Journalism Educators Call on 60 Minutes to Rethink Benghazi Report Correction
BY PAULA POINDEXTER, Texas-Austin • Nov. 25, 2013 | By now everyone knows CBS’s 60 Minutes has issued a correction and apology for its flawed Oct. 27, 2013 report on the Benghazi terrorist attack in which the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. How 60 Minutes handled the correction is a case study in how not to correct an inaccurate report in the digital age. Journalism is harmed when reporting turns out to be inaccurate, and it is harmed even more when corrections are ignored or minimized.
The majority of scrutiny on the 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi terrorist attack has focused on the quality of Lara Logan’s reporting. Logan attempted to bring a fresh perspective to the story with an exclusive interview with an eyewitness who turned out not to be an eyewitness after all. To complicate matters, this source had co-authored a book with his so-called eyewitness account that was being published by a sister-CBS property.
At first 60 Minutes stood by the story, but when it became evident that the eyewitness had lied, 60 Minutes issued a correction and an apology on Nov. 10, 2013. The correction, which aired two weeks after the original broadcast, was buried at the end of the hour-long 60 Minutes program even though Logan’s report had led the original broadcast.
The news media have a long history of ignoring or minimizing corrections, so 60 Minutes was following a dubious journalistic tradition. But 60 Minutes did not just try to minimize the correction; it also removed the flawed broadcast from its official archive on the CBS site and the 60 Minutes channel on YouTube as if to say the Benghazi report never existed. This handling of the report and its correction will likely further damage the public’s already low opinion of journalism. The Pew Research Center has found that only 18 percent of the public believes the press is “willing to admit mistakes” and almost three-quarters believe news organizations “try to cover up mistakes.” Recognizing how important correcting mistakes is to the public’s trust in journalism, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the largest association of journalism and communication educators in the world, calls upon 60 Minutes to return the original broadcast to its website and YouTube channel.
Correcting an inaccurate broadcast that has aired is challenging, but in today’s digital world, it can be done in a way that simultaneously preserves the original broadcast for the historical and journalistic record and tells the truth about the inaccurate content. Therefore, AEJMC recommends that 60 Minutes embed the original report together with Logan’s official correction and the link to her Nov. 8, 2013 CBS This Morning interview in which she answered tough questions about events that led to the defective report. Additionally, a correction should be superimposed across the video so there is no misunderstanding about the inaccurate content in the report.
If journalism is to regain the public’s trust, journalism cannot ignore, minimize or attempt to make mistakes disappear. Just as verification of information is a universal principle of journalism, there needs to be a universal principle for correcting mistakes in the digital age. Errors and their corrections must be transparent and accessible. News organizations must develop correction policies that are founded on ethical principles and are applicable regardless of medium or platform. Prominently posting these policies on the news site and adhering to them will be an important first step if the public’s trust in journalism is to be restored.
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