Have you ever attended an event and then seen the coverage of the event and said two yourself "that's not what happened." The open secret that journalists refuse to admit is that mainsteam media coverage is oftentimes simply not accurate. Two local news stories have vaulted onto the national stage in the last few weeks and the coverage has been so strikingly wrong that even the Republic's E.J. Montini commented:
Occasionally, we in the media go out of our way to prove to the general public what they already know: We’re idiots.
Pierce taunts L.A. over its decision to boycott Arizona, saying, essentially, that if L.A. doesn’t like Arizona it shouldn’t take any of the power it takes from Arizona generating facilities.
It was not a threat. It was more of a joke. And ALL of a political stunt.
Montini then goes on to cite examples in which the national media incorrectly describes pierces letter as a "threat".
Incredibly--three days after the Montini complaint--the Republic uses prime space on the Sunday Editorial page to highlight a guest comment under the title. "Regulator is a Poor Role Model." The author writes:
I am referring, of course, to state Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce's irresponsible and childish threat to withhold electricity from California.
So in addition to not reading Pierce's actual letter, the Republic editor who chose to feature the inaccurate commentary didn't even bother to read Montini.
So can Pierce get a correction? After all, Montini complained in advance that the national media has been incorrectly characterizing the letter as a threat and then three days later, the Republic prints a commentary in which the author refers to Pierce's "irresponsible and childish threat..." and the paper uses the article to conclude that Pierce is a poor role model.
Surely a correction is in order.
Don't bet on it. Newspapers only correct trivial mistakes. So if the Photo Caption says that "Fido, Caught the Frisby", you may see a rather formal sounding correction on A2 the next day informing you that it was actually "Rover that caught the Frisby."
But when a newspaper REALLY botches something and it has HUGE consequences, there's rarely a correction.
That brings me to the second story which has gone national--SB 1070. I think that even the Republic Brass have been shocked at the way the bill has been mischaraterized by the national media. To their credit, last Sunday, the Republic took the extraordinary step of printing the entire text of the law together with commentary from four law professors who explain what the bill actually does. I think the media is beginning to discover that the bill doesn't actually do very much.
However, now that the Republic Brass understand what the bill actually does I'm sure they have realized that much of the initial incorrect information that swept the country originated with an outrageous and inaccurate Republic Editorial that ran on April 22nd. Those false claims were picked up by Washington Post Columnist E.J. Dionne and from there spread to media across the country. I wrote about the disaster here.
While I don't think the economic fallout from the boycott will be significant, I believe that the cost of the damage to Arizona's reputation has been incalculable--and much of that damage was based on incorrect information published by the Arizona Republic.
So what should the Republic do now? They have done a good job by finally printing the correct information about the bill. But it's also time to acknowledge the error, tell us who wrote the editorial (or just confirm that it was Linda Valdez) and issue a correction.
So Montini is right...they are idiots. Much of what we read in the Mainstream Media is based on shoddy reporting and incorrect facts. However, the media used to be good at acknowledging their mistakes--now we will see if that willingness to admit when they are wrong has been lost too.
Will the Republic acknowledge the incorrect facts that led them to Characterize Pierce as "a poor role model?" Will the paper admit that it started the SB 1070 avalanche with its initial incorrect and wild eyed claims? Doubtful.
Perhaps the only thing worse than being idiots is being cowards.