In the wake of the infamous (and illegal) antics of the New England Patriots, having admitted they repeatedly and blatantly broke the rules and cheated during their Super Bowl run of the early 21st century, a story appeared in the Boston Herald newspaper that the Patriots had taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough prior to beating the heavily favored Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl. Since the Patriots are admitted cheaters, this was not a stretch of the imagination, especially since a member of the Patriots' video staff- one who illegally taped other team- was setting up while the Rams were walking through their game plan. However, the story has not been corroborated by anyone, and the member of the Patriots' staff who did most of the illegal taping told the NFL commissioner that he had no knowledge of anyone doing said taping, and that he certainly did not. Following this, the Herald and its reporter, one John Tomase, have apologized- and on the front page, no less. Tomase wrote on the HErald's website today
"First and foremost, this is about a writer breaking one of the cardinal rules of journalism. I failed to keep challenging what I had been told," wrote John Tomase in Friday's editions of the newspaper. Tomase explained what led up to the publication of the Feb. 2 story, which appeared one day before the Patriots' 17-14 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. The Herald on Wednesday apologized for the story, after former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that he did not tape the walkthrough and did not know of anyone who had.
This is a rare occurrence in the media. The normal process is for some organ of the media to make blazing accusations on their front page, and then publish the retraction- if in fact they actually retract, which again is extremely rare- on the back page. The New York Times is particularly egregious in this regard, writing stories that impugn public figures' honor on an almost daily basis, yet never actually admitting that there is no truth to these allegations. Case in point is the Times' heinous pursuit of the Duke lacrosse students, assigning biased and incompetent reporter Duff Wilson to write a story virtually every point of which has been proven wrong- yet the paper has never apologized.
I applaud Mr. Tomase and the Herald both for the intestinal fortitude to admit they got the facts wrong and for their willingness to put that admission on the front page. Of course, I do have a suspicion that the fact that the patriots are owned by a powerful, very rich man who employs lots of good lawyers (and that he is not a member of that eeeevil Bush Administration- remember the breathless press coverage of the supposed illegal events in the Plame case?) might have had something to do with their admission of wrongdoing). In any event, I congratulate them for doing the right thing. When will the rest of the media being following their example? Too often the media is willing to publish allegations without evidence, yet they will not put the exoneration in an equally prominent place? Remember Richard Jewell, the security guard whose reputation was so badly damaged by the media? Or how about Dr. William Hatfill, the media-determined guilty party in the anthrax cases? I haven't noticed any apologies from the media who tried so hard to wreck his life.
In all cases, the media should be prepared to grant the Constitution's requirement of 'innocent until proven guilty'. And if the subject of the media coverage is indeed innocent, then the media have a responsibility to print that exoneration in the same place that they printed the initial allegations. But that would actually require professional ethics and an ability to be objective- something that the US media appears to lack. Cross-posted on StoneHeads.
CORRECTION: I mistakenly wrote Dr. Hatfill's name as William, when it is actually Steven. My apologies for the mistake. Thanks to StoneHeads commentor 'Anonymous' for pointing it out.