Here’s a simple rule reputable media publications should follow, with absolutely no exceptions: If you’re going to reproduce a third party’s factual assertion, you must provide immediate clarification whenever said factual assertion is false. The alternative – that is, current practice – makes it far too easy for the subject of a news story to hijack the vehicle you provide for his or her own ends.
Because I don’t want to turn the hunt for truth into a partisan issue, I’ll give an innocuous example of how this ought to be done. On Saturday morning, the Seattle Times published an editorial by columnist Larry Stone that touched on what a potential Sounders victory in the MLS Cup could do for the franchise in its home city:
[Sounders GM Garth] Lagerwey believes a Cup victory would be “transformational” for the Sounders franchise, which has a long-term goal of selling out CenturyLink Field on a consistent basis . . . “One thing we learned, even for the Seahawks, Super Bowls matter,’’ he said. “They were put on the map. They weren’t selling out games until they won the Super Bowl.”
The Seattle Times not only failed to critically evaluate Lagerwey’s claim, but simply affirmed it: “Those are the business stakes on Saturday.” But are they? The paper should have noted, even if parenthetically, that the Seahawks have actually sold out over 100 consecutive home games, dating back to long before their first Super Bowl victory in 2014.
Admittedly, this simple step might prove challenging for writers already trying to squeeze complex stories into limited column inches. But here’s an even better way to save space: If you would rather not correct the record every time someone feeds you and your readers misinformation, make the simple choice not to reprint their blatant falsehoods in the first place.