By Rob Burgess
— As it says on page A2 of every issue of the paper you hold in your hands, “The Kokomo Tribune strives for 100 percent accuracy, but when we make a mistake, our policy is to correct it promptly.” We in the journalism game are only human.
This week, I present you the aftermath of a pair of recent public reporting misadventures, and one example of a publication standing by a perceived ethical blunder.
‘NEW HAMPSHIRE WAS LOST’
The July 9 episode of “NBC Nightly News” closed with a graphic of New Hampshire with the words “About last night…” placed next to anchor Brian Williams. “We showed a map when we were zooming in to correspondent Katy Turr’s live report,” said Williams. “But play that back and hold it, and you’ll see what a few of our sharp-eyed viewers saw, including at least one U.S. senator, New Hampshire is gone. Vanished. It apparently moved to Vermont and, then, New York took over a bunch of territory. Nobody knew it. Mea culpa and full disclosure: New Hampshire was lost by our graphics department. It has since been found and put back.”
Then, it went from good to great. “And this calls for a reminder of great things about New Hampshire. It’s got the best motto, ‘Live Free or Die.’ And it is the home of the first-in-the-nation primary. Its entire elected delegation is women: governor, two U.S. senators and members of Congress. And while they are all serious people, New Hampshire has also given us Seth Meyers and Sarah Silverman. And the inventor of Tupperware is from there. And paper towels were invented in New Hampshire.” Bravo!
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‘WE HAVE NEW INFORMATION’
I’m not going to lie, this one hurt to watch. “We have new information … on the [Asiana] plane crash. KTVU has just learned the names of the four pilots who were on the flight,” read the anchor of the noon July 12 KTVU-TV Channel 2 newscast. Except, no, lady, you haven’t. You so haven’t.
“Last week, an anchor for KTVU-TV read the fake names — apparently someone’s idea of a prank to use fake Asian-style names that sounded out distress calls and curse words,” read a July 17 Associated Press report. The National Transportation Safety Board swiftly accepted the dirty end of the stick.
“Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft,” read the July 12 statement by Kelly Nantel of the NTSB Office of Public Affairs. Asiana proposed and then later dropped the idea of a lawsuit against KTVU-TV, which avoided legal action with an on-air apology the same day.
“We made several mistakes when we received this information,” read the statement. “First, we never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out. Then, during our phone call to the NTSB where the person confirmed the spellings of the names, we never asked that person to give us their position with the agency.” Ouch.
Rolling Stone is placing a Jim Morrison-like image of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its Aug. 1 cover with headline: “THE BOMBER: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.” The backlash to the cover has been immediate and white hot.
Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, felt so strongly he released several never-before-seen photos of the Tsarnaev manhunt to Boston Magazine to counteract Rolling Stone, at the cost of his job. Rolling Stone has stood behind its cover. It hasn’t apologized, despite enormous pressure.
The Rolling Stone article’s author, Janet Reitman, is a great journalist who wrote the 2011 book “Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion,” which I enjoyed very much. I have no doubt the article will be top notch. Personally, I found the cover itself a bit icky. But, then again, I didn’t feel great when Justin Bieber was selected twice, either.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.