Headwinds: Correcting the Record on Broadcast News

“First, admit you’ve made a mistake.”

This is one of the axioms that crisis management hawks, magpies, peacocks and parrots typically offer when capitalizing on the latest crisis du jour.   Often, these pundits flock to broadcast media to provide requisite talking-head “expert opinion” that helps to legitimize a common media storyline – that a company is bungling its crisis management response by resisting a public apology and acknowledging a mistake.

The irony here is thick, because much of broadcast media itself does not live up to that axiom.

Check out this excellent article in The New York Times, where David Carr deftly draws a distinction between correction approaches of print vs. broadcast media that distort or misreport a story.  Although print media does a slightly better job of correcting the record, his report acknowledges significantly heavier headwinds when broadcast media misrepresents the facts during a crisis situation.

Why?  Here’s a key callout:


…Lowell Bergman, who works for PBS and has done work for The New York Times, spent many years at ABC and then at “60 Minutes.” He said that part of the problem with corrective reporting on TV is that it pulls back the blankets on the apparatus. The omniscient anchor, the dashing correspondent — most of them are just the spigot for a news product manufactured by many others.

“Television is an industrial process,” Mr. Bergman said, pointing to the fact that there are many hands on each story even as only one tells it. “It is built on a fiction, and they don’t want to get into the business of deconstructing how news comes together.”

Correcting a broadcast news report presents other challenges. Any correction would have to come out of the mouths of personalities whom networks lavishly promote as trusted sources of information. At newspapers like this one, corrections are usually not placed in highly visible news space, but they are consistent in where they appear, and readers can go there or not as they wish.

On television, everything is equal. There is no, “By the way, …” — there are only precious seconds of airtime. It makes for a very high bar when it comes to setting the record straight.

“Unless it is more embarrassing to keep it off the air than to put it on, they will draw the wagons and hope it goes away,” said Aaron Brown, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University and a former anchor on CNN.

Companies should often admit mistakes when they occur.  When they don’t, there are plenty willing to amplify that error.   Media should be held to the same standard.

Unfortunately, the playing field will likely remain unbalanced for as long as all media maintains the fantasy that it is omniscient and that reports are about “facts” vs. drama.

One thought on “Headwinds: Correcting the Record on Broadcast News”

  1. One of the four functions of the media is 'To Inform'. It becomes the responsibility of the media, be it the print or the broadcast to inform only what is news. Remember that news cannot be manufactured.

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