Accuracy in Media

In follow-up story about the Koran toilet story, Richard M. Smith, the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek, said that, “?we got an important story wrong, and honor requires us to admit our mistake and redouble our efforts to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.” But Newsweek staffers won’t suffer any adverse consequences. They’ll continue pulling down their big salaries. How honorable is that, considering that the violence which resulted from the story “may have been related to what we published,” Smith admits. Smith adds, “To the extent that our story played a role in contributing to such violence, we are deeply sorry.” They may all be sorry but they all have their jobs. On the other hand, 16 people lost their lives and over 100 were injured. At least in the CBS Memogate scandal four people lost their jobs.

Smith declares, “We will raise the standards for the use of anonymous sources throughout the magazine.” But how low were the standards to begin with? How high will they go? Smith claims that his “veteran reporter Michael Isikoff” had relied on “a well-placed and historically reliable government source” for the Koran story. Really? How do we know that? That sounds impressive, but what does it really mean?  What other stories were based on this alleged reliable source?

Trying to explain how the false story made it into print, Smith goes on to say that “We sought comment from one military spokesman (he declined) and provided the entire story to a senior Defense Department official, who disputed one assertion (which we changed) and said nothing about the charge” of abusing the Koran. This sentence repeats the claim that Newsweek went to two other anonymous sources, and that one declined comment and another said nothing. So that means that the false item was really based on one alleged source, who changed his position on the allegation. Yet the magazine had initially claimed the story was based on “sources.” Smith doesn’t address that lie.

Smith promises to change Newsweek’s practices. He says, “When information provided by a source wishing to remain anonymous is essential to a sensitive story?alleging misconduct or reflecting a highly contentious point of view, for example?we pledge a renewed effort to seek a second independent source or other corroborating evidence.” But this convoluted statement still leaves open the distinct possibility that the magazine will base important stories on information initially provided by anonymous sources. This is “trust me” journalism when the trust is gone.

Smith comments, “Trust is hard won and easily lost, and to our readers, we pledge to earn their renewed confidence by producing the best possible magazine each and every week.” But Smith will do it with the same personnel who created the problem in the first place.

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