CBS News and its competitor NBC News made a horrible mistake
when they falsely identified Chief Navy Petty Officer Rollie Chance as the suspect in the mass murder that took place yesterday at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C.
CBS and NBC, through their negligence, made Petty Officer Chance a target of hostility and opprobrium.
CBS and NBC, along with many other news organizations,made a similar mistake thatdamaged Richard Jewell's reputation almost beyond repair when they falsely reported that he was behind the bombing attack at the 1996 Olympics.
The process of rehabilitating Jewell's name began in 1997, when the news outlets paid him substantial sums in out-of-court settlements for their mistake.
Eventually, Jewell's name was cleared altogether when Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to the bombing in 2005.
CBS News and NBC did the right thing by retracting their story about Petty Officer Chance. Not only did they retract the story, they did so quickly, very soon after their initial false reports.
They laudably followed the advice that Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News, gave to students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in 2012.
When you do make a mistake, boy oh boy, own up to it, he said. Go out of your way to own up to it because we all make mistakes.
But CBS News has not moved quickly in correcting the mistakes it made when 60 Minutes broadcast an error-laden report about Christians in the Holy Land. The report, which aired in April 2012, falsely stated, among other things, that the Israeli security barrier completely surrounds Bethlehem.
Jeff Fager himself repeated the factual misstatement the following year when speaking to his fellow congregants at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in New Canaan, Connecticut. Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall, he said. Wrong.
Despite repeated efforts to prompt 60 Minutes and Fager to correct the mistake, it still stands. In fact, the erroneous segment remains on the network's website, where it promotes Viagra and another drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis and severe plaque psoriasis.
So what's the deal? Why does CBS News correct its mistake regarding Rollie Chance so quickly (the same day even!) but hasn't corrected its errors regarding Christians in the Holy Land more than a year later?
One reasonable explanation is that the threat of having to pay damages to Rollie Chance, similar to the way that news outlets had to pay to Richard Jewell, gave the people at CBS News the incentive they needed.
In other words, it's about the money at CBS News, not the ethics. Or maybe there's something more nefarious at work.
Either way, good to know.