Not fake news, just plain wrong: Top media corrections of 2017

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.

The Bad

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.

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.

A CNN story wrongly tying Anthony Scaramucci to a Russian investment fund was retracted. Three journalists resigned as a consequence. (Scaramucci accepted the apology.)

Editors note

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 ...

correction

...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.

It wasn’t all Russia, however. Fox News ran repeatedly with the Seth Rich conspiracy theory and only got around releasing the following “statement” after deciding it did not meet editorial standards.

Apology

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.

Retracted

Other sensitive subjects that drew high-profile corrections in 2017 were the Gabby Giffords shooting ...

... campus rape and a cack-handed book review ...

review

... and the gender pay gap.

Update

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.

jetski

The Funny

Thankfully, not all corrections this year were as serious as the ones above. For instance, NPR had to retract a personal post — but weren’t we all better off with Ramona updates in our life?

Ramona

Dallas Morning News readers didn’t think this was much a-moo about nothing.

Also having animal trouble: BuzzFeed.

llamas

Fact-checking is *so 2016*.

There is no such thing as a wrong giraffe photo.

This Guardian correction slays them all.

Beyonce

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?)

Oh yes he is! Yes he is! (The New York Times.)

Dog

I think I’m too Italian to understand why someone would get so passionate about hot dogs.

Here’s another mistake made far, far before the present day.

Wookie

We’d like to say that our mistake was made to prove a point about the importance of copy editors. But it was snot.

earlier version

My colleague Kristen Hare got David Fahrenthold into trouble.

doughnuts

What is it about the Financial Times and mistakes about riding horses?

horses

The Washington Post Express was “very embarassed” for their front page mistake (h/t BBC).

express

Don’t mess around with The Simpsons.

burrito

The mistake on this Washington Post story may have been sloppy but at least it gave us a great GIF.

spicer

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