May 23, 2008

Getting it Right

As human beings, journalists make mistakes. We (I pretend at being one from time to time and actually get paid for it, so I have to include myself) sometimes make a lot of mistakes, or a string of mistakes.

People understand that. They get that we make mistakes—and get this—actually find us more credible when we admit just how badly we screwed up a story, as long as we explained how it happened, and make an honest effort to improve. when we bury our heads in the sand, and refuse to admit obvious mistakes or failures in our reporting, assumptions, editing, or conclusions, we hurt only ourselves.

Right, Dan?

I've been advocating that approach for quite a while now and hope I practice what I preach. At least one person believes I'm doing okay, though I know there is plenty of room for improvement.

Another person I know who constantly works to improve his work is Michael Yon. I don't think he needs much introduction to my readership, and his work as a combat journalist has always stood on its own. Yon is also big on focusing on integrity as a writer, and it is something he has harped on on his site, in interviews, on the phone, and he tells me in his book as well, which I will eventually read once somebody starts sleeping through the night.

Yon published a military memo on his site Wednesday which quickly got the attention of the online community. The sourcing was solid. It was authentic, no doubt about it.

Many bloggers, the military community, and their supporters were quickly outraged over the content of the memo, which alleged that military uniformed personnel we being targeted for verbal abuse by anti-war fanatics. Just as quickly, online anti-war activists claimed that this was false, even noting (though they phrased it differently) that they were too craven and cowardly to berate men and women that could easily beat them into pulp.

I was immediately interested by the report and posted on it, and thought it might be something interesting to follow up on in more detail.

As I did so, Yon pointed out via email that some in his comments were calling it a hoax, and asked me to pursue the story. You can ready about what I found in a post this morning at Pajamas Media.

Now, that may not sound like a big deal, but when was the last time that a journalist at one newspaper encouraged a journalist at another to follow up on his work and check for inconsistencies? How often does it even occur within the same news organization? It very well may happen. In fact, I hope it does... but we don't often see the results of such a check-up, and far to many times we see stories that are utterly false that go uncorrected—*cough*—Brian Ross—*cough*—and the same mistakes or falsehoods reiterated another day.

Yon is interested in getting it right. Perhaps if our journalistic class was more interested in getting it right instead of just getting it out while feigning perfection, the public's respect for them wouldn't be collapsing.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 23, 2008 09:18 AM

Perhaps if our journalistic class was more interested in getting it right instead of just getting it out while feigning perfection...

It's worse than that. Too many of them want to get something out that will bulldoze public opinion in the correct direction, and the fact-gathering process needn't be complete, but only sufficient to accomplish that aim.

Posted by: Micropotamus at May 23, 2008 11:42 AM

More kudos to you and Yon :)

Micro has it very right as well. Ever since Watergate, almost every MSM 'journalist' is/has been trying for that "seminal scoop". Whether the facts actually support their preconceived conclusion or not.

Posted by: Mark at May 23, 2008 02:05 PM

I heard The New Republic does it all the time...

And speaking of double checking...

You might want to take a look at this AP facade

by the same guy who worked with others to write the Nogunri (infamous) famous article.

Another blogger has taken it apart fairly well:

But I thought this was up your ally and might be something your readers would like to know about.

Posted by: usinkorea at May 23, 2008 02:15 PM

Read the post and the memo.

It doesn't sound like much any way around.

The memo didn't seem to me like it was offering much of an alarm. Having lived in South Korea, and having watched a lot of the armed forces network, to catch shows in English, you see all kinds of public service announcements.

Someone heard of an incident involving a uniformed soldier and someone shouting anti-war items and sent out a fairly tame memo.

I could see myself doing the same if my job in the military had to do with public safety or public relations.

It isn't as if a Defense Department spokesman went on CNN claiming frequent physical attacks on GIs in DC by anti-war activists....

Posted by: usinkorea at May 23, 2008 02:27 PM

usinkorea: The attacks start in subtle ways. Those of us who have been through it once are probably more sensitive to the subject. We've seen how teachers work it, telling innocent 7 year olds that "God doesn't listen to prayers for baby killers," landlords saying, "no pets, no soldiers/sailors," employers saying, "you might get transferred or try to push a military agenda, so I can't hire you." After that is when it becomes more blatant. Nasty ridiculing remarks in stores, malls, at the gas station, even in church, spitting, garbage cans of raw sewage dumped on a member in uniform, picket lines with screaming a$$holes outside your residence or place of business, your car keyed because it has a base sticker.

We remember! We have promised never to let it happen again.

Posted by: Sara at May 23, 2008 02:50 PM