Topic: Media

When Corrections Aren’t Enough

The Los Angeles Times, which is clearly a paper in trouble, recently published a 1300 word feature entitled “A Day in a Guantanamo Detainee’s Life.” Later, it followed up on the piece with this correction [The Ethics Scoreboard thanks James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” blog for exposing this to those of us who don’t read the Times on a regular basis, for reasons that this story should make obvious…]

Guantanamo Bay: An article March 28 in Section A about a typical day in the life of a prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, as gleaned from reporting trips over the last three years, made several observations that Pentagon officials and officers of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo say are outdated or erroneous. The article said that reveille was at 5 a.m., when guards collect the bedsheet from each detainee. There is no reveille sounded at Guantanamo, and officials say the practice of collecting bedsheets ended in late 2006 for compliant detainees and last May for everyone else. The article said that lights were kept on in the cells 24 hours a day for security reasons, and that some prisoners grew their hair long to shield their eyes to sleep. Since September, all detainees have been issued sleep masks. The article said that detainees at Camps 5 and 6 could see each other only during prayer time when an aperture in their cell doors was opened. The prisoners can also see each other when being escorted to showers or interrogation, during recreation time and when the aperture is opened for meal delivery. The article referred to “the hour for rec time”; in fact, prisoners are allowed at least two hours of recreation daily. The article said the prison library had 2,000 books and magazines; it has 5,000, including multiple copies of many titles. The article said that once a prisoner had skipped nine meals he was considered to be on a hunger strike and taken to the medical center where he was force-fed. Medical officials say hunger strikers are force-fed only when their weight has fallen to 85% of their ideal body weight and a doctor recommends it. The article said that prisoners at Camp 4, a communal compound, were awaiting transfer home. Camp 4 holds prisoners judged to be compliant with camp rules. —

Total words…316.

Corrections are fine, but when a newspaper publishes an article that is almost 25% incorrect, inaccurate and out-of-date, they are also insufficient to erase the stain of what is a spectacular demonstration of unethical levels of carelessness, sloppiness, and disregard for the facts. A medical operation that is 25% botched will often kill the patient; a book that is 25% false will attract lawsuits; a defendant whose defense is 25% incompetent will go to jail, and space shuttles, medicines, vaccines, race car engines and computer programs that are 25% mistakenly designed won’t work. Only in politics, perhaps, is incompetence tolerated to the extent that it is in journalism.

When, as is increasingly likely, newspapers and news magazines go the way of the triceratops and the Stanley Steamer, this will be one of the major reasons. A profession that ignores the ethical standards of diligence and competence is not long for this world.

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