Wednesday, October 23, 2013

AP firing for "mistake" in reporting on VA gubernatorial candidate called unusual; a dream about "amateurism"; a pastor on "fairness"

An Associated Press reporter, Bob Lewis, along with two editors, was recently fired for an unintentional mistake, reporting that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe had been linked to a particular federal investigation in Rhode Island based on the appearance of the initials “T.M.” on court documents, which had referred to someone else.  The details are reported in the  Washington Post Style Section Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013, in a story by Paul Farhi with link here In print, the title is “AP firing: Question of fairness; Reporter, 2 editors hit with rare dismissals after an unintentional mistake”; online the title is “AP reporter’s mistake: did the punishment fit the crime?”

The AP story was “killed” and then replaced by a correct version.  Lewis had 28 years with the AP. 
The story does accentuate the world that traditional reporters in old media live in, where fact-checking must be meticulous.  In the new world of blogging, no such process, comparable to system testing in an IT shop and careful promotion procedures, exists.  The main threat would be, however remote in practice, lawsuits for libel.  A more practical concern for some people might be defending a frivolous SLAPP suit.  Or perhaps another risk is being hunted down by a “copyright troll” like Righthaven. Take away Section 230 and the DMCA Safe Harbor, however, and it’s a much more restricted world.
The 1989 book “Trading Secrets” by R. Foster Winans had discussed the importance of accuracy in the author’s experience at the Wall Street Journal, where minor mistakes in reporting could get quick reprimands and had the possibility of rattling investors.
The world of “amateurism” has been mitigated a lot by social media, where Facebook has become so powerful that people who sell things are now expected to leverage their social media presence for their employer’s, not their own views.  The double life that I led online fifteen years ago is no longer feasible.  Last night, all this surfaced in a dream where I was being hired by an education contractor to monitor the performance of low income students. I was already on the job (in the dream) when I was told by a “supervisor” that I had to delete all my other online presence immediately, because students could find it.  I refused.  Then, again in the dream, I noticed that the supervisor, a short young man, had shaved his body and dyed his skin darker to look more like one of the minority clients and “become” one of them.  This was an existential sacrifice I was unwilling to make.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with someone in the “pastoral” community.  More details may come later, but she did say that a lot of social tensions today (especially in the health care debate and in the increasing brazenness of street crime) seems to be related to the idea that people can “pay” to get ahead in line and bypass the risks that others have to take. Does this observation have any relation to some of the moral paradoxes in Gospel parables (like "The Rich Young Ruler" and "The Talents")? 


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