IN GOOD FAITH
June 28, 2005
Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscriber:
When news organizations provide false information, the remedy depends on how severely the public was misled, and whether the falsehood was spread through good faith error or intentional deception. In recent years, news media have taken steps ranging from printing a simple correction, to publishing an account of what went wrong and describing specific steps that will ensure the problem is not repeated, to firing the reporters and editors involved.
A news organization’s credibility depends on how honestly and transparently it acknowledges its problems and ensures they are not repeated.
On June 22, the Globe and Mail published an article by freelancer Carolynne Wheeler, “Meeting tests truce between Sharon, Abbas,” that included the following statement:
“Palestinian leaders left the meeting in Mr. Sharon’s flag-draped residence in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City grim-faced, appearing only briefly before reporters in Ramallah to announce their disappointment.”
Official PM residence in Rehavia
What’s wrong with this picture? As the Globe and Mail acknowledged in a subsequent correction:
“The meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas took place in the official prime minister’s residence in the Rehavia neighbourhood of west-central Jerusalem.”
But in addition to mistaking the location, Wheeler included false information about the Old City residence that further compounded the error:
“This meeting of just under three hours was held on disputed home turf. Mr. Sharon’s purchase of the stately Old City stone home in 1987, and the subsequent removal of its Arab tenants, created great controversy at the time. The building is now rarely used, but it is still under heavy guard and remains a stinging symbol for Palestinians struggling to hold onto Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.”
Sharon’s Old City residence
This additional description of the east Jerusalem residence was flawed on two counts. First, it was wrong. The Globe acknowledged in its subsequent correction,
“Mr. Sharon’s East Jerusalem home, which was incorrectly reported as the meeting site, was purchased from its Arab occupants in 1987.”
(In fact, the previous Arab tenants were paid to leave the home, which was owned by Jews. For an in-depth look at the history of the residence, see Ron Podolny’s analysis in the National Post).
Second, it contributed to what HonestReporting.com has termed “The Dispossession Myth: one of the most widespread myths promulgated by media coverage of the Mideast conflict ? the claim of Palestinian ‘dispossession’ of land and property at the hands of ‘usurping’ Israelis.”
(For another example of the Dispossession Myth, see the CBC Web site’s “In Depth: Middle East” section.)
How did these falsehoods end up on the Globe and Mail‘s pages? For starters, although Wheeler included the kind of detail that could lead readers to believe she was at the scene – words like “grim-faced” and “flag-draped” – the Globe’s interim foreign editor, Guy Nicholson, acknowledged in an interview with the Jerusalem Post:
“We asked [Wheeler] for some background about where the story location was. Unfortunately, she was not actually at the scene of it. She wrote it off of television and wires.”
In correspondence with HonestReporting Canada, the Globe and Mail wrote:
“We absolutely agree with you that the facts in this case needed to be immediately made clear. It’s the kind of error that we strive to avoid and to correct as soon as possible — in this case immediately after publication. (The correction has been also appended to electronic versions of the story on our Internet site and in databases.) The mistake came in a tangential point to a much more important issue, and we’re satisfied that it was reported and written in good faith.“
But even mistakes made in good faith have consequences. The Globe and Mail blundered at both the reporter and editor levels, providing false and prejudicial information to hundreds of thousands of readers, most of whom likely did not see the subsequent correction.
To remedy this situation in a way that maintains the Globe‘s credibility, HonestReporting Canada urges the Globe and Mail to voluntarily:
- Tell its readers about the series of errors that enabled false information to be published
- Tell its readers what specific steps will be taken to ensure these kinds of problems do not happen again.
By voluntarily disclosing its journalistic lapses and how it will prevent them in the future, the Globe can strengthen its credibility and become a stronger news organization.
How You Can Make a Difference
Encourage the Globe and Mail to restore its readers’ confidence by describing the specific steps it will take to avoid similar problems in the future.
Email a brief and polite letter to Letters@GlobeAndMail.ca or fax it to 416-585-5085.
Please note: All letters should be less than 200 words, and must include the name, mailing address and daytime phone number of the writer. Please do NOT send letters that are angry, accusatory or abusive.
Please email a copy of your correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.