When you have to publish a correction, be forthcoming about it. The Washington Post failed to do that over the weekend, thus compounding the harm it had done to Donald Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani. Here is the Post’s correction, published on Saturday:
An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation. That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed. This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings.
The correction makes it appear that the Post was backing down solely on Giuliani’s say-so. That led to a tweet from Caroline Orr Bueno in which she asked: “Why retract it instead of just adding in a statement saying Giuliani disputes it?” To which I responded: “Marty Baron has left the building,” referring to the recent retirement of the Post’s executive editor.
But it turned out not to be so simple. Because The New York Times and NBC News had also run stories claiming that Giuliani had been warned, and they published corrections as well. Tom Jones of Poynter rounds them up. First, the Times:
An earlier version of this article misstated whether Rudolph W. Giuliani received a formal warning from the F.B.I. about Russian disinformation. Mr. Giuliani did not receive such a so-called defensive briefing.
Not much explanation there, but at least the Times isn’t attributing the reason for its correction to Giuliani. The clearest is from NBC News:
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect report that Rudolph Giuliani had received a defensive briefing from the FBI in 2019 warning him that he was being targeted by a Russian influence operation. The report was based on a source familiar with the matter, but a second source now says the briefing was only prepared for Giuliani and not delivered to him, in part over concerns it might complicate the criminal investigation of Giuliani. As a result, the premise and headline of the article below have been changed to reflect the corrected information.
That’s how you do a correction: explain exactly went wrong. Of the three, the Post’s is the worst, since the wording makes it appear as though the editors were responding solely to a complaint by Giuliani. The Times’ is OK, but its lack of clarity and falls into the “mistakes were made” category. So kudos to NBC News for doing it the right way.
Giuliani remains in a heap of trouble. His apartment and office were searched by the FBI last week as part of what appears to be a criminal investigation into his activities in Ukraine. There was no need for news organizations to pump it up with information that was unverified and, as it turns out, wrong.
And, as Oliver Darcy of CNN observes: “All the original reports were attributed to anonymous sources.”
2 thoughts on “A Washington Post correction adds to confusion over Rudy Giuliani and the FBI”
Where were the editors? In the 1980s, when I worked in national news at The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, reporters had to get an editor’s permission to quote anonymous sources by 1) identifying the sources to the editor and 2) offering a persuasive explanation for why the sources wouldn’t speak on the record. And it simply wasn’t permitted to use one unidentified source — a second source had to verify what the first had said. In seriously sensitive stories, the explanation of sources drill would go way up the chain of command.
Is this no longer the norm? If so, when did it change? And, more important, why on earth would serious news organizations throw care to the wind and risk feeding the right-wing disinformation machine that insists that the mainstream press is the enemy of the people?
If the 1980s rules are still the norm, how did this blunder happen once, not to mention three times? Where were the editors?
Heads should roll.
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