May 23, 2017

The family of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich may have applauded Fox News’ “retraction,” but as retractions go, Fox’s effort was lame. It didn’t include a correction, which would have gone a long way toward showing that the network learned from its mistake and was truly contrite.

Corrections are inevitable in journalism. When done well, they serve a purpose for both the audience and the news organization.

A good correction does these things:

  • States what the journalists got wrong
  • Replaces that information with accurate information
  • Explains how the error happened
  • Appears in a place where consumers who saw the original information are likely to see the update

Fox News’ correction on Tuesday did none of this. The two-paragraph statement, published under the “politics” category on the network’s website, doesn’t say what about Fox News’ reporting was inaccurate (that its original source backed away from his claim that he had information showing Rich was in touch with Wikileaks).

It doesn’t replace the bad information with accurate information (that police believe Rich was murdered during a robbery). It doesn’t specify who in the organization is being held accountable. And the correction doesn’t appear on the original story to explain why it was removed, nor has it been shared in the on-air forums where the inaccurate story was promoted. As of this writing, the original URL displays a 404 error. Fox News isn’t even acknowledging to people who click the link to the original story that it’s been retracted.

For the audience, good corrections build credibility and trust in a news provider, because consumers know there is recourse when they spot errors. For the newsroom, corrections help identify weak spots in the system of reporting and hold bad actors accountable.

A news organization’s willingness to do corrections well is an indication of its dedication to the truth and accuracy. That wasn’t the case today.

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Kelly McBride is a journalist, consultant and one of the country’s leading voices on media ethics and democracy. She is senior vice president and chair…
Kelly McBride

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