Tag Archives: journalism ethics

Fox News owns up to mistake … well done

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of the Fox News Channel, the network that proclaims itself to be “fair and balanced … and unafraid.”

I’ve determined that a news organization that must declare it is “fair and balanced” usually is neither.

But the other day, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith did something quite commendable.

He manned up and said the network erred in a report from Baltimore about an alleged shooting of a man by police.


The field reporter said he saw an officer shoot a man. The police department issued a statement that said the incident didn’t happen. The field reporter, Mike Tobin, thought he saw what he reported.

In the words of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Oops.

Smith then went on the air to say the network messed up. It gave incorrect information and broadcast it to its audience.

There’s been some chatter out there about the incident and whether Fox is prone to reporting such errors regularly. I don’t know the answer to that.

One can quibble with how a network — be it Fox, CNN, MSNBC or any of the broadcast networks — spin their coverage, depending on your point of view and your own bias.

But when a network misreports something that it says actually happened, then takes it back, well, that’s part of taking responsibility.

We’re all human. And humans make mistakes.

Fox News’s correspondent made one. The network apologized for it.

I accept the apology.


Retracting a story is a huge deal

During my 37 years in print journalism, I had to write some corrections to news stories or editorials I’d written.

You get a fact wrong, you write a brief explainer of the actual fact. It usually goes into a file your editor would keep. I’ve written a clarification or two in my time. That’s when you report or commenting on an issue without using the proper context. Those, too, go into a file.

No journalist likes to write those.

A retraction? That’s a very big deal. That’s when you retract an entire story. It was bogus. False. It’s a firing offense. I’ve seen reporters lose their jobs because their files contained too many corrections or clarifications.


Rolling Stone magazine, a usually reliable journal, has retracted a story it published alleging that the University of Virginia fraternity house was the scene of a horrible rape in 2012. The magazine drew a scathing critique from the Columbia Journalism Review about how editors allowed the story to pass through various checkpoints before being published.

The writer of the bogus story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, reportedly didn’t contact any of the alleged assailants.She acknowledges she relied too heavily on the alleged victim’s account of what happened.

One of the more astonishing elements of this story is that Erdely and the editors who worked on her story are continuing to work for Rolling Stone. She has apologized to the readers of Rolling Stone and has vowed never to make the mistakes she made while writing the article.


But can readers trust her fully again? Journalists are supposed to trade on the trust they build with their readers. That trust is built on the journalist’s ability to tell the truth, completely and fully and without a hint of doubt about the veracity of the story being told.

When a nationally known publication such as Rolling Stone retracts a story, it in effect is admitting it has inflicted a grave wound on that trust.

It’s a real big deal.