Last week, we published documents that definitively debunked and disproved a claim that numerous media outlets had circulated and affirmed for years: that Edward Snowden lied about where he was during his first 11 days in Hong Kong. Contrary to the fable these outlets dispensed to their readers — that Snowden did not check in to the Mira Hotel on May 21 as he claimed but only did so on June 1, 11 days later — these new documents, obtained from the Mira, prove that Snowden arrived there exactly when he always said, rendering their published stories factually false. …
Even the best and most careful journalists get things wrong sometimes. But the minimal requirement for journalistic credibility and integrity is acknowledging and fixing mistakes. When the debate over Fake News first emerged, advocates of the term insisted that it was this attribute — a willingness to admit and correct errors — that distinguishes credible news outlets that sometimes err from fakes and frauds.
Yet in this case, only one of the media outlets that published what is now a significant and documented falsehood — Brazil’s Folha — has even acknowledged these new documents. In Folha‘s case, they did so lamely and grudgingly: Rather than add an editor’s note or correction to their original story by reporter Igor Gielow (which still stands uncorrected), they published a short news article about these new hotel documents, which merely noted that I claim that these new documents “resolve a mystery” about Snowden. The Folha article also neglects to note that they were one of the outlets originally publishing the false story. But at least they said something.
That stands in stark contrast to all the US outlets that published this falsehood and yet, 10 days later, have said literally nothing, continuing to allow what they now know is a factually false story to remain online uncorrected. They have simply refused even to address or acknowledge this new evidence. That includes the newspaper that first printed this falsehood and then re-published it most frequently — The Wall Street Journal — but also outlets such as Business Insider, Yahoo! News, and Slate… …
If you publish serious claims without any basis that mislead readers, and then refuse to acknowledge new evidence that disproves your original claims — all because you dislike the people you originally smeared with falsehoods too much to correct your error or because you hope the embarrassment will disappear faster if just you ignore it — why should anyone view you as being different than Macedonian teenagers or “alt-right” conspiracy sites? What are the cognizable differences?
A vibrant and powerful fact-checking media is supposed to be one of the great safeguards against demagoguing authoritarians and assaults on democratic institutions. That only works if they earn the trust that they need to fulfill that function.
Greenwald noted in an update that the media outlets Slate and Business Insider have added corrections. I don’t think the Slate correction is nearly good enough. Business Insider did it right: in bold at the beginning of the article. But apparently, they haven’t done it on all the articles.