Slanted coverage: Nothing damages credibility more
Regarding "Beyond Jayson: It's little errors that hurt media" (May 16): As a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter, I have to admit that I've made my share of petty, sometimes hilarious, errors. While an eagle-eyed editor might have missed them, you can be sure readers didn't. Do these errors destroy the credibility of the media, as your story asserts? I would say no. While readers certainly take you to task, they understand and delight in human failings.
What does destroy credibility, however, is the ideological shaping of the news that has become increasingly prevalent. During coverage of the war in Iraq, the American media was characterized by flag-waving coverage of front-line troops and diligent recycling of military press briefings. The occasional hard question always seemed to come from a foreign journalist.
Readers understand that mistakes can be made when you are doing your best to tell the truth. They also understand shaping and distorting the truth to fit a particular ideological point of view - even when it's one they share. One makes you human; the other destroys your credibility.
I enjoyed your article on "little errors" and would like to comment on the "300 millimeter pistol" item from the standpoint of an engineer, businessman, outdoorsman, and Army veteran. These sorts of errors inform knowledgeable readers that the reporters and editors are ignorant of the subjects they are covering. When such errors occur, the entire article is immediately suspect. The knowing reader suspects errors of omission by a reporter who does not know what questions to ask. This particular error informs the reader that articles in that newspaper on guns, hunting, or the military may be produced by reporters and editors who are not only ignorant, but likely to be urban liberals who will bias coverage in favor of their political views.
El Lago, Texas
"Beyond Jayson" should be posted in every newsroom in America, and be required reading in every journalism class. As a retired newspaper editor, I preached for 35 years that words - whether spoken or written - cannot be recalled. A retraction is worth less than the paper it consumes. It merely acknowledges an error without actual redress.
Bowling Green, Ky.
I found it interesting, yet not surprising, that you, along with other members of the media, have focused on the Jayson Blair controversy. His name and picture have been splashed across every newspaper from coast to coast. Similar offenders, however, such as Stephen Glass, Mike Barnicle, R. Foster Winans, and other journalists guilty of the same offenses have been overlooked. This has led to speculation that Mr. Blair was not qualified and that his promotions were all a result of affirmative action or quotas. Without telling the whole story and exposing other journalists, you feed this misconception.
Little Rock, Ark.
In reading John Hughes's May 14 Opinion column "Preach press ethics abroad, but practice them at home" on the ethical lapses of a few journalists, I thought of another lapse - that of accepting and publishing information uncritically. This is a lapse of omission rather than a lapse of commission, but no less serious. Which is more destructive: Faking information or neglecting to provide full and balanced information to the American people?
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