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Media Beat

Corrections you will never see in top daily newspapers



Many readers of Mad Magazine can recall a regular feature called “Scenes We’d Like to See.” It involved fantasies of what might happen if candor replaced customary euphemisms and evasions.

These days, every once in a while, I image what it might be like if news outlets were candid and leveled with media consumers instead of the usual circuitous route of pretense and distortion. What media scenes would we like to see?

One area for potential improvement would be media efforts to correct mistakes in news reporting. It’s often difficult to persuade a media outlet to publicly set the record straight. To their credit, newspapers are apt to be more willing to do so than radio or TV outlets are. Unfortunately, the “correction box” in the paper routinely leaves a lot to be desired.

The corrections that appear in The New York Times are typical of ones that are published every day on newsprint across the country. The Times is often scrupulous about correcting the smallest factual errors that have made it into print. So, we learn that someone’s name was misspelled or a date was wrong or a person in a photo was misidentified in the caption.

Unfortunately, we rarely encounter a correction that addresses a fundamental flaw in the reporting.

Envisioning what could happen if newspapers set about correcting the deeper problems with news reporting, it’s not hard to fantasize what might appear in “Newspaper Corrections We’d Like to See.” For instance:

– “Yesterday’s paper included a business section but failed to also include a labor section. In fact more Americans work without investing for a living, and the failure to recognize this reality in the apportionment of our resources is not journalistically defensible. The Daily Bugle regrets the error.”

– “On Thursday, this newspaper published a lengthy story about the state of the economy that quoted three corporate spokespeople, two Wall Street business analysts and someone from a corporate-funded think task. But the article did not quote a single low-income person. The Daily Bugle regrets the error.”

– “Last week, The Daily Bugle reported on the history of human rights violations in Latin America without noting the pivotal roles played by the U.S. government in supporting despotic regimes during the 20th century. Such selective reporting had the effect of airbrushing some significant aspects of the historical record. This newspaper regrets the error.”

– “Yesterday, The Daily Bugle printed a correction of an obituary that supplied the proper spelling of the first name of the deceased’s daughter. However, the correction failed to correct the obituary’s evasive summary of his activities as a top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Daily Bugle regrets the error.”

– “On Tuesday, in a frontpage article about the mayor’s proposals for a sweeping new urban-renewal program, The Daily Bugle devoted 27 paragraphs to the potential impacts on real estate interests, stores owners and investors. Yet the story devoted scant attention to the foreseeable effects of the project on poor people, many of whom have been living in the affected neighborhoods for generations. Unfortunately, this oversight was all too typical of the kind of reporting that exists across the spectrum of mass-media outlets in the United States.”

– “During the past five years, readers of this newspaper have encountered frequent ongoing references to ‘the war on terrorism’ and ‘the war on terror.’ While these are phrases avidly used by architects and supporters (and even many opponents) of the U.S. government’s military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, they are phrases based on assumptions that could be substantively debated. The Daily Bugle regrets that its pages have not provided adequate reporting to illuminate and facilitate such a debate.”

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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