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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:
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) October 4, 2019
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.
🔥 🔥 🔥@Blaw refused to answer my questions about their abusive journalism fail on the Leif Olson story, so we FOIA’ed Penn’s emails to DOL to see how it happened. As you can see, this was a total hit job, @benjaminPenn truncated & mischaracterized the Facebook posts. pic.twitter.com/CzTsMKWUBN
— tedfrank (@tedfrank) October 3, 2019
The question is: Now that the piece has been retracted, do I owe it to Bloomberg Law and the reporter, Benjamin Penn, to forgive them?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:
- 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.
- 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?Published in