November 4, 2002
ApologiesSunday morning on NPR, a formal apology was made for reporting that there were only 10,000 people at the anti-war demonstration in Washington on October 26. A spokesman from Editor & Publisher was interviewed about how the New York Times made the same mistake and discussed whether it was just a screw-up, whether the Times reporter had even gone to the demonstration to see the hundreds of buses pulling up one after another disgorging people.
He also discussed the new dynamic engendered by the Internet and the way that readers can lodge their complaints with editors in a rapid manner. He called this a "watershed event," in that the Times became involved in an e-mail exchange that then tripped around the Internet, embarassing the paper and finally forcing it to acknowledge its error.
For Intervention magazine's coverage of the demonstration, see interventionmag.com
November 5, 2002
Caught Pants DownMajor media channels like the New York Times have not yet gotten used to the fact that in the new electronic environment they no longer have the unchallenged power to create public reality, i.e. decide what the news is.
When 100,000 to 200,000 people marched for peace in Washington, the Times didn't feel like acknowledging it, so it just reported that there were thousands and buried the story deep in the paper. But the angry response from readers came by e-mail like an electronically powered tidal wave, so the Times found itself in the novel position of running a second story about the same event a week later. The significance of this should not be underestimated.
Editor & Publisher magazine had an e-mail exchange with the Times' PR manager, who said, "We were attentive to complaints from a fair number of readers that the number of demonstrations around the country and the number of participants in Washington warranted further coverage. We also looked at what news agencies and other publications had reported, and we felt that there was more we ought to say."
No doubt the Times' self-consciously disdainful description of a "fair number of readers," was as much under-reported as its original estimations of the number of people demonstrating against in DC. But no one can get into the paper's e-mail system and prove them wrong, like they could with the events in Washington. You can bet for the Times to correct itself with a whole new story about a week-old event, that fair number must have been massive.
Increasingly the Times will have to get used to a new, more open information environment which can no longer be ruled by a corporate information elite with itself leading the pack. If it wants to maintain the perception of its leadership, it will have to be careful of blunders like its under-reporting of the peace march in Washington. It had a similar incident with the attempted coup in Venezuela a few months back when it initially played totally into the Bush administration line that the democratically elected leader had in fact been a tyrant that was overthrown by a "popular movement" consisting of a military group backed by the business elite.
When the real story became widely known through Internet media, the Times was forced to do an about face and report a story that was a contradiction of its original report, and made it transparent that it had originally presented what amounted to nothing more than government propaganda.
The paper's credibility is eroding and it had better pay more attention to that which is its only real value and a little less to its obese ad revenues.