Accuracy in Media

Newsweek’s completely horrible month took another turn Thursday thanks to an article in Politico by one of its best-known writers.

Matt Cooper, who had worked for Newsweek since 1996, described the moment he realized he could not work there anymore.

“It was 3 a.m. on Saturday, and I was seething. Staring at my phone, I saw that my company, Newsweek Media Group, had put out yet another story that would require a correction if not a retraction.

“This time it was a story ripped from The Onion. We were treating the fake news as if it were real.”

The story, which appeared on Newsweek’s sister publication, the International Business Times, was entitled, “Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Set Up Wedding Registry at London’s Target.” He emailed an editor and had the story taken down.

“There’s no correction,” he wrote in the Politico piece, “which is what a normal news company might post.”

This was the tipping point for Cooper, who also had worked at Time and U.S. News & World Report. There was the article in Newsweek that claimed the girlfriend of the Las Vegas gunman was married to two men simultaneously. And the story about a poll in Japan that found its citizens eager to go to war with North Korea.

And the story right after Charles Manson died about how Manson and President Trump both used words to influence people. And the one that was “most embarrassing for me as a political reporter” … a story in January that proclaimed Hillary Clinton could still become president if the Mueller investigation found evidence of collusion with Russia.

“What followed was a far-fetched theory of Trump’s removal and Mike Pence handing the reins to Hillary, which seems a tad unlikely,” Cooper wrote.

“Newsweek was visited by plagues that seemed to include everything but locusts,” Cooper wrote.

There was the editor of the Pakistan edition tweeting that “child rape sometimes ‘leads to great art’ – a line not exactly warmly received in the #MeToo era or any other,” Cooper wrote.

The company was raided by police as part of an investigation into ties between the owners and a controversial minister. Newsweek’s chief content officer had been placed on leave after BuzzFeed reported Newsweek had hired him jus months after Reuters had fired him for alleged sexual harassment. And the International Business Times had been credibly accused of inflating its web traffic numbers to drive up ad rates.

Then, on Monday of this week, its top two editors – Bob Roe and Ken Li – were fired, along with a reporter, for writing stories about the owners’ problems with the law.

Cooper lamented the news magazine business of yore. He recalled his first project at Newsweek – the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego – and the kickoff dinner aboard a yacht. The time owners hired New York magazine impresario Tina Brown to rescue Newsweek, only to have to close its print edition for the first time. The way the new owners – the people who got raided by the police – had come in with “no ideological leanings so far as we could tell then or now.”

The enemy, he said, was not liberal media bias but chasing the almighty click.

“Monetization – to use that clumsy word – is still the goal, and click-bait is its enemy because it’s not a reliable revenue stream,” Cooper wrote.

“As I said in my resignation letter, ‘Leaving aside the police raid and harassment scandal – a dependent clause I never thought I would write – it’s the installation of editors, not Ken Li and Roe, who recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness, that leaves me most despondent not only for Newsweek but for other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall.”

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