Friday, January 03, 2014
BOB GARFIELD: And I begin the new year with bad news. No, not unpleasant news. You can get that anywhere. I'm saying bad news, news delivered badly, plus the corrections or apologies that followed. Yes, in a bittersweet annual ritual, we are joined once again by Poynter’s Craig Silverman, author of Regret the Error blog, for a roundup of the worst media mistakes of the past 12 months. Craig, welcome back to the show.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: There was a correction in November from the Patriot News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which was notable for two things – actually, being more of an amplification than a correction, and also for being exactly hundred 150 years late. CRAIG SILVERMAN: The Patriot News is famous for being a paper that actually panned the Gettysburg Address when it first was delivered. And they figured that, well, with the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address coming up, maybe it's time for us to really address what happened. They published a correction, and it reads, “In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered November 19th, 1863 in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.”
BOB GARFIELD: The retraction so amused the people at Saturday Night Live that they [LAUGHS] devoted a segment of a “Weekend Update” to the supposed author of the original review. It sounded like this.
SETH MEYERS: How do you feel about the newspaper's retractions?
TARAN KILLAM PLAYING JEBIDIAH ATKINSON: I stand by my words! They're cowards, Seth! In fact, my first draft was much harsher, and I was told to tone it down. Would you like to hear it?
SETH MEYERS: Sure.
JEBIDIAH ATKINSON: "Four snores and seven yawns ago –
- this reviewer watched the President's speech at Gettysburg and, let's be honest, Abe, you dropped a real Lincoln log.
[LAUGHTER] [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] The putative author, the original editor, Jedediah. If we have learned anything in the Internet age, it is pretty easy to make stuff up, tweet it out or put on Facebook or put it in a blog and, and just watch mainstream media uncritically repeat the hoax. Some examples, please.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: One report that circulated a little bit was that New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman had declared personal bankruptcy.
BOB GARFIELD: Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. [LAUGHS]
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Yes. There was a report that President Obama was reaching into his personal finances to fund a Muslim Museum. There were reports that Mike Tyson got a sex change. And one of the ones that was, you know, really widely reported and that nobody questioned and that was really turned into a big story was, of course, in relation to former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
BOB GARFIELD: He was the subject of a Deadspin piece, which tried to track down the girlfriend who had inspired him and tragically died during his great Notre Dame season. And what Deadspin found out was?
CRAIG SILVERMAN: She didn’t exist. Deadspin dedicated the resources to look at this and to realize that a lot of the dates and a lot of the things that were described didn’t match up. It was a very good piece of investigative reporting, and it was also an excellent bit of debunking, which I hope we see a lot more from news organizations because, in truth, you can get a lot of traffic from debunking the hoax, rather than being the one that plays along with it.
BOB GARFIELD: And for that accomplishment, Deadspin was awarded the coveted Best Debunking Prize from Regret The Error, and congratulations to them.
Craig, there was a story following the Asiana air tragedy in July that it's just simply phenomenal to me. For starters, let's just play the tape.
KTVU ANCHOR TORI CAMPBELL: KTVU has just learned the names of the four pilots who were on board the flight, They are Capt. Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow. And the NTSB has confirmed these are the names of the pilots on board Flight 214 when it crashed.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: The information did come from a credible source, which is the National Transportation Safety Board, so there was somebody who was working there who decided to play a little bit of a joke. And this information that they had written up as a joke ended up making its way to this TV station. And, of course, they want to be ones to get this information out right away. They’re a, a local TV station. I think it's a really good example of even when you have it from a very credible source, you should still be asking yourself, is this accurate, is this credible and are there any other places that I can go to corroborate what I'm getting from them?
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, now before we get to the most esteemed Error of the Year, let’s talk about the runner-up. It’s a very serious matter. It is the page one cover of the New York Post, I think, 48 hours after the Boston bombing, with the gigantic screaming headline, “Bag Men.”
CRAIG SILVERMAN: This is a cover that I think probably lives in infamy, at this point. It shows two young men standing in the area of, of the Marathon with bags, and everyone knew at that point that the bombs had been contained in bags. And so, to show these two young men carrying bags, to label them “bagmen,” to note that this was related to the bombings and to note that authorities were looking to speak to them was really enough to paint them as, if not suspects, frankly guilty. And, as a result of this cover, the two men have sued the Post. It was really a, an incredibly egregious error. And, on top of that, the Post has actually never really apologized for it.
BOB GARFIELD: When I saw that play out, I said to myself, that there is Craig Silverman's Error of the Year, but no! It was merely the runner-up. What could possibly have out-errored Bag Men?
CRAIG SILVERMAN: I would agree with you that when I saw it I thought that's probably gonna be the one. But then 60 Minutes aired the Benghazi report.
BOB GARFIELD: This was Lara Logan’s story impeaching the Obama administration's description of events in the raid on the diplomatic compound in, in Benghazi, Libya.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: At the core of the story is a source named Dylan Davies, who worked in security at the compound. He was saying, listen, contrary to what I had said previously, contrary to what I had told my employer, I actually did go to the compound that night and I saw things.
DYLAN DAVIES: He started walking towards me.
LARA LOGAN: And as he was coming closer?
DYLAN DAVIES: As I got closer, I just hit him with the butt of the rifle in the face.
LARA LOGAN: And?
DYLAN DAVIES: Oh, he went down, yeah - like a stone.
[END OF CLIP]
CRAIG SILVERMAN: So he made some very explosive claims, and a lot of the story hung on what he had said.
BOB GARFIELD: But it turns out, in fact, that Davies was lying. He had given an entirely different story to the FBI.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: That's right. There was a bit of corroborating evidence that 60 Minutes should have and did attempt to get, but they didn't get it. They didn't manage to find out what he had told the FBI. And so, they really didn't have one of the critical pieces of verification they needed to go ahead with this.
The other piece of this that really looked bad on 60 Minutes is that Davies had a book coming out, telling his story, and the book was being published by Simon & Schuster, which is a sister company of CBS News. And so, number one, the piece that aired did not disclose this. And, number two, after it was proven that he had been dishonest, the question started to be raised, well, did 60 Minutes not do its usual sort of diligence because they had a book from a sister company.
BOB GARFIELD: And number three, the due diligence that somehow eluded CBS was handled by other news organizations within 48 hours of the report airing. And they did find the FBI report, and Davies’ story and Lara Logan’s story unraveled.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Very soon after the 60 Minutes piece aired, the New York Times came out with a report declaring what was in that FBI interview with Davies and saying that it contradicted what he had told 60 Minutes. And, when it comes down to it, the idea that 60 Minutes would broadcast this, without having had that corroboration of what he told the FBI, is really tough to stomach. And that's one of the reasons why I think people have been so harshly critical. The New York Times got this information very quickly.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Craig. Well, thank you so much, and happy new year.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Thanks, same to you.
BOB GARFIELD: Craig Silverman writes the Regret the Error blog on Poynter.org, where you can find the rest of his annual roundup of the year’s big media screw-ups.