I don’t know how you feel about the array of internet based “news” thingies that have popped up in the past decade or so, but I am reluctant to even add them to my list of news outlets because sometimes, they are not doing news.
Does Buzzfeed fit into this category, the producer of various hits and misses over the years? Of course it does, but then so does just about everyone else, too. Have you ever been a reporter? Have you ever made a terrible mistake?
We all have. Generally, you would offer a big mea culpa, a vaguely worded correction for page 2 or somewhere in the paper, and then you would toddle on off to your next assignment. Admittedly, there was some arrogance in that process because how could there not be? Sometimes you could just blame the copy desk for making an error.
Then things changed.
Mistake making has got a lot of attention over the past couple of decades as editors and publishers have become ever more concerned about their tenuous grasp on the marketplace, as though truth would have some impact on the bottom line.
It doesn’t. You could be Cesar’s wife in this game of mistake making and it still would not matter. The only people who actually pay attention to errors are other journalists, and that is how it should be. Apologize and move on. Humans make errors.
I think Robert Mueller was right to make that call and release a statement telling folks Buzzfeed’s article was wrong. But he was wrong in not offering more specifics. The whole subject should be a matter for further investigation by journalism, just to teach everyone a lesson. But then, its not his job to correct media. Even media doesn’t know how to do that.
Is this one of those poison fruits we always talked about back in the 1960s and 1970s that undermines the whole story? Or is this just a very picky prosecutor landing on one aspect of a story because he has no patience for the kind of things journalism screws up every day.
And it most certainly does screw up, in one way or another, every day. The only place it doesn’t seem to matter is on the network news, where things get corrected in a way that doesn’t amount to much because, hey, it creates its own reality as it moves along. The tape does not roll back.
What am I saying?
Stop with the handwringing about Buzzfeed. It has made errors before and it will make them again. This business moves too quickly for any real fact checking to play out. President Trump will have lots to answer for in the coming months. The best we can say about this is that he either did or did not force a dupe to be dupey. We have never been good at solving that kind of problem.
We can see the mistakes in our rear view mirrors, but we can’t see them coming until they have hit.