Media Mea Culpa Part II

March 8, 2012

by Dan Ward

I wrote recently about the positive way in which media outlets took responsibility for mistaken reporting around Joe Paterno’s death and the close-but-not close-enough way in which the Washington Post “clarified” a misleading report.

Today offered another example of a media mea culpa done right, this time using the immediacy of Twitter.

An early version of a story by Wall Street Journal reporter Julian E. Barnes stated that Sen. John McCain called for “unilateral” military strikes in Syria. Sen. McCain, however, said this wasn’t the case, taking to twitter to say that “WSJ total mischaracterized my position on #Syria today – I’ve never called for “unilateral” airstrikes.”

McCain was right. Barnes was wrong. But rather than simply draft a correction, Barnes took an additional step. He re-tweeted McCain’s comment to his followers and followed up with a tweet of his own: “That was me! I am the one who screwed up @SenJohnMcCain position on Syria. Story fixed.” He then posted the correction that has been added to the digital version of the story.

Kudos to Barnes for taking responsibility for the error, for making the effort to communicate the fix immediately, and for using strong and unambiguous language to make it clear the mistake was his.

It’s a good lesson for all of us. When you screw up, say so. As we say in our Five Steps to Professional Success, “accept total responsibility and be accountable for everything you do.” We all make mistakes. We’re judged on how we respond.

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