Half the Story Is Not Good Enough

This happens too frequently these days. An incident happens, and it goes viral. A certain point of view is reported, then re-reported, and re-reported, and otherwise respectable publications jump on board, even doing some original reporting themselves.

Yet, they leave out – or severely underplay – an entirely different point of view that contradicts everything they wrote (especially their clickbait headline). That other point of view is heavily shared on ‘alternate’ publications, thus creating a division among – you guessed it – political lines.

The ‘respectable’ media defends their article by stating that what they wrote – by using quotes – is factually accurate, and they’ll report the extra information as they independently get it, assuming they do.

Maybe the rest of the story will be reported, and maybe it won’t. But Day 2 (aka record corrected) stories don’t strike the same chord with people who already made up their minds about the Day 1 story, assuming they even read it. Therefore, half-reporting that Day 1 story does a disservice and gets people condemned for no good reason. Even if they’re vindicated later, the initial reports can damage their life.

It’s unethical for a news organization to do that and I’m ashamed of anyone who doesn’t care about the misinformation they’ve disseminated.

Here’s the best article I read on this. Here’s another.

Update: This article was finally written, merely pointing this out about the initial bad reports: “By Sunday, conservative commenters on social media were saying it was the students who had been wronged.”

Another update: My employer is being sued for $250 million over its reporting. I don’t agree with much of the lawsuit but the plaintiff has a good point about the initial report.

Yet another update: The lawsuit was thrown out and despite the blatantly bad journalism, folks in the newsroom felt vindicated. I’m not entirely sure if anyone learned a lesson.

Last update: Parts of the lawsuit were reinstated and The Post settled. It’s likely the settlement wasn’t for very much money.

Erik Wemple sums up what the lessons should be:

For working journalists, there are lessons here. The narrow one is that eyewitnesses and sources mix fact, impression and opinion in their interviews; legal protections for those sorts of statements vary, so be careful in quoting them. The broad one is that just because all your peers on Twitter agree on the takeaway from a minute-long video doesnt mean a thing.