Alessandra Stanley wrote a TV column for Wednesday's NY Times about Brian Williams and the major network anchors that made ABC News hot under the collar. A senior exec at the network fired off a letter to Romenesko that was widely blogged about yesterday. The Times today ran a correction (now included in the online column) to address ABC's concerns. Let's compare.
There are glaring errors in Alessandra Stanley's column today. For the record, Charlie Gibson was in Washington, DC for the State of the Union (not at his desk in New York as Stanley wrote). He anchored both "World News" and ABC's primetime coverage of the President's speech from Capitol Hill. Following the speech, he interviewed Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain...
NY Times correction:
The TV Watch column yesterday about reports from Iraq by the NBC anchor Brian Williams, and the competition among NBC, ABC and CBS to draw viewers to their evening news programs, referred incorrectly to coverage of President Bush’s State of the Union address in January by Charles Gibson, the ABC anchor. He covered it from Washington, not “from his desk in New York.”
Okay, so we're one for one as of now. Except the ABC letter continued on:
Stanley also falsely asserts that since Gibson took over as anchor in late May, he anchors solely from New York City. That is demonstrably untrue. Gibson has reported from: The Middle East to cover the escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah, including from Jerusalem, the Israeli-Lebanese border and Larnaca, Cyprus (July 16-19); from New Orleans for the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (August 28 &29); from Nickel Mines, PA to cover the Amish school shooting (October 3); from Amman, Jordan for Bush-Maliki summit (November 29 & 30); from Washington, DC, when the 110th Congress convened (January 4); and from Philadelphia (October 5), Boston (October 24), Dallas (November 13), Houston (November 14), Atlanta (November 15&16), Detroit (January 29 & 30), and Chicago (February 12 & 13).
How did Stanley assert that Gibson "anchors solely from New York City"? Here's the relevant text from her column:
Mr. Gibson hasn’t exactly overexerted himself in his new job. He was the only anchor who didn't go to Washington to interview Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House. (He entrusted Terry Moran with the task.) He also stayed put for the tornadoes that devastated Florida in early February...
This is where we begin to deal with a more subjective view of error. Anyone reading the above sentences, especially when coupled with the erroneous statement that Gibson was in New York for the State of the Union address, would clearly understand Stanley is suggesting Gibson is a bit of a homebody who doesn't leave the anchor desk to cover stories. But does she specifically say that he only anchors from New York? No, although it's also clear that's what she's saying.
These hair-splitting distinctions can be very important, but they can also be very frustrating for sources and those being written about. ABC is not going to be 100 percent happy with the correction offered because (and we're guessing here) it will feel that the article made unfair assertions about Gibson based on inaccurate information. The Times is being strict in only correcting the one clearly stated factual error. The issue of fairness goes uncorrected. This is common; fairness is a difficult, subjective thing to assess and correct.
In this case, we have a media-on-media error and that's one of the reasons why there has been so much blog chatter. The other reason for the extra attention is that the author is Alessandra Stanley.
In the end, this is a very telling example of why corrections are and aren't given for certain requests. Was it unfair and incorrect to suggest that Gibson is largely tethered to his NY desk? Based on the evidence supplied by ABC, it appears so. But the fact that the article only suggested this, albeit very clearly, turned ABC's complaint into one that could be classified as subjective, even if it appears valid. This example shows the balancing act that corrections/section editors walk every day, and it also shows why sources who request corrections are not always pleased with what they receive.
ABC had one final complaint:
Finally, Stanley take a gratuitous and unfounded swipe at Gibson stating that he is on vacation while Williams reports from the Iraq. For the record, this is Gibson's first vacation in ten months.
This is an issue of fairness and context, not fact. Stanley wrote, "This week, while Mr. Williams is in Iraq, Mr.Gibson is on vacation." That sentence is totally accurate. Yet it exists to drive home her questionable point about the supposedly lackadaisical Gibson. But she hasn't made a factual error, and so no correction.