How to Forgive Media Mistakes

 

The Jewish people are smack in the middle of a season about forgiveness, asking God for forgiveness, asking our friends and family for it, and offering it as well. In my professional life working in conservative media, I’ve been thinking about what forgiveness means when it comes to media mistakes. What is required to forgive media errors of consumers of the media and for those working in media?

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported at the end of the workday on Friday that the news outlet Bloomberg Law has finally retracted a piece it wrote about Department of Labor official Leif Olson a month ago:

In the now-retracted story, Bloomberg’s legal outlet, Bloomberg Law, had portrayed sarcastic Olson social media posts as serious, which resulted in Olson losing his job. Only due to a tidal wave of outrage from conservatives did the Department of Labor reconsider, rehiring Olson.

What finally spurred Bloomberg to retract the piece? It seems to have been a FOIA request by Olson’s friends, who haven’t let the outlet get away with the attempted hitjob.

The question is: Now that the piece has been retracted, do I owe it to Bloomberg Law and the reporter, Benjamin Penn, to forgive them? Do we (collectively as a society) owe it to them? And what do they owe to us?

There’s a toxic strain of anger on both sides of the political spectrum when it comes to apologies: they are never accepted, they are never good enough. What components are necessary in an acceptable apology?

I’ve been thinking it over, and mulling over why I find this retraction insufficient, and what it would have taken for me to move on from the issue. I think a proper apology requires:

  1. An actual apology. The Bloomberg Law apology never mentions Olson’s name, nor does it apologize directly to him for the pain that their piece caused. Not only does Bloomberg’s apology not actually apologize, but the reporter behind the story, Benjamin Penn, stopped tweeting when the firestorm began, and since the retraction, has locked his Twitter account. He has never addressed the situation at all.
  2. An explanation about what happened. A real one. The saying goes “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…” When Bloomberg explains how exactly this happened, that goes a long way to convincing readers that it won’t happen again.

 

In the wake of countless media “mistakes” (that all seem to break one way) and an all-time low in Americans’ trust and respect for the media, what steps do you think are necessary in the wake of scandals like this in order for you to accept an apology, move on, and trust that outlet again?

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There are 21 comments.

  1. Stad Thatcher

    Bethany Mandel: In the wake of countless media “mistakes” (that all seem to break one way) and an all-time low in Americans’ trust and respect for the media, what steps do you think are necessary in the wake of scandals like this in order for you to accept an apology, move on, and trust that outlet again?

    I think the Fourth Estate has lost its title as such, and I don’t think trust in the MSM will be recovered in my lifetime. A sign it’s mending will be when they come down hard on crooked Democrats not selectively (sacrifice one Dem to regain credibility), but when they start to call out all sleazy and crooked politicians of both parties on the carpet to explain their behavior.

    • #1
    • October 6, 2019, at 2:05 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Suspira Member

    I don’t think forgiveness at all implies a renewal of trust. If I forgive someone, it means I no longer harbor feelings of bitterness. I no longer wish for bad things to happen to him/her, i.e. “You’ll be sorry one day. X will happen and then you’ll know how it feels.”

    I am in no way obligated to trust that person again. Wariness without hostility may be the appropriate attitude.

    For an organization, I’m not sure forgiveness even applies. And for a news outlet, for which credibility is crucial, it is not at all wrong to start counting strikes.

    • #2
    • October 6, 2019, at 2:31 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. Basil Fawlty Member

    Distrust but vilify.

    • #3
    • October 6, 2019, at 2:31 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. DaleGustafson Coolidge

    do I owe it to Bloomberg Law and the reporter, Benjamin Penn, to forgive them? Do we (collectively as a society) owe it to them?

    I think forgive is the wrong word here. Bloomberg law did me no harm thus there is nothing for me to forgive. Perhaps trust would be a better word. What apology after this length of time would lead me to trust them? Forgiveness is up to those who were harmed, trust is something they must earn over time. The forgiveness is up to Leif Olson and I would not presume to advise him on the matter. My trust in their reporting is up to me and did this belated apology, if that is what it is, make it more likely that I will trust their judgement if similar cases.

    • #4
    • October 6, 2019, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Vance Richards Member

    I think it is a mistake to call an intentional and outright hit job a “mistake.” 

    • #5
    • October 6, 2019, at 2:47 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Mrs. Mandel, good question.

    I think that the Christian view is that forgiveness is a response to repentance. I do not see any repentance in this apology. Your example made me think of the Covington kids story, and led me to look up the WaPo apology (here, dated March 1). I do not find any repentance in the WaPo apology, which wasn’t even much of an apology (it was an editor’s note with a general tenor of “mistakes were made,” but without even stating an apology.

    The Bloomberg apology above is better than the WaPo editor’s note. It is good that Bloomberg said that the story “did not meet our editorial standards for fairness and accuracy.”

    The big problem is that, for almost all of the major news outlets, I don’t believe that they have any meaningful editorial standards for fairness. I think that they are shockingly and overwhelmingly biased.

    One problem about Bloomberg retracting the story is that I can’t even read it anymore, and therefore cannot assess how irresponsible and outrageous it may have been. Here’s a brief description from a National Review article:

    Earlier this year, Bloomberg Law’s Benjamin Penn took a screenshot of Olson’s first post and started sharing it, with the intent to write a story claiming that it was anti-Semitic. Penn requested that the Trump administration, which had hired Olson as a senior policy adviser at the Department of Labor in August, comment regarding Olson’s supposedly anti-Semitic post. Penn even got the Anti-Defamation League to condemn the post in a statement that it later walked back. As is predictable in cases where institutions see a mob being formed, Olson was quickly forced to resign from his new position, which he’d moved his family across the country to take.

    Penn’s story was full of dishonest insinuations and plain errors. Olson told him that the post in question was sarcastic, but Penn still framed it as anti-Semitic. Penn cut off the screenshot of the post to hide comments that referred to it as sarcasm. He also managed to get essential details about Olson’s background wrong. When confronted with these concerns, he doubled down. To their credit, mainstream and liberal reporters raised a tremendous stink about Penn’s malfeasance, and the Labor Department quickly reinstated Olson.

    The part about Penn having “doubled down” linked to a Twitter comment, but it has now been deleted.

    This is quite an outrageous incident, but seems all too common to me.

    I’m out of space, and will continue below.

    • #6
    • October 6, 2019, at 2:51 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Basil Fawlty Member

    An equally interesting question is whether we should forgive the Department of Labor its craven response to the mobbing of one of its employees.

    • #7
    • October 6, 2019, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  8. Full Size Tabby Member

    Bethany Mandel: In the wake of countless media “mistakes” (that all seem to break one way) and an all-time low in Americans’ trust and respect for the media, what steps do you think are necessary in the wake of scandals like this in order for you to accept an apology, move on, and trust that outlet again?

    About 35 years of fair and honest reporting. 

    The problem for me isn’t one specific event. It’s a consistent pattern spanning at least the last 35 years. Therefore, I don’t think I can trust the media until all the current participants have left the field, and even then I’m not sure until the next generation demonstrates that it has NOT absorbed the patterns of the current generation. 

    As noted by @vancerichards above, we are not dealing with “mistakes” – we are dealing with flat out fraud and dishonesty. 

    • #8
    • October 6, 2019, at 3:27 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. EJHill Podcaster

    I’ve watched this act for too long. 

    The other day a “reporter” Tweeted out that Trump was exhausting. How can the last 3 years be so exhausting when you’ve been on vacation for the previous eight?

    Had Matt Drudge not broken the story of Newsweek spiking Michael Isakoff’s story on Monica Lewinsky, that would have never seen the light of day. Speaking truth to power is not a thing when Democrats are in charge. You can’t alternate between being stenographer fanboys and being bulldogs without at least half the country noticing. 

    • #9
    • October 6, 2019, at 3:32 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor

    First of all, Yom Kippur is about our asking others to forgive us, not about our forgiving others. A retraction is not an apology. Also, Bloomberg has not asked you personally for forgiveness. From the secular viewpoint, we forgive others for ourselves, so we can move on. I have no intention of putting Bloomberg’s accusations behind me, since I doubt the publication regrets what it did, only that it got caught.

    • #10
    • October 6, 2019, at 3:39 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Richard Easton Member

    In May 2006, I published my first article on GPS. “GPS World” mentioned it in an August 2006 editorial. In January 2007 they published a letter which distorted my paper. I wrote a response. They declined to print it, saying that they were getting out of the GPS history business. A couple of months later they published two additional letters which were even more distorted. This is small potatoes compared to a man losing his job, but it’s only one a couple of examples I could cite. The MSM in general is interested in telling good stories; it’s not interested in the truth. I don’t have to worry about forgiving when they won’t correct obvious errors.

    • #11
    • October 6, 2019, at 3:50 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. philo Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment): One problem about Bloomberg retracting the story is that I can’t even read it anymore, and therefore cannot assess how irresponsible and outrageous it may have been.

    Seems I was addressing this sort of thing on a more local basis just the other day:

    It has to do with integrity. (It has been discussed before.) Some just don’t have any.

    • #12
    • October 6, 2019, at 3:59 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. philo Member

    Vance Richards (View Comment): I think it is a mistake to call an intentional and outright hit job a “mistake.”

    Journalism is dead. To presume anything from the major media sources is anything short of pure “manufactured obstruction and story-telling” is simply not rational.

    • #13
    • October 6, 2019, at 4:03 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    My hypothetical apology — one that I would accept — grew so long that I decided to put it in a separate post. If you’re interested, it is here.

    • #14
    • October 6, 2019, at 4:30 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. Cow Girl Thatcher

    I read that the Newseum in Washington D.C. is going to close at the end of 2019. It was created to highlight the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, but mostly was an overly-hyped self-pat on the back to the press. I’m not surprised it can’t be sustained. I especially love that EVERY story about its closing has this statement:

    The Freedom Forum, creator and primary funder of the Newseum, remains committed to continuing its mission to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment and to increase public awareness about the importance of a free and fair press. These educational efforts are needed now more than ever and that critical work will continue online and through public programs in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

    (bold and underline added by me) “Now more than ever…” because Orange Man Bad has pointed out that some of that “free” press has been freely inventing and reporting whatever it considers most damaging to a person they don’t like.

    I’ve been to the Newseum. I was struck by the sense of self-righteousness. I’m sure that they have no idea why it isn’t the most popular site in D.C. and “can’t be sustained.” I almost asked for my money back after I’d gone through it.

    I’m a person who read a daily paper every day for almost 50 years, but the press is really DE-pressing me now.

     

    • #15
    • October 6, 2019, at 4:32 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Percival Thatcher

    DaleGustafson (View Comment):

    do I owe it to Bloomberg Law and the reporter, Benjamin Penn, to forgive them? Do we (collectively as a society) owe it to them?

    I think forgive is the wrong word here. Bloomberg law did me no harm thus there is nothing for me to forgive. Perhaps trust would be a better word. What apology after this length of time would lead me to trust them? Forgiveness is up to those who were harmed, trust is something they must earn over time. The forgiveness is up to Leif Olson and I would not presume to advise him on the matter. My trust in their reporting is up to me and did this belated apology, if that is what it is, make it more likely that I will trust their judgement if similar cases.

    I agree.

    Bloomberg didn’t have much credibility with me before. They have a little less now.

     

    • #16
    • October 6, 2019, at 6:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Arahant Member

    Forgiveness is easy. Forgiveness is the gift the forgiver gives himself. One can acknowledge a snake is a snake and forgive the snake’s strike.

    The question is, will they do it again? Has anything really changed? Is the writer still a snake? Or has he learned and grown?

    • #17
    • October 6, 2019, at 9:26 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Percival Thatcher

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Forgiveness is easy.Forgiveness is the gift the forgiver gives himself. One can acknowledge a snake is a snake and forgive the snake’s strike.

    The question is, will they do it again? Has anything really changed? Is the writer still a snake? Or has he learned and grown?

    Aaron Calvin, the reporter who dug up the tweets that Carson King sent when he was sixteen years old, blames “right wing extremists” for his firing by the Des Moines Register. 

    No, brah. You ended up catching what you’d been pitching and nobody would have gone hunting your own tweets if you hadn’t done it first.

    Nothing for me to forgive here. I don’t propose to forget Mr. Calvin, though. I’ll remember his behavior for quite a while. He’s a snake until he proves otherwise.

    • #18
    • October 6, 2019, at 10:18 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Jon1979 Lincoln

    When the WaPo got caught in the Janet Cooke fabrication that won the Pulitzer, they ended up doing a long piece explaining what happened, and other news outlets that have been caught in major frauds in the past also have published autopsies.

    Media staffs and budgets aren’t what they once were, but in this case, odds are it would be more the Trump hatred that got the story published in the first place that would prevent Bloomberg Law from doing any extended self-analysis on why they allowed a rookie reporter to take obviously sarcastic posts and treat them as serious ones. To do that, or to fire Ben Penn at least while anyone’s paying attention, would be seen as giving Team Trump a victory, and they’re not going to do that.

    • #19
    • October 7, 2019, at 6:29 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Duane Oyen Member

    The thing to do is get a major corporate subscriber to Bloomberg to publicly withdraw its subscriptions unless Penn is fired because their reporting lacks trustworthy credibility.

    • #20
    • October 7, 2019, at 10:30 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Jan Bear Member

    Forgiveness is releasing my anger and wish for retribution. 

    Pardon is releasing the culprit from consequences. 

    Expecting a different outcome is a prediction about the future.

    So, by my definition, forgiveness doesn’t depend on an apology. It’s a matter of cleaning up the messiness of my inner life by not focusing on someone else’s past wrongs. 

    So take a simple example: Charlie and Lucy and the football. 

    Forgiveness means Charlie will stop gritting his teeth and reliving what Lucy did to him. 

    Pardon means that Lucy doesn’t get punished for her meanness. 

    Neither one requires Charlie to trust Lucy to hold the football again. 

    The quality of the apology is an indication of whether the perpetrator even understands the wrong or plans to change. 

    So the answer to whether expect change is no, indefinitely. And it’s loosely connected to forgiveness if at all.

    • #21
    • October 8, 2019, at 2:18 AM PDT
    • 2 likes