Saturday, March 25, 2006

Since 1913, The Media Is Still Looking For The Cat

In a comment to my post Katrina, Jenin, Perspective of a Nomad asks:
It used to be that stories weren't reported until they were confirmed. That reporters were condemned for getting such a big story blatantly wrong. When did it become commonplace to report before having all the facts? Where did the reporting ethics go, or did they never exist and I just imagined them?
There may be a concrete answer to this. In an article in 1984, Cassandra wrote an article entitled What do ombudsmen do? where she relates the events leading up to the creation of an oversight bureau by Ralph Pulitzer:
Interest in ombudsmen has increased in response to all the polls showing that readers do not hold newspapers in particularly high regard. This problem is hardly a novel one. Similar circumstances led Ralph Pulitzer to establish a Bureau of Accuracy and Fair Play at his New York World in 1913. According to a 1916 issue of American Magazine, Pulitzer had become concerned about the increasing blurriness between "that which is true and that which is false" in the paper. He had reason for concern. One of the questionable practices uncovered by the bureau's first director, Isaac D. White, was the routine embellishment of stories about shipwrecks with fictional reports about the rescue of a ship's cat. After asking the maritime reporter why a cat had been rescued in each of a half-dozen accounts of shipwrecks, White was told, "One of those wrecked ships had a cat, and the crew went back to save it. I made the cat the feature of my story, while the other reporters failed to mention the cat, and were called down by their city editors for being beaten. The next time there was a shipwreck there was no cat but the other ship news reporters did not wish to take chances, and put the cat in. I wrote the report, leaving out the cat, and then I was severely chided for being beaten. Now when there is a shipwreck all of us always put in a cat."
Reporters are only human, and in the search for a story while there is always the drive to be ahead of the pack, there will always be the pack mentality to at least not be missing what the other journalists are reporting. It was a problem back in 1913 and it is still a problem today.

It accounts for the uniformity of error among journalists in the reporting of Katrina.

It is one of the problems with the one-sided reporting we are subjected to from Iraq.

It is also a part of the problem with the now-entrenched viewpoint in the news we are hammered with from Israel.

Bad reporting--like cats--has nine lives.

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