Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Whoops--Is sorry enough when an article is wrong?

Former NBA player Eddie Johnson is suing the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets for incorrectly identifying him as the suspect in the sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl in August. A Chicago native, Johnson played in the NBA for 18 years and now works as a TV analyst for the Phoenix Suns. The actual suspect had the same name as him and also played in the NBA. The AP got the story right Aug. 8, but a Tribune article the next day named the wrong Eddie Johnson.

The Tribune ran an apology, but apparently, that wasn’t enough for Johnson. Should it have been?

In their haste to get information out for the “greater good of society,” journalists sometimes make mistakes. Spelling and grammar errors are forgivable, but falsely connecting someone to a sexual assault or a murder is far more serious and could do permanent damage (i.e. Richard Jewell).

Steps can be taken to prevent such mistakes, but they will invariably happen. How should we expect the public to respond? I’d hope they would understand that media outlets don’t intend to unnecessarily harm someone’s reputation. But maybe it’s necessary for newspapers and TV outlets to be taken to court as a warning to other journalists to triple check the facts. And if our No. 1 loyalty is to the public, and we betray them with a libelous accusation, what other recourse does an individual have but to sue?

On a related note, a Slate magazine article asks why newspapers hesitate to admit when they make mistakes. The Tribune issued an apology the next day, but Jim Shafer gives several examples of other newspapers failing to acknowledge flawed coverage of a story. To read his article click here.

Shafer asks, “Why is it so hard for newspapers that have climbed out onto a limb in reporting a story to turn back once they hear the wood cracking? Instead of announcing their errors in judgment, most newspapers reverse course by ignoring the flawed stories in their back pages and taking a new tack—as if those old stories had never been written.”

What do you think? Do newspapers hold themselves accountable to the same degree as they do public figures? And how much leniency should the public give reporters when they get the facts wrong?

To read about the Chicago Tribune lawsuit, click here

Posted by AJ

3 Comments:

At Wednesday, October 18, 2006, Anonymous MG said...

What a great point! I never feel as though any of those published "apologies" are sufficient, even when a newspaper is willling enough to admit its mistakes. Most of those apologies are filled with corporate jargon and the reader is taken in dizzying circles around the facts. The worst part is, just as you mentioned, that in the process people's lives are often ruined and negatively affected.

 
At Thursday, October 19, 2006, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

I agree with the previous post. Eddie Johnson is a public figure, and being from Chicago, it had to sting that his home city's paper libeled him. Perhaps they could have made sure it was/wasn't the tv analyst Eddie Jones. Then, the reporter could have diffrentiated the perp from the TV Analyst a little bit better. There are HAUNTING similarities between the two men however. Was the suspect "Eddie Jones" as famous as the tv analyst? This is a good lesson that as a reporter, when someone is charged or suspected of a crime and they have a famous person's name to make sure we describe the suspect in a way that highlights the difference between he/she and the celebrity.

 
At Sunday, October 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A paper like the Tribune shouldn't be making a mistake like this.

 

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