Accuracy in Media

One of the most interesting and entertaining websites is Regret the error, documenting “corrections, retractions, clarifications and trends regarding accuracy and honesty in the media.” It would be funny if it were not so serious.

One of my favorite media mistakes occurred when the Sacramento Bee on December 27 reported that a University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, student doing a research paper for a history class had been visited by agents of the Department of Homeland Security. The student had reportedly requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s “Little Red Book” through interlibrary loan for a paper on communism. The agents allegedly told him that because book was on a “watch list” and because the student had spent time abroad, they wanted to talk to him. Was this the result of the Bush-authorized NSA spying program? No, it was a complete hoax.

In fact, the Boston Globe had reported it to be a hoax on December 24. Reporter Jonathan Salzman said that “the story, first reported in last Saturday’s New Bedford Standard-Times, was picked up by other news organizations, prompted diatribes on left-wing and right-wing blogs, and even turned up in an op-ed piece written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the Globe.” Kennedy had “cited it as the latest example of the Bush administration’s intrusion on civil liberties,” the Globe said.

One problem with the story, the Globe reported, is that the Department of Homeland Security does not have its own “agents.”

Brian Glyn Williams, an associate professor of Islamic history, had provided the story from the student to the New Bedford Standard-Times.

Liberal columnist Molly Ivins issued an apology because she “bit” on the same “bad story” in her column. “The tale of the UMass-Dartmouth student who was visited by the feds for checking out Mao’s “Little Red Book” has turned out to be a hoax. So sorry,” she said. 

The Ivins column had stated the “incident” this way: “A few months ago, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth tried to check out a copy of Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ and wound up being interviewed by two feds.” Notice how she failed to cite any source for this sensational “incident.” The column ran on a left-wing web site under the headline, “The Constitution Does not Apply.” Perhaps the headline should be changed to “The Facts Do Not Apply.”

Ivins is also an identified plagiarist, having been caught lifting material from the work of writer Florence King.

But she’s still carried nationally by Creators Syndicate.

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