Jul
19
2013

What It Takes to Get a Reporter to Correct An Error

cnn-barnesYesterday, during an interview with former national intelligence director Dennis Blair, CNN reporter Brooke Baldwin said this (7/18/13):

We all know the name Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American terrorist. As you know, the drone strike that killed him also killed civilians, also killed his 16-year-old son.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill was watching, and he tweeted this:

 

Baldwin's first response was denial:

 

But that didn't work, since Scahill had it on video:

 

 

Baldwin eventually responded with this:

 

But, as Scahill pointed out, issuing a correction via Twitter for something you said on the air was insufficient. Baldwin apparently agreed, because later on in her show she said, "And earlier we said that he was killed in the same drone strike that killed his father. That was not the case. We regret that mistake."

Accuracy, of course, is a big deal in journalism– and thus it's a big deal for people who want to hold journalism accountable.  Baldwin's initial response was unfortunate, but she eventually made the right call.  Would she have made the same decision if there wasn't such a public effort to get her to correct the record?  Probably not.

How journalists issue corrections is important. On his Sunday show, Meet the Press anchor David Gregory claimed (FAIR Blog, 7/8/13) that "anybody who gets a paycheck" was now paying a new Obamacare tax. That's not true; the tax is paid by people making over $200,000 a year. FAIR pointed this out, and on the next week's show (7/14/13)  Gregory corrected his mistake. It's interesting to wonder how he came to be so misinformed in the first place, but he obviously made the right decision.

Not all outlets are so forthcoming. About a month ago FAIR issued an action alert (6/21/13)  about Iran misinformation in USA Today and on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show. The newspaper claimed that Iran's new president-elect Hasan Rowhani was "known for his negotiating skill over the country's nuclear weapons program." Though this is a common misconception–thanks to corporate media–the country does not actually have any such weapons program.

After a month or so, the paper finally agreed that this was a problem. But here's the correction they ran:

News: A June 17 story on Iranian President-elect Hasan Rawhani misstated his previous position. He was a negotiator over Iran's nuclear program.

That is what you might call a non-correction correction. Readers would have no way of knowing what the error might have been– did the paper claim he worked in a different government agency, perhaps? The most important aspect of the error was in implying the existence of a non-existence weapons program, which wasn't addressed in the correction.

maddow-iran-300x150An insufficient correction is still better than none at all– which has been Rachel Maddow's response.  On her show (6/10/13) she claimed that outgoing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "known around the world for defending Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." That is entirely inaccurate; he was more known for, as FAIR's alert pointed out, saying the country wasn't pursuing such weapons. A rather important difference.

Maddow's show has never responded, and as far as we can tell has never addressed the issue on the air. 

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.