Accuracy in Media

John Seigenthaler, the founding editorial director of USA Today, has been making tons of media appearances ever since he blew the whistle on how the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia had published false information about him. He first used USA Today, the largest circulation newspaper in the U.S., to tell this story. Seigenthaler got the false information taken out of a bio about him but he still complains that it took too long and was too difficult to get the changes made. What a hypocrite.

USA Today is the same paper that still won’t apologize for smearing President Bush by using phony National Guard documents. The paper got them from the same source used by CBS, Bill Burkett, who admits he lied about where he got them. Nobody knows where they came from, another indication of their suspicious nature. AIM took this case all the way to the annual meeting of Gannett, parent of USA Today, and still was unable to get USA Today editor Ken Paulson to apologize or reprimand anybody.

I made those points when I called in to C-SPAN during Seigenthaler’s appearance on that network. Seigenthaler’s response was pathetic. He accused me of having misrepresented the nature of the controversy.

“I’m well aware of what happened,” he claimed. “Yes, there was contact with that source.” He then insisted that the paper had run a story “that validated what they had done and explained what they had done and what they had not done.”

This is gobbledygook. He’s apparently referring to the fact that after the paper got caught using the phony documents, it ran a story about the problem. But that’s not the same as what happened when CBS got caught. CBS was investigated by a special panel and people were fired. Doing a follow-up story is not the same thing as reprimanding or firing people.

If he’s really well aware of what happened and still insists that I have misrepresented the controversy, then he’s deliberately deceiving the viewers.

With C-SPAN, at least I had a chance to call in. When Seigenthaler has gone on Fox News and MSNBC, no anchor brought up the USA Today smear of Bush. Instead, they wept crocodile tears for poor John Seigenthaler. In fact, he was more able than most people to get justice. He’s a big name, or used to be, in journalism. Plus, he had USA Today as his mouthpiece to get the information corrected.

I sympathize with him. He was falsely accused of being suspected of participating in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. It was a smear and he had the right to be outraged.

Again, however, he had a megaphone-USA Today-to trumpet his alarm and concern. And that’s the same paper that smeared Bush with no consequences to anyone involved in the smear.

I sympathize with Bush as well as Seigenthaler. But when Seigenthaler gets justice and the President can’t, it’s a double standard that benefits the press. Seigenthaler, acting self-righteously in the case of what Wikipedia did to him, refuses to recognize that fact. Someone should put something about hypocrisy in his bio on Wikipedia. And you can quote me.

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