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Those Darn Inconvenient Facts

How does the ConWeb handle corrections? Not well, especially if the story was better than the truth turned out to be.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/31/2003

A March 28 NewsMax story reproduced a list from a newspaper industry publication citing 15 stories that journalists embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq "got wrong" -- a highly ironic thing to do given NewsMax's own shaky record with telling the truth.

NewsMax's obvious intent here, of course, is to try and discredit the so-called "liberal" media as being inaccurate. Again, that's highly ironic since NewsMax has none of its own staff members in the field covering the war and relies on reports from other sources, thus having no basis on which to criticize the war coverage of others. A recent grouping of war stories on NewsMax's front page includes links to Fox News, CNN and BBC, as well as wire reports from United Press International.

"Hey, wait a minute. Weren't all of those embedded journalists suppose to give us the 'real' story of the war – without censorship and spin?" wrote NewsMax, as if rushing to print or to the air with unverified information was suddenly a bad thing after years of NewsMax running any specious tidbit about the Clintons as long as it was negative.

The rush to feed the media machine is an unfortunate byproduct of the 24-hour news cycle and, as a result, information not thoroughly vetted will slip through that may later turn out to be not quite correct. The real strength of a news organization, though, is how it corrects its errors. A responsible news organization admits its mistakes and tries to get things right.

That applies to webloggers, too. A weblogger named Andrew Baio did a quick study of how other bloggers handled the March 24 report of the discovery of an alleged chemical weapons plant in Iraq, a report later revised after no evidence was found that any chemical weapons had been produced there within the past five years -- which also happens to be No. 11 on the list NewsMax reproduced. Baio's conclusion: conservative weblogs tended to only link the original report, liberal weblogs tended to only link to the correction, and mixed and group weblogs linked to both.

How did the ConWeb handle this story? Just like you'd expect. NewsMax's Geoff Metcalf trumpeted the story in his March 24 column, "notwithstanding the protestations of the French, Democrats and other naysayers." WorldNetDaily also reported the alleged find.

Did either NewsMax or WND update the story after further information came out? If they did, it could be easily found. Neither organization has a mechanism by which readers can easily access story corrections, nor do they usually revise stories to correct information or to add links to other stories that will clarify information. (Baio notes that the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today did follow-ups that included the corrected information.)

What does that say about the ConWeb? Despite their claims of being legitimate news organization and all the millions of dollars keeping them alive, they at their core appear to have the ethics of a no-budget personal weblog that reports only things that confirms the author's biases and overlooks what doesn't.

* * *

Another example of the ConWeb overlooking inconvenient facts, caught by an alert ConWebWatch reader:

A March 27 WorldNetDaily story played up a survey that concluded TV viewers "harbor a disbelief about the integrity of news reports" and that "network coverage of the war on Iraq is largely viewed as having a liberal bias."

A look at the press release from the group conducting the survey, however, showed one other conclusion WND didn't tell its readers: "CNN and BBC are the most trustworthy and respected news sources."

Why? Perhaps WND writer Joe Kovacs didn't want that particular fact to conflict with the latter part of his story, which details the ratings lead conservative-skewed Fox News Channel has over CNN.

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