April 10, 2012
Error Correction At Broadcast News Organizations

The errors made by our news organizations are their most annoying defects.  Not the worst, but the most annoying, because so many journalists are so bad at correcting their errors.

(Those who work in news organizations may be surprised by this, so I'll describe at length what usually happens when someone who isn't a journalist tries to get a journalist to make a correction: nothing.  If you send the reporter, columnist, or editorial writer a polite email explaining their error and asking them to make a correction, you will, in most cases, not even get a reply.  Exception: They will, usually, correct minor mistakes, such as a misspelled name.)

Our broadcast news organizations are especially poor at making corrections.   Often they don't even provide an obvious way to request a correction, or tell you who to send corrections to.  Our newspapers have their faults, but their mastheads usually tell you who is responsible for what.

In my experience, our broadcast news organizations make more, and worse, errors than our newspapers.  So their unwillingness to provide easy ways to suggest corrections, or simple ways to tell who is in charge, is, depending on my mood, amusing, annoying, or infuriating.

And so, on the off chance that our broadcast news organizations care about getting their stories right, I have some modest suggestions about how they should handle corrections.

I was inspired to make these suggestions by a recent case before the Washington News Council.  A report by one of our local NPR stations, KUOW, on a local pro-life organization got some of the facts wrong.  KUOW refused to make an on-air correction, but did put up a post or two after they received complaints from the Vitae Foundation.

In my opinion (and that of the News Council) those posts were an inadequate correction.  The News Council noted that many fewer people would read the posts than would have heard the original story.  That's true, but the News Council did not go as far as I would.

Broadcast news is, from the point of view of the audience, ephemeral, though less so than it once was, thanks to the Internet.  You hear, or see, a story, and unless you happened to be recording it, you will often be unsure, later, just what you heard or saw.  And if a correction comes days or weeks later, you may easily miss it.

So I suggest that our broadcast news organizations use a two-level method of publishing their corrections.  They should correct their original stories on the same program where they occurred — and they should post all corrections on their web sites.  In, I must add, a clearly labeled location.

And they should make it obvious on their web sites how a viewer or listener can request a correction and who should get those requests.

The very best news organizations may also want to add the corrections to the official copies of their stories.

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

Posted by Jim Miller at April 10, 2012 07:07 PM | Email This
1. .
"Note to Robert Mak: If you don't want viewers to think of you as a Democratic aide currently moonlighting as a journalist, you would do well to balance the number of Democrats and Republicans on your show more closely. You could, for instance, have on Republican consultants as often as you do Democratic consultants."

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission's view, honest, equitable and balanced.

Posted by: MikeBoyScout on April 10, 2012 07:20 PM
2. One significant problem - the Fairness Doctrine did not apply to television when it was in effect before it was repealed in 1987.

Why would it ever apply to television - if the liberal progressives that yearn for this would avoid application to television where they persuasion has the upper hand ?

Posted by: KDS on April 10, 2012 07:34 PM
3. Jim, you are far more gracious than I am.

The media is a far bigger problem in this country than Obama and his mindless lemmings.

The media is dishonest in that they don't tell the WHOLE truth. They bend their stories to fit the narrative and agenda they support. They filter according to their own bias and are guided by their own ideology.

Newsmen used to journalists seeking truth via who what, why, when and where. Now they are merely more in a long line seeking celebrity with no intellectual curiosity. Sensationalism trumps fact and far too often the journolebrity is more interested in making news rather than honestly reporting it.

This is a failure not only of the well documented leftism journalism schools but also of too much news via the 24 hour news cycle: gotta fill those minutes with something even at the high price of accuracy and honesty.

The saddest part of this media manipulation is the number of incurious citizens who accept their 'news' in soundbites, never asking themselves or demanding deeper questions. Too many accept what they see, read and hear, never questioning, never digging deeper. This is particularly true of older folks who came to adulthood trusting the '6 o'clock news'. The don't realize they are daily exposed to lies of omission, manipulated 'facts' and skewed polls.

This is far more dangerous and destructive than any ideological incompetent politician.

Posted by: RagnarDanneskold on April 10, 2012 07:39 PM
4. KDS writes, "the Fairness Doctrine did not apply to television when it was in effect before it was repealed in 1987"

Actually it applied exclusively to TV and radio. (Perhaps you mean it didn't apply to newspapers.)

Trivia: Who was president when the FCC, with his support, repealed the Fairness Doctrine?

Posted by: Bruce on April 10, 2012 07:45 PM
5. A lot of the time, they just don't have the intellectual capacity to recognize an error. These are not the best and the brightest. Oftentimes they are just waiting for that prize gig as director of tunnel outreach'

Posted by: travis t on April 10, 2012 09:12 PM
6. Travis@5 is right, though in all fairness, the goal of TV news is more to entertain than to provide the best and brightest reporting. Most people watching TV news would rather hear fluff than a correction, so the producer gives them what they want.

Posted by: Bruce on April 10, 2012 09:29 PM
7. Actually it applied exclusively to TV and radio. (Perhaps you mean it didn't apply to newspapers.)

Trivia: Who was president when the FCC, with his support, repealed the Fairness Doctrine?

Posted by Bruce at April 10, 2012 07:45 PM

Actually, it only applied in full to radio. Provide said evidence that indicated it applied to TV - from what I remembered - it didn't. The alphabet networks cable outlets reporting news were all liberally biased (Fox News did not exist). It might have applied only to certain types of TV shows - Crossfire on CNN, but did not apply to the news. If you don't verify it one way or the other, I will.

Reagan was President when it was repealed.

Posted by: KDS on April 10, 2012 09:43 PM
8. KDS, every online reference I can find says the fairness doctrine applied to all broadcasters, and that's my clear memory as well. But you are generally right that it didn't apply fully to cable news. The first cable news network, CNN, started in 1980, when Reagan took office and his appointees began ignoring and then abolishing the doctrine along with many other regulations.

Posted by: Bruce on April 10, 2012 10:57 PM
9. Ragnar @ 3:

Yes the media "bends" stories to effect a liberal slant, but an even greater problem (in my opinion) are the stories the leftist media totally ignores. An example would be the "Fast and Furious" gun running scandal. If such a program had been perpetrated and executed by the Bush administration the media would have already tarred, feathered and (justifiably) imprisoned half the justice department and GWB himself. But with Holder and Obongo, nary a peep from the Marxist Media...

Posted by: Saltherring on April 11, 2012 07:11 AM
10. As a member of the media for over 30 years, a little inside baseball might be appropriate here.

Most liberals do not realize they are bending a story to "their" ideology. In their minds their ideoligy IS the mass ideology.

Secondly, most, and I'll use the more appropriate British term here, "presenters" on the news, do not practice actual journalism... what they do is re-tell a press release, usually word for word. When they interview someone, that someone usually expounds the main points of the press release without any challenging questions.

I was a former news director at a radio station. I was privy to the press releases and it amazed me to watch the TV news and read the paper and see the press release presented word for word.

When I was a news director in the early 90's the democrats were way ahead of the republicans in terms of getting press releases to the press. in other words, at that time I only got press releases from democrats, none from conservative sources.

I always made it a point to find out what the other side of the story was and then presenting a balanced view of the issue. I know I was way ahead of my time and never even went to J school!!

To be fair NPR is doing a better job of trying to present both sides of an issue since the Juan Williams episod. The number of straight up hit pieces against conservatives has noticably declined.

No matter who funds them, the fact remains that KUOW, and the like, live in the cocoon of a liberal acedemic instution located in the most liberal town in the state. I dare say, sometimes it doesnt occur to them that there might be another side to some stories.

Posted by: daveo on April 11, 2012 11:51 AM
11. That's good to know about NPR, daveo. And I agree with Saltherring: the most insidious part of the media bias problem is what they choose--DELIBERATELY--NOT to cover. They count on us not to pay attention; we're too busy trying to live our lives. And pay our taxes. (Someone should tell Timmy "Tax Cheat" Geitner about that.)

Posted by: Bastiat Fan on April 11, 2012 11:56 AM
12. KDS, every online reference I can find says the fairness doctrine applied to all broadcasters, and that's my clear memory as well. But you are generally right that it didn't apply fully to cable news. The first cable news network, CNN, started in 1980, when Reagan took office and his appointees began ignoring and then abolishing the doctrine along with many other regulations.

Posted by Bruce at April 10, 2012 10:57 PM

You must have missed this article, which summarized the Fairness Doctrine. So, who were conservative news readers on network television during the 1960's to 1980's ? Name at least one (prior to Fox News) TV stations had more latitude and liberal programming infiltrated TV, so the Fairness doctrine did not affect TV nearly as much as radio.

From answers.com;
"{Between the 1940s and 1980s, federal regulators attempted to guarantee that the broadcasting industry would act fairly. The controversial policy adopted to further that attempt was called the fairness doctrine. The fairness doctrine was not a statute, but a set of rules and regulations that imposed controls on the content of the broadcasting media. It viewed radio and television as not merely industries but servants of the public interest. Enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the fairness doctrine had two main tenets: broadcasters had to cover controversial issues, and they had to carry contrasting viewpoints on such issues. Opponents of the doctrine, chiefly the media themselves, called it unconstitutional. Although it survived court challenges, the fairness doctrine was abolished in 1987 by deregulators in the FCC who deemed it outdated, misguided, and ultimately unfair. Its demise left responsibility for fairness entirely to the media.

The fairness doctrine grew out of early regulation of the radio industry. As the medium of radio expanded in the 1920s, its chaotic growth caused problems: for one, broadcasters often overlapped on each other's radio frequencies. In 1927, Congress imposed regulation with its passage of the Radio Act (47 U.S.C.A. ยง 81 et seq.). This landmark law established the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), reestablished in 1934 as the Federal Communications Commission. Empowered to allocate frequencies among broadcasters, the FRC essentially decided who could broadcast, and its mandate to do so contained the seeds of the fairness doctrine. The commission was not only to divvy up the limited number of bands on the radio dial; Congress said it was to do so according to public "convenience, interest, or necessity." Radio was seen as a kind of public trust: individual stations had to meet public expectations in return for access to the nation's airwaves.

In 1949, the first clear definition of the fairness doctrine emerged. The FCC said, in its Report on Editorializing, "[T]he public interest requires ample play for the free and fair competition of opposing views, and the commission believes that the principle applies ... to all discussion of issues of importance to the public." The doctrine had two parts: it required broadcasters (1) to cover vital controversial issues in the community and (2) to provide a reasonable opportunity for the presentation of contrasting viewpoints. In time, additional rules were added. The so-called personal attack rule required broadcasters to allow opportunity for rebuttal to personal attacks made during the discussion of controversial issues. The "political editorializing" rule held that broadcasters who endorsed a candidate for political office had to give the candidate's opponent a reasonable opportunity to respond.

Enforcement was controversial. Complaints alleging violations of the fairness doctrine were to be filed with the FCC by individuals and organizations, such as political parties and unions. Upon review of the complaint, the FCC could take punitive action that included refusing to renew broadcasting licenses. Not surprisingly, radio and TV station owners resented this regulatory power. They grumbled that the print media never had to bear such burdens. The fairness doctrine, they argued, infringed upon their First Amendment rights. By the late 1960s, a First Amendment challenge reached the U.S. Supreme Court, in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367, 89 S. Ct. 1794, 23 L. Ed. 2d 371 (1969). The Court upheld the constitutionality of the doctrine in a decision that only added to the controversy. The print and broadcast media were inherently different, it ruled. In the broadcast media, the Court said, "it is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount... it is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here."

Although the fairness doctrine remained in effect for almost two more decades following Red Lion, the 1980s saw its abolishment. Antiregulatory fervor in the administration of President Ronald Reagan brought about its end. The administration, which staffed the FCC with its appointees, favored little or no restrictions on the broadcast industry. In its 1985 Fairness Report (102 F.C.C.2d 145), the FCC announced that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated the First Amendment. Moreover, technology had changed: with the advent of multiple channels on cable television, no longer could broadcasting be seen as a limited resource. Two years later, in August 1987, the commission abolished the doctrine by a 4-0 vote, intending to extend to radio and tele- vision the same First Amendment protections guaranteed to the print media. Congress had tried to stop the FCC from killing the fairness doctrine. Two months earlier, it had sent President Reagan the Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987 (S. 742, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. [1987]), which would have codified the doctrine in federal law. The president vetoed it.

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/fairness-doctrine#ixzz1rlrKyjXs

Posted by: KDS on April 11, 2012 02:54 PM
13. Yep, lies of OMISSION.

Too bad (for America) the gullible public don't know what they're missing.

It's hard not to conclude that we are purposely given agenda driven information rather than NEWS, especially in light of simple fact checking on the internet and media watchdogs. It's simply too much to be asked to believe they don't know they are slanting the news.

Posted by: RagnarDanneskold on April 11, 2012 02:55 PM
14. KDS - During the Nixon administration, the ABC network, which was then far behind CBS and NBC, moved to the center. Edward Jay Epstein wrote an interesting article about their shift -- and how it helped them gain viewers.

You might be able to find the article at his site. I haven't checked there recently.

Posted by: Jim Miller on April 11, 2012 04:01 PM
15. .
The errors made by our news organizations are their most annoying defects. Not the worst, but the most annoying, because so many journalists are so bad at correcting their errors.

I'm certainly not going to accuse any of the front page posters here of being organized, but have you any examples, Jim Miller, of a poster on Sound Politics correcting their errors?

Tell you what, you comb the archives for examples of (un)SP journalistic professionalism correcting its errors, and I'll comb for uncorrected errors. We'll compute the difference and the loser will donate $1 per to the other's charity of choice.

My designated charity is UNCF

You in Jim Miller?

Posted by: MikeBoyScout on April 11, 2012 04:52 PM
16. Examples of corrections? Here's one at
my own site, where I often make corrections.

(You can find more by searching the site for "Correction:")

I think that's an interesting correction because I was quoting a book by a famous historian -- quoting the book correctly, as it happens -- but was persuaded, years later, that the book was wrong.

My most embarrassing mistake was here at Sound Politics, where I got the date of Mother's Day wrong. (I've been less attuned to that date since I lost my own mother more than a decade ago.) And I did pull that post, with an apology, almost immediately.

(In general, if I make a correction within 15 or 20 minutes of putting up the original post, I don't note the correction, as I explain in my FAQ section.)

The contributors to Sound Politics work independently, and sometimes disagree. So we aren't responsible for each other's mistakes. If you think I have made a mistake here, please email me, with the details.

Once or twice I've made a general request for corrections, here and at my own site. I probably should do that once a month, although that repeated post will bore most of the readers here.

Incidentally, when someone sends me a correction, I almost always thank them for the help.

If you are looking for a good place to send contributions, I'd suggest the McKenna campaign.

Posted by: Jim Miller on April 11, 2012 06:38 PM
17. Jim,
Liked your contributions recommendation to MBS. Nice touch.

Posted by: tc on April 11, 2012 11:01 PM
18. Examples of corrections? Here's one at
my own site, where I often make corrections.

The request was specific to this site, not any other. (This level of reading comprehension is required of a right-wing media critic.)

So we aren't responsible for each other's mistakes.

Nor was there any implication of such responsibility. Mike was implying that a media critic might want to post only at places with robust correction policies. (What is the corrections policy here? What is the enforcement rate?)

If you are looking for a good place to send contributions, I'd suggest the McKenna campaign.

Liked your contributions recommendation to MBS. Nice touch

And here I thought only we liberals considered the McKenna campaign to be a charity case!

Our broadcast news organizations are especially poor at making corrections. Often they don't even provide an obvious way to request a correction, or tell you who to send corrections to.

If Jim tells me that he gets all of his news from organizations which do not accept input from the outside world, I'll believe him. :-)

Posted by: tensor on April 11, 2012 11:16 PM
19. @16 Jim Miller on April 11, 2012 06:38 PM,

Thank-you for responding.

It is too bad that you, a purported media critic, chooses to publish your work on the (un)SP site whose policies and practices produce annoying defects.

In this post you complain about news outlets and propose changes for these other news outlets to clean them up, but you won't do the same thing where you voluntarily post your work.

Physician, heal thyself.

Posted by: MikeBoyScout on April 12, 2012 04:23 AM
20. @15,

I surprised Jim responded because what you are engaging in is one of your three usual logical fallacies, the tu quoque fallacy in which you turn the question back around. That does nothing to answer the original argument and is an admission of defeat.

Your other favorites are ignoratio elenchi which Jim has pointed out many times, and the durable straw man in which you attempt to change the argument altogether.

Jim and the other commenters here are demonstrably correct. There are thousands of examples of media bias, omission, selective editing and errors. A good example is how recently NBC selectively edited the Trayvon Martin 911 call.

One of the main reasons I don't vote left, is that it is simply not a fair fight. Even with the media squarely on the Democrat side, it's almost always nearly even. If the media was more truthful and objective, Democrats would not have a chance.

Which is why I think MBS comes here in the first place. If you know your ideology rests on a corrupt and defective premise that can only be sold through deception, you end up with a chip on your shoulder and a constant need to prove to yourself that there is no elephant in the room.

Posted by: Jeff B. on April 12, 2012 08:58 AM
21. Funny. I just googled "new york times corrections", "msnbc corrections", and "fox news corrections". Guess which one didn't clearly show how to submit or find corrections?

(Hint: it's named after an animal.)

Posted by: Bruce on April 12, 2012 09:16 AM
Guess which one didn't clearly show how to submit or find corrections?

Perhaps because Fox has less need to make corrections. You know, you don't have to make a correction when you GET THINGS RIGHT.

Posted by: Bastiat Fan on April 12, 2012 11:52 AM
23. What exactly was the mistake that KUOW made? Was it a factual error or did they step on someone's ideological toes?

Posted by: dorky dorkman on April 12, 2012 03:39 PM
24. Tied to this issue of inaccurate reporting is the constant besmirching of Tacoma and Pierce County by the Seattle TV stations. Whenever there's a chance to broadcast a negative story about Tacoma or Pierce County, those nimrods at the Seattle stations make a field day of it. Even if there's no direct connection to us down here in the barbarian hinterlands, KIRO, KING and KOMO will use subtle visual cues to try to tie whatever disaster of the day to Tacoma. It's pretty damn biased journalism, and thos of us here in Pierce County are getting pretty sick and tired of it.

KIRO, KING and KOMO - knock it off, already! We're on to your scams and biased-assed reproting!

Posted by: Politically Incorrect on April 12, 2012 04:30 PM
25. A recent poll stated that the majority of regular citizens don't believe most news organizations and outlets in the States anymore.

Posted by: Dead Sea Kit on April 12, 2012 10:34 PM
26. Jim,

Thanks for bringing up this issue, but like our other critics you are factually wrong about what the nature of the disagreement between KUOW, the WNC and the Vitae Foundation. We never refused to make on air corrections of factual mistakes. The two errors in that particular story had nothing to do with Vitae, but rather the title and name of a person and organization in Eastern WA. Weeks after airing the story, when those errors were brought to my attention I called him to verify and he was very happy with an online correction and has never complained. After the WNC hearing we made those corrections on air as well to put the issue to rest. Here's my official statement on the WNC hearing:

"We were disappointed that the Washington News Council misquoted KUOW's News Director in its news releases and mischaracterized the station's position during the remediation process. We have always been straightforward and willing in our efforts to find a compromise with the Vitae Foundation and have no antagonism toward them.

"But aside from that, we're glad that both the WNC and CPB Ombudsman agreed that KUOW should not give in to an outside group's pressure for air time.

"There were two small factual errors in the original story regarding the title of a person and his organization, which were not related to the Vitae Foundation, and we have corrected those on air. We had also made online additions to the story as more information came in over several months.

"But the Vitae Foundation was demanding that KUOW give on air coverage to their organization and fund raising events. We felt that was undeserved, particularly since the original issue - controversial pregnancy care centers - had died in the state legislature last spring and was no longer a significant news topic in our region."

Posted by: Guy Nelson on April 13, 2012 11:11 AM
27. re 26: So, the actual thing that Mr. Miller is upset about is not that a few minor factual errors were not corrected, but that KUOW did not give free airtime to one of the crackpot right-wing organizations that he favors.

Posted by: dorky dorkman on April 13, 2012 12:59 PM
28. re Guy Nelson@26: Given the findings (below) of the WNC as found on the link Jim included, it sounds like you're doing some major spin control. The answers to 3 and 4 say there was a lot more than just "two errors" concerning the "title and name of a person and organization".

1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?

YES - 11 votes; NO - 0 votes

2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae's advertising campaign?

YES - 5 votes; NO - 3 votes; ABSTAIN - 3 votes

3. Did KUOW's story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?

YES - 1 vote; NO - 8 votes; ABSTAIN - 2 votes

4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?

YES - 10 votes; NO - 0 votes; ABSTAIN - 1 vote

5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW's website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?

YES - 4 votes; NO - 6 votes; ABSTAIN - 1 vote

6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?

YES - 1 vote; NO - 10 votes

Posted by: It Takes a Village to Convene a Grand Jury on April 14, 2012 12:00 AM
29. re 28: "Washington News Council's John Hamer: The Watchdog Who Doesn't Watch Himself"


"Hamer and the WNC speak reverently about the need for media transparency. Ironic, given that he does such a piss-poor job of revealing his own many conflicts of interest."

The WNC -- just another bunch of right wing cranks trying to do a spin job of their own.

Posted by: dorky dorkman on April 14, 2012 07:41 AM
30. @28: 6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?

YES - 1 vote; NO - 10 votes

Seems pretty cut and dried to me. It was a sloppy news story that didn't even really involve Vitae, but contained an error about them that should have been corrected.

It's definitely something that should be pointed out, and shouldn't be accepted by a news organization. However, this proves Guy's point -- this was likely less to do with journalistic integrity, and more a way for Vitae to try to shake down NPR to get free publicity.

Posted by: demo kid on April 14, 2012 08:13 AM
31. Good points, DK. Thanks to the diligent gas-bagging of the WNC, we now know that Jeff Smith is not a physician and that he is affiliated with Life Services, not Life Choices. Good to know -- and shame on KUOW for messing up on those important details!

We also now know that YourOptions.com does indeed discuss abortion as an option, although they do not promote or refer this option. KUOW posted a clarification lest anyone think YourOptions doesn't discuss abortion at all, but Vitae thought that wasn't enough. Whatever.

And thanks to KUOW's interview conducted after airing their story about pending legislation, we know that Vitae Foundation had no position on said legislation. It's a shame that KUOW doesn't have time to round up and air the views of all parties who have no position regarding the subject matter of their news stories, but I guess that's a shortcoming we'll just have to live with.

Posted by: scottd on April 14, 2012 11:45 AM
32. I remember the late 60's early 70's when Lloyd Cooney was the editorial voice of KIRO. At that time they often had "opposing" views aired during the editorial portion of the news program.

Posted by: Right Wi ng Wacho on April 14, 2012 03:29 PM
33. @32,

I also remember Lloyd Cooney, and, as I recall, he lost the election for US Senator. The guy was out-of-step with WA voters: he wanted WA to have a state income tax, and that idea is and was about as popular a nazi at a bar mitzvah.

Posted by: Politically Incorrect on April 15, 2012 10:16 AM
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