DULUTH — Two Saturdays ago, The Washington Post, New York Times and NBC News all published corrections regarding inaccurate reports that Rudy Giuliani had been warned by the FBI that he was being targeted by Russian disinformation. This was after Giuliani’s office and residence were raided by federal agents as part of a criminal probe into Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine.
But Giuliani hadn’t been directly warned by the FBI, as it turned out. A source, or sources, had gotten that detail wrong and had provided inaccurate information to the news outlets.
The alarmists jumped all over it: “Fake news!”
“The corrections are black eyes to the newsrooms which have aggressively reported on Giuliani’s contacts with Ukrainians in his attempt to dig up dirt on then-presidential candidate Joe Biden,” CNN Business writer Oliver Darcy, for one, wrote at the end of a story about the corrections.
Aside from the sudden burst of inappropriate editorializing to wrap up what otherwise was a straight news report, it seems to me Darcy reached a curious conclusion.
Yes, there’s some embarrassment anytime someone gets something wrong. But rather than a “black eye,” publishing a correction is an act of a responsible and professional news organization being willing to own up to a mistake and to take action to set the record straight. It demonstrates a commitment to truth, no matter how it might make you look.
It’s what sets legitimate and professional news outlets apart from the far-too-many freebie, agenda-pushing, ulterior motive-driven, bias-reinforcing sites that may look like news on the internet and on social media but really are akin to propaganda, intentional manipulation, and purposeful misinformation.
"Publishing a correction is an act of a responsible and professional news organization being willing to own up to a mistake and to take action to set the record straight. It demonstrates a commitment to truth, no matter how it might make you look."
A week ago, a series of columns was published in Forum Communications-owned newspapers on the First Amendment, including differentiating between news and opinion content, social media, and how to access public data. The First Amendment to our Constitution, of course, is all about freedom, specifically of speech and of the press, as an effective check on the power of government.
With that freedom comes responsibility, however, and more and more, it seems, that’s being forgotten. Young journalists are taught in school to be objective, fair, impartial, and inclusive of different viewpoints. Always. They’re taught how wrong it is to use their power of the press for personal gain or to push a political agenda or cause.
This is why Fox News and others reporting from a strictly conservative point of view or MSNBC and others from a liberal stance is so concerning to those of us who’ve worked so long to build credibility and a reputation for honesty and civility. Most talk radio, tabloids, and slanted websites only blur the line further between the whole truth and a truth that an unscrupulous someone wants you to buy into.
Remember the bombshell dropped on Draft Day two weeks ago that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was “so disgruntled” he didn’t want to return to the Green Bay Packers? Adam Schefter tweeted that “league and team sources told (that to) ESPN” that same day. Schefter and his network got their “breaking news” clicks and attention, no doubt, but a week later they squirmed in acknowledging that there actually were no comments like that made by any “sources” on that day. The report “was just an accumulation of information,” as Schefter said when pressed on a radio show. In other words, they were things he had been hearing second- and third-hand over the course of time.
If ever there was a time for a correction, this was it. But neither Schefter nor ESPN owned up publicly to its sloppy journalism — if it can be called journalism at all. How can news consumers ever put their faith in what they report again?
Losing trust is precisely why The New York Times, Washington Post, and NBC News all published corrections to their Giuliani stories. It’s why legitimate news outlets publish corrections. Every time a mistake is made. As regrettable as any error is, admitting it is not a black eye. Getting the information right is more important — always. It’s a higher priority than clicks or pageviews.
If your primary sources of news never own up to a mistake, please ask yourself why.
Chuck Frederick is the Duluth News Tribune’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-723-5316.