Wednesday, December 28, 2005
An explanation, but not an excuse: A couple of weeks ago, the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard Times published a story about Homeland Security agents visiting a 22-year-old UMass-Dartmouth student after he checked out Mao Zedong's "Little Red Book". All of the horror of Big Brother reared its head and the news briefly sobered up the senior senator from Massachusetts enough that he denounced the Bush administration over it.
Problem: the story was made-up. It was a complete work of fiction, including the "the"s and "and"s. Curiously, the Standard Times still won't name the hoaxster -- but that's another article.
The hoax was revealed on Christmas Eve, yet on Tuesday a Sacramento Bee editorial contained the following paragraph:
Then there's the story reported in The Standard-Times newspaper in Massachusetts of a University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, student doing a research paper for a history class on fascism and totalitarianism. He requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book" through interlibrary loan for a paper on communism. Two agents of the Department of Homeland Security later showed up at his parents' home in New Bedford, Mass., to interrogate him, telling him they were there because the book was on a "watch list" and the student had spent time abroad.
The editorial lauds Harry Reid's "killing" of the Patriot Act and portrays the nation's intelligence agencies as out-of-control. What the editorial really is is bad journalism.
Now, I've got a strong suspicion of how this got into Tuesday's Bee. You see, when you've reached the journalistic height of editorial writer/editor (at most newspapers) you don't have to work weekends and you get holidays off. The hoax was reported Saturday and by then the Bee had already sent the pages for the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday editorial pages to the pressroom.
This is certainly no excuse.
Someone -- either the editorial writer or, better yet, the editorial page editor should've been in the newsroom first thing Monday and worked on fixing the error before you or I ever heard about it. Whether that meant re-writing the editorial or spiking it completely and replacing it with something else, it doesn't matter. That editorial should've never appeared in print. A correction should've never had to be issued.
Journalism's wounds are self-inflicted.