Regrets of the year

2009 in media errors

This week, you’ll get your fill of best-of-2009 lists. But the mainstream press probably will pass over the top media corrections of the year, as selected by media watchdog blog Regret the Error (written by Montreal’s Craig Silverman). But this is the list you want to check out, because it not only points out the willful ignorance by some journalists but also the pure absurdity of some printed material.

According to the blog, the top “correction of the year” goes to the Washington Post for this admission of guilt: “A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.” Can you tell no one under 30 works at WaPo?

Toronto isn’t perfect, either. Look at Toronto Sun’s retraction about a school fight in Keswick, Ontario: “A headline on page one of the Toronto Sun yesterday was both inaccurate and misleading. In fact, as the story reported, the mother of a boy involved in a high school fight in Keswick said her son ‘said something stupid.’ She did not say nor imply he was stupid. The Sun regrets the error and apologizes to the boy and his family.”

Then there’s the Telegraph-Journal, a newspaper in New Brunswick, which reported Prime Minister Harper supposedly pocketed a communion wafer when he attended the funeral of former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc. The paper had to admit it “breached journalistic principles” but Silverman still thinks the paper has to answer several questions: “The paper apologized for its errors, but it hasn’t been transparent about what caused them. Sadly, this lack of disclosure is all too common among news organizations.”

This is the kind of 2009-lookback list perfect for media mavens. As much as we like a good typo in a headline (as showcased by late-night Jay Leno), broader mistakes in newspapers underscore a deeper problem: the lack of fact-checking, the rush to be first instead of being correct, and the willingness to quickly publish a retraction but little else. Silverman is right. The public deserves more thorough explanations when media outlets report libelous accusations otherwise, the trust in journalistic principles will erode beyond repair.[rssbreak]

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