Journalism Means You Never Have To Say You’re Sorry

A couple of years ago, I tried to correct a false statement in the New York Times.  Sisyphean task, I know.  But this wasn’t one of those big, ideological falsehoods: it was a technical misrepresentation of a sentencing law.  Which led to a big, ideological falsehood, but at least the task at hand was manageable: replace the misrepresentation of the law with an accurate description.

An embarrassed editor contacted me: the mistake was a fairly big miss on their part, and it completely undermined the point of the op-ed.  But, he told me, they did not permit corrections of authors and content in the letters page.  Would I write a different letter that offered the correct version of the law as additional information for interested readers, rather than calling it a correction?

Why not just run a correction, I asked.  They preferred not to in cases like this, he said.  I suppose corrections are for important people with press agents:

New York Times correction Sept. 13, 2012: Because of an editing error, the TV Watch column on Tuesday about Katie Couric’s show, “Katie,” and other new daytime talk shows, misidentified the host whose show focused on inspiring stories in its premiere. He is Jeff Probst, not Steve Harvey. The column also misstated the date of the premiere of Mr. Harvey’s show, “Steve Harvey,” and the date of an episode on which he held a social media version of “The Dating Game.” The premiere was Sept. 4, not Sept. 3, and the social media dating game show was broadcast last Thursday; it was not the premiere.

At the time, I was shocked that the Times wouldn’t permit comments in the letters page that reflect negatively on their content, but I have since learned that this is pretty standard among print dailies.  Keeps the narratives and memes nice and elastic — and entirely under their control.

Victorian séance: perfect metaphor for media bias

 So I was not surprised to see that the Tampa Bay Times (the new euphemism for the St. Petersburg Times) didn’t bother to “correct” the record after they went on a wild tear yesterday trying to blame the violence in Libya and Egypt on Terry Jones, the Gainesville pastor who burned a Koran last year.

If Jones was a left-wing agitator, the Times would love him, of course.  If he was a conceptual artist who suspended crucifixes in human urine, or a lawyer for the A.C.L.U., or Larry Flynt, they’d write long, glowing reviews of his art and/or politics and/or epistemology.

But “Piss Mohammed” just doesn’t resonate in leftist media, so instead of being a much admired conceptual artist, Terry Jones is a hate criminal.  Mind you, the Times loves the hate criminal they’ve made of him.  They so love him that they try to hang him around the neck of every single politician who doesn’t agree with their in-house stance on terrorists who commit murder and fly planes into buildings and burn down embassies (apologize to them for hurting their feelings because America should be ashamed of itself).

Yesterday, the Times just couldn’t wedge enough pictures of Jones onto their website.  The murder in Syria?  It was Jones.  The laughable Innocence of Mohammed film, which bears a remarkable resemblance to Ed Wood’s 1953 masterpiece, Glen or Glenda?  All Jones’ fault.

The Tampa Bay Times, you see, isn’t merely a newspaper.  It is home to a prestigious journalism institute for journalistic ethics, the Poynter Institute, which has morphed in recent years into a sort of identity politics police arm for the fourth estate.  So the Times has a much higher responsibility than other newspapers to blame everything bad that happens in the world on narrow-minded, doltish, prejudiced, redneck, white, “Christian” male Americans.  Blaming Jones for violence in the Middle East isn’t just a job for the ink-stained acolytes of the Times: it’s their religion.

And since we now have at least five faith groups bouncing off each other in one story, little wonder that the headline’s complicated:

Ambassador, three staffers killed after film, ‘trial’ backed by Gainesville pastor Terry Jones spark unrest in Libya, Egypt

Take a good look at that title.  It’s not a normal headline.  But they had to find a way to get Jones out front before the facts came in:

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three American members of his staff were reportedly killed Tuesday in riots sparked by outrage over a film backed by Terry Jones, the Gainesville pastor whose burning of Korans last year led to days of rioting in Afghanistan.

Well, that was yesterday, this is today.  And the news is that the protests/riots/uprisings were planned weeks ago, and Jones in no way factors into the violence, except in the overheated fantasies of newspaper reporters.  So does the TBT retract, or even correct, their now-discredited story?

Heck no.  Who do you think they are?  Politicians?  Ordinary people?  No, they’re journalists.

So today, instead of admitting that they had made a giant mistake fueled entirely by their intense desire to Blame America First, the Times ran another feature story about Jones.  In the context of their failure to be truthful yesterday, and the unspoken fact that they were the ones paying “attention” to Jones yesterday, today’s headline is pretty funny.  Shameless and funny:

Anti-Muslim pastor gets attention, not credit for deadly Libya attack

But it only gets funnier.  Right out of the gate, the Times pretends it has been trying really hard to ignore Jones, but he keeps ending up on their front page.  That’s his fault, too: he’s so bad, he’s responsible for terrorism and journalism:

Controversial Gainesville preacher Terry Jones, largely ignored by the Florida media since his attempts to burn Korans in 2010, is again in the spotlight for his alleged support of a film that may have sparked protests in Egypt and Libya on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now comes the dog-ate-my-correction part:

But Jones’ connection to the mysterious anti-Muslim film is weak, and the motivation for the violence seems far more complicated.

The Obama administration said Wednesday that it suspects the attack in Libya may have been a planned and organized assault rather than a spontaneous uprising.

Others, including the London-based think tank Quilliam, said the assault “was a well planned terrorist attack that would have occurred regardless of the demonstration, to serve another purpose.”

Citing sources in Benghazi, the think tank said: “(W)e have reason to believe that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaida’s second in command killed a few months ago.”

A day before the attack, the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged Libyans to avenge the killing, Quilliam noted, and roughly 20 militants were present, prepared for military assault with rocket-propelled grenade launchers that do not typically appear at peaceful protests.

Oh.  So is the Tampa Bay Times going to retract everything they said about this yesterday?  Of course not.  They just double down on reporting that newspaper reports were wrong, you know, somewhere out there in the vague unnamed journalism ionosphere:

Nonetheless, much of the blame for the protests was aimed at the poorly-made film Innocence of Muslims. . .

 Then they blame Jones some more for their relationship with Jones.  Remember, it’s all his fault.  White-trash dog whistle emphasis added:

None of that stopped Jones from trying to capitalize on the renewed exposure, even if his connection to the film was tangential.

The slow-tongued leader was unapologetic as he greeted media at his Dove World Outreach Center, a large prefab warehouse which reportedly claims about 50 members.

He said he promoted the film during an “International Judge Muhammad Day” and planned to show a clip of the film at his church on Sept. 11. But he couldn’t get the video to work. He also acknowledged he couldn’t livestream the event on the Internet, refuting some reports.

“As we tried to show it, all of the sudden our Internet wouldn’t work,” he told Orlando’s NBC affiliate. He wouldn’t say how many people were in attendance.

Refuting some reports.  Like, their’s.  I wonder why they don’t call such reports “hasty” or “premature” to offset Jones’ “slow tongue.”
Hilariously, on September 9, the Tampa Bay Times published a big fat valentine to . . . the Tampa Bay Times praising itself for practicing journalism with the highest ethical standards of anyone.  Times editor Neil Brown didn’t hold back in praising himself for his courageous stance against political bias:

You can handle the truth

“We have disrupted the status quo in American politics,” says my colleague Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact and our Washington bureau chief.

We launched PolitiFact — featuring its now trademarked “Truth-O-Meter” graphic — in August 2007 with a handful of journalists . . .

Today there is more fact-check journalism under way than ever before. Reporters at (one of the earliest and most credible initiatives), the Washington Post Fact Checker and other newsrooms are diving deep into the claims of politicians, asking the most basic question: Is it true?

Why would there be a backlash against that? It’s all about power.

The candidates, the political parties, the super PACs, the cable TV and talk radio shows — they all spend millions of dollars in order to shape what you believe. There are no question-and-answer sessions after you watch a campaign ad; there are no meaningful disclosures of where their info comes from. Beliefs are declared with authority and impunity and crafted to look like facts. The strategy is clear and not at all new: Say something strongly and frequently enough and perhaps it will be accepted as truth. . .

The underpinning of fact-check journalism is this tenet: Words matter. If you don’t believe that, then journalism that checks the veracity of political speech may not hold much interest for you.

At PolitiFact, we wrote “Principles of the Truth-O-Meter” to help guide our work. Words matter was the first principle. The second principle: Context matters. And another important principle: We show our math and explain where we got all our information. So you don’t have to take our word for it, you can look it up yourself. No anonymous sources.

And so on.  I was blushing as I read it.  Newspapers are the only bastion against political bias?  No anonymous sources?  OK, Neil.  Prove it.  Fact check your own coverage of this story.


5 thoughts on “Journalism Means You Never Have To Say You’re Sorry”

  1. “The second principle: Context matters”
    except ‘context’ here means flagrant editorializing amounting to little more than propaganda.
    so much for ” Who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means”.words matter to these people in so much as they can be manipulated to reflect their own political affiliations. no truth remains un- manhandled and perverted- same for in the classroom.

  2. Great stuff, Tina. The Poynter products are so biased that it’s hard to wonder how they avoid seeing it in themselves.

    But what would anyone know outside their informed circles? The rest of us are stuck in limited information bubbles.


  3. You guys have a great website, Bryan: Politifact Bias. I’ve been watching Poynter for years. Their work on crime and race is particularly fact-free and offensive.

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