In the wake of the Oslo attacks, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial blaming the violence on Islamic extremists. When further reporting revealed that the killer wasn’t a Muslim, the Journal changed its editorial online without issuing any sort of correction. Craig Silverman, who tracks newspaper corrections at his website Regret the Error, tells Bob that the Journal acted dishonestly.
(You can see the original article here, and the edited one over here.)
Artist: Gold Panda
When the news first broke that there had been a terror attack in Norway, early coverage suggested that Islamic jihadists were responsible.
Two deadly terror attacks in Norway, in what appears to be the work, once again, of Muslim extremists
Terrorism experts would say that would have the hallmarks of al Qaeda.
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You can't say for sure.
But it sure looks like Islamic terrorism.
An editorial by The Wall Street Journal called "Terror in Oslo" cited the attacks as evidence that despite Norway's attempts to placate jihadists, the country had still been a victim of their violence. When further reporting revealed that the killer wasn't a Muslim, The Journal changed its editorial online, mainly by cutting the phrases that most explicitly blamed jihadist for the attacks. But The Journal did not issue a correction or in any way acknowledge the error.
We called Craig Silverman who tracks newspaper corrections at his website Regrettheerror.com. He says that The Journal's behavior was dishonest.
We have been issuing corrections for literally hundreds of years. So in many ways we've actually trained the public to expect that when we make a mistake we acknowledge it.
And the difference, of course, is that online now we can go in and we can scrub away a mistake, but that doesn't mean it's okay to do that.
Scrubbing away. You're talking about literally revisionist history, like Soviet textbooks.
Exactly. I mean, when it's an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, you can't just scrub it away, and then walk away whistling as if, oh, nothing happened here and nobody's gonna notice. They've made people notice it even more.
So what is the best way to handle it when, particularly as an editorialist, you get caught in this kind of embarrassing sort of false assumption?
You can go in and you can change the editorial online, but you add a correction or, in this case, perhaps, an editor's note, which is sort of an order of magnitude higher of a correction, to say this editorial originally said X, Y and Z. In fact now that new information has come to light, that's not the case; we have changed the text to reflect this.
And I think the next stage of what you need to do now in the online environment is The Journal would have to say okay, was this editorial shared on our FaceBook page, was it tweeted out from our main account? Where are the places where we pushed this incorrect information out?
And once they realize that, they should then go back to those places and make sure that they acknowledge that they have changed the text here.
Are you just giving me your opinion on this issue, or are you describing an online convention? Is there are some sort of list of best practices for online corrections?
There are journalist organizations that have set out best practices documents. And at the core of that is we acknowledge our mistakes, we do so in a suitably prominent manner and we do so in the most timely fashion possible. And that's something that I think is ingrained in a lot of organizations.
Where we have some difficulty right now is particularly in the emerging mediums that we're using. Whether it's the web, whether it's mobile, or whether it's social media, I think that we have yet to really come to a consensus.
When I look at the way for example, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Post [sic] are handling corrections online, I think in those cases each of those papers would have done what I describe.
Now, they may not have tweeted out a correction. I think that's still a very new thing. But we are getting to the point where there's kind of agreed upon things.
You, of course, meant The Washington Post, not "The Wall Street Post." We look forward to the correction.
I will make that correction now, and then when this airs I will also issue a correction when I link to it.
[LAUGHS] All right, Craig, thank you.
Craig Silverman tracks newspaper corrections at his website Regrettheerror.com.