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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Times Livermore storyHow long after publication should a news organization be responsible for correcting a story whose very premise appears later to be bogus? And, if new documentation challenges the premise of an old story, should a news organization start its reporting over, either to correct the record or to confirm the integrity of its original work? How thoroughly should journalists check the credibility and claims of sources they feature in stories?

Those questions arose in a string of emails sent me recently by Nancy Levine, a San Francisco area executive recruiter who has been unsuccessful in seeking a correction to a 2007 New York Times story. Levine has exposed the premise of the Times story as apparently bogus. She is campaigning for a correction, and I think in an age when stories live online for years, the story needs a correction and a new examination by the Times.

This will be an extraordinarily long post, even for me, but I think the level of detail here is important. It’s discouraging to see how little verification too many journalists have done, and how reluctant news organizations can be to correct their errors. Is anything more fundamental to good journalism than getting facts right and correcting errors when we fail? The number of journalism organizations that fell down on this story, and continue to fall down, is shocking and discouraging.

And, if you’re one of those journalists who looks down your nose at BuzzFeed, prepare for your nose to be surprised. (more…)

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Two New Zealand journalism students, Bethany Murphy-Suddens and Cassie Arauzo, recently interviewed me for a project on journalism ethics and the issues technology has presented in the past 15 years.

Here is a Prezi on their project. Their video interview with me is part of the Prezi and also embedded below.

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Today’s live-TV killing in Virginia clearly was planned to bring as much attention to the killer as possible.

When media fall for this, they are telling other sick, twisted or just evil potential killers that they, too, can get lots of attention by using their guns in ways that the media find sensationalist.

I made my initial arguments on this case in the posts linked below and won’t belabor those arguments here. But some thoughts about how my ethical principles about refusing to provide the attention they seek might apply here:

  • Someone who attacks during a live telecast is seeking attention. Obviously you need to report the attack, but I would not broadcast the attack or make it available online.
  • While a killer is at large, identification is important news. So as soon as the killer’s identity was known, if he were still at large, I would publish name, photograph and any other information that would help the public report his location, apprehend him or seek safety if they saw him. Public safety overrides my belief that we should not give the killer attention.
  • Once the killer was dead, I would stop publishing his name or photograph.
  • I see no ethical justification for publishing videos shot by the killer. That is the ultimate in attention-seeking behavior.
  • You can report the mental health issues, gun access issues and other issues that a story presents without publicizing or profiling the killer.
  • My focus would be on the people who were killed or injured. They warrant media attention, not the person who was seeking it.

Previous posts on attention-seeking killers

News orgs should deny mass killers the attention they crave

Media feed mass killers’ desire for infamy and attention

Kudos to Charleston Post and Courier for putting mass killer’s name and photo inside newspaper

 

 

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Last week I noted that the New York Times consistently fails to meet its own standards regarding unnamed sources and linking to digital sources of content.

I invited responses from Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and other Times staffers mentioned in the post. None of them responded on the record, except an email from Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who said she “may respond later.” She had earlier told me on Facebook that she was considering another post on unnamed sources, an issue she has addressed multiple times. Yes, it did amuse me that the only other response I received on a post that dealt with anonymous sources* started with the words “off the record.”

I followed up the next day with another post on linking. I wasn’t planning a follow-up on unnamed sources, unless anyone from the Times responded.

I don’t have a lot more to say about unnamed sources today. But I must note that the Times made two embarrassing and significant corrections on its coverage of possible investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails (or rumored or speculated investigation; we don’t know, because the Times’ sources have been so wrong on this and so poorly identified).

Update: Sullivan blogged about the corrections this morning. She makes excellent points and I won’t belabor them here, except to make this one point: 

Sullivan quotes Times deputy executive editor Matt Purdy as saying, “We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong.”

Does that sound familiar? Where have I heard that before? From another Times staffer, actually. Remember who said, “If your sources are wrong, you are wrong”? That was Judith Miller.

I won’t elaborate here on Judith Miller, but if you’ve forgotten about how she damaged the Times’ reputation, I have several links at the end of this story. As I’ve said repeatedly, journalists, not sources, are responsible for the accuracy of our stories.

Another update: Newsweek’s Kurt Eichewald has a fascinating analysis of the Times’ errors and corrections.

We don’t try to persuade sources to go on the record or find other sources who will speak for the record as a courtesy to the curious. We do it for credibility, accuracy and accountability. Sometimes people with valuable, accurate information have valid reasons (fear of losing their jobs or because they are breaking the law by telling us, for instance). Other times, reporters are being manipulated by liars with agendas. Or sort-of honest people who don’t really know the facts are telling reporters what they think they know, but demand confidentiality to avoid accountability.

I don’t expect anyone from the Times to respond to me on this issue. But someone at the Times should reconsider whether that newsroom has grown too trusting of unreliable sources. The “senior government officials” cited didn’t deserve the Times’ trust. So why does the Times deserve ours?

Corrections on the New York Times' story on Hillary Clinton's emails.

Corrections on the New York Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

(more…)

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The New York Times often and flagrantly violates its own standards for attribution.

Executive Editor Dean Baquet ignored my call earlier this year for him to lose his famous temper about the Times’ casual and inexcusable promiscuity in the use of unnamed sources. I will try again (and invite him to respond), only this time I’ll include another issue of attribution: linking to digital sources.

First two disclaimers:

  1. I’ve written a lot about these two subjects before, both regarding journalism in general and regarding the Times. I apologize for any repetition. I will try to minimize and include links to previous posts at the end (and sprinkle them where relevant in this post).
  2. The Times is unquestionably, in my view, the most outstanding organization in journalism, with some of the highest standards in journalism. That’s what makes its daily disregard of its own standards in these two important areas so maddening.

I am writing about these attribution issues because they collided this week in two outstanding posts by others: (more…)

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Initially, I was inclined not to renew my call here for the media not to give mass killers the attention they crave. I don’t feel a need to repeat it every time a hateful person seeks attention with a gun.

But Dan Kennedy and Matt DeRienzo gave me a nudge after the racist terrorist attack in Charleston:

The link Matt shared was one of three times I have posted here about my views that media should stop giving attention to mass killers. I posted also after the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and last year near the University of California at Santa Barbara.

I will just summarize here the points I’ve made in the other posts, then I’ll discuss some particular aspects of the Charleston slaughter that underscore my point, but make it tougher to follow my advice.

Who is one of the essential 5 W’s of journalism, the questions we should answer in every story. I don’t lightly suggest that we should not name the suspects in mass killings. But we decide not to use newsworthy names in many other cases:

(more…)

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Jonathan Landay

Jonathan Landay

April 30 update: Jon Stewart interviewed Judith Miller, covering the aluminum tubes story discussed here.

I was perhaps not detailed enough in my criticism of Judith Miller’s memoir/fantasy book The Story: A Reporter’s Journey.

Jonathan Landay, a Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) Washington reporter, nailed the story that Miller tragically botched in 2002-3 — pre-war intelligence about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He provided by email some details that I didn’t bother to round up.

It was self-abuse enough to read Miller’s book. I didn’t want to dig back and find the stories in question to check any of her claims in the book. And, after a quick read, I wanted to pump out my review, so I didn’t take the time to check exactly what was in the two Knight-Ridder stories she cited dismissively (or the many she ignored entirely).

Landay kindly filled in some gaps in an email exchange thanking me for my post (links added by me; I did finally look up those stories):

Just another thought: the story to which she referred in her book eviscerated — I like that word — her aluminum tubes story. She obliquely criticizes me for using only one named source, David Albright, despite the fact that virtually all of her sources were anonymous, especially on her tubes story.

OK, I just checked and in an article of nearly 3,500 words, Miller cited just two named sources. But one of the names was a pseudonym, “Ahmed al-Shemri,” an Iraqi defector who claimed to work in Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program. He was quoted at length. Most of the rest of the article is attributed to various “Bush administration officials.” In The Story, Miller claims to have used lots of named sources in her WMD reporting. I’m not going to check all of her stories, but that wasn’t true of this one.

On Page 220 of The Story, in recounting how Times editors took her to task for failing to report the doubts revealed in a Landay article about whether the aluminum tubes could even be used as centrifuges to make nuclear weapons, Miller dismissed the Knight-Ridder story (though she attributed it to McClatchy) as based on unnamed sources: (more…)

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