The internet ruins everything — even end-of-year listicles.
What used to be a generally light-hearted column about the most outrageous corrections issued by media organizations over the past twelve months (see our lists for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016) has to switch gears significantly this year.
One year ago, Donald Trump started calling media reports he disagreed with “fake news” — regardless of whether they were inaccurate or not. He hasn’t stopped. The acrimony reached a peak when Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel tweeted an inaccurate photo, apologized and was publicly blasted by the president on Twitter, who then asked for his firing.
Two things can be true at the same time. Journalists screw up — often. And we have a responsibility to do better. At the same time, quality journalism is geared towards reaching the truth. We cross-check sources. We fact-check claims. We correct our mistakes, as the vast collection of examples below shows. Few other professions are as wedded to corrections as ours is. As a former fact-checker, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a politician publicly corrected a false claim.
As I wrote earlier this year, journalism can’t afford for corrections to be the next victim of the “fake news” frenzy. In too many countries (like my own), the media corrects surreptitiously, when at all. Those outlets that do correct, dedicating time and resources to a fully-fleshed editorial process should be rewarded, not penalized. So here’s a good intention for 2018: Let’s double down on corrections policies and be more humble as we seek the facts.
Contrary to past editions, we’ll start with some of the most serious corrections of the year and then lighten it up with the howlers.
ABC News had to correct a report indicating that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn acted on Donald Trump’s instructions in allegedly violating the Logan Act under instruction by Donald Trump. The correction, initially billed a “clarification,” came after several hours of panic on the money markets. Journalist Brian Ross was suspended as a consequence.
CORRECTION of ABC News Special Report: Flynn prepared to testify that President-elect Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians *during the transition* — initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria, confidant now says. https://t.co/ewrkVZTu2K pic.twitter.com/URLiHf3uSm
— ABC News (@ABC) December 2, 2017
The precise nature of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia was the object of a few more doozies — probably a sign of hypothesis myopia (scientists do it, too).
An NBC tweet promised more than the Megyn Kelly interview with Vladimir Putin had actually delivered.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 5, 2017
CNN made two more high-profile mistakes on this topic. In June it corrected a story about former FBI director James Comey and his conversations with Donald Trump …
…and in December it admitted to getting the timing wrong on emails sent to the Trump campaign from Wikileaks. The incident is scathingly recapped on The Intercept — but perhaps as a testament to the media’s capacity to self-correct, the timing had been corrected by The Washington Post.
CNN's initial reporting of the date on an email sent to members of the Trump campaign about Wikileaks documents, which was confirmed by two sources to CNN, was incorrect. We have updated our story to include the correct date, and present the proper context for the timing of email
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) December 8, 2017
Independent Journal Review retracted a story speculating that there was a connection between an Obama trip to Hawaii and judicial action on the travel ban — but (to its credit) left a PDF of its inaccurate story up for posterity.
Other sensitive subjects that drew high-profile corrections in 2017 were the Gabby Giffords shooting …
We got an important fact wrong, incorrectly linking political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Giffords. No link was ever established.
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017
… and the gender pay gap.
Breitbart ran an AFP wire but got wrong the only thing it added to the story. It then ran this tongue-in-cheek correction, which doesn’t quite express contrition.
Dallas Morning News readers didn’t think this was much a-moo about nothing.
Brutal correction in the Dallas Morning News pic.twitter.com/RU90ZQf752
— Beck(the halls)with (@ryanbeckwith) October 24, 2017
Also having animal trouble: BuzzFeed.
Fact-checking is *so 2016*.
This story, of course, does not check faces.
It checks facts. Our apologies.
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 28, 2017
There is no such thing as a wrong giraffe photo.
The AP has deleted a tweet about a giraffe being born because it included a photo of the wrong giraffe. A new tweet is upcoming.
— AP West Region (@APWestRegion) July 26, 2017
This Guardian correction slays them all.
An episode of the West Wing Weekly podcast led a listener to alert her journalist brother about a four-year-old error. (Related, how ugly was the internet four years ago?)
ABC News fixed an article from 2013 because of the newest episode of our podcast. We are drunk with power. ????????—HH https://t.co/10DT8gNJXQ
— The West Wing Weekly (@WestWingWeekly) August 9, 2017
Oh yes he is! Yes he is! (The New York Times.)
I think I’m too Italian to understand why someone would get so passionate about hot dogs.
— Joel Christopher (@j_christo) July 20, 2017
Here’s another mistake made far, far before the present day.
We’d like to say that our mistake was made to prove a point about the importance of copy editors. But it was snot.
My colleague Kristen Hare got David Fahrenthold into trouble.
Don’t mess around with The Simpsons.