out (government thriller)
- 1988: Feds (comedy)
- 1989: Fat Man and Little Boy (historical drama)
- 1990: The Hunt for Red October (thriller)
- 1990: Days of Thunder (racing drama)
- 1990: Die Hard 2 (action)
- 1991: Flight of the Intruder (military drama)
- 1991: Class Action (law drama)
- 1991: Necessary Roughness (comedy)
- 1991: Curly Sue (comedy)
- 1991: Cape Fear (thriller)