Accuracy in Media

The Los Angeles Times, one of the nation’s largest newspapers, is smarting from being a victim of an Internet hoax. In an apparent example of laziness, a Times reporter used a quote from a fake news release.

It conjures up the quote last year from news executive Jonathan Klein, who initially defended “60 Minutes” when it came under attack by bloggers questioning the documents used in a story attacking President Bush’s National Guard duty. Klein stated that “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at ’60 Minutes’] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

Well once again those “multiple layers of check and balances” have failed, this time at the Los Angeles Times, which used a fake press release that had been created as an April Fool’s Day joke.

On December 27, in a story about a 10-year-old program to reintroduce wolves into the wilderness inside the U.S., Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming was quoted as saying the Endangered Species Act was no longer in force and that the state “now considers the wolf as a federal dog” to be “unworthy of protection.”

The next day the Times corrected the story. Wiping the egg off its face, they acknowledged having been the victim of a hoax: “The reporter saw it on the Internet and had talked with the governor in the past, so she was familiar enough with the way he talks and writes that she thought it sounded authentic, and she didn’t check, which she should have,” said Times Deputy Metro Editor David Lauter to the Casper Star Tribune. “We hate when this kind of thing happens, and we correct it as quickly as possible.”

The story dealt with how controversial this whole program has been. There is dispute between people who own livestock in the states where the wolves have been brought back, and environmental groups. Both make claims on how much of a predatory threat the wolves pose to nearby animals. So this was a key point in the Times’ front-page story. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering turning over the management of the wolves for the states to deal with, but some federal officials are concerned.

As put it, “the error is so ridiculous on its face that it reveals both the bias and the ignorance that afflict both the Times’ reporters and its editors, who not only read and approved the article, but decided it was important enough to put on the front page. Think about it.” added, “?the Times reported that the Governor of Wyoming decreed that the Endangered Species Act ‘is no longer in force’ in his state. That is simply absurd, and it reflects the paper’s profound ignorance of the world on which it seeks to report. The Times reporter not only failed to realize that the quote was ridiculous, but deemed it so inherently credible that she printed it based on an internet search that she didn’t bother to verify. How could that happen? It happened because the editors and reporters at the Los Angeles Times take it for granted that people who live in weird states like Wyoming are dangerously ignorant yahoos who need to be taken in hand by the federal bureaucracy.”

You would think that after the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, and the Rathergate scandal at CBS, that the mainstream media would have their fact-checkers working overtime to get it right. Instead, we have one more story to add to the list of media missteps.

We look forward to a “Media Bloopers” TV show on this phenomenon.

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