Time EIC Nancy Gibbs Issues Note on Incorrect Report of Missing MLK Bust

"No news organization ever wants to make an error, but we all have procedures for handling them when we do."

We’re going to skip straight down to the last paragraph of Time editor in chief Nancy Gibbs‘s note to readers about reporter Zeke Miller‘s incorrectly reported tweet over the weekend that President Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office “No news organization ever wants to make an error,” she writes, “but we all have procedures for handling them when we do.”

Gibbs listed the steps Miller and Time took:

“I should not have allowed unconfirmed information to end up in a pool report,” Zeke says. Within minutes, when inquiries began to come in about the missing bust, Zeke reviewed videos and wire photos, and tried to find a member of the White House staff who could answer whether the bust had been moved. He found an aide who went into the office to check and texted Zeke at 8:10 p.m. that the bust was there.

Two minutes later Zeke emailed a correction to a large list of White House reporters. “The MLK bust remains in the Oval Office in addition to the Churchill bust per a WH aide. It was apparently obscured by a door and an agent earlier. My sincerest apologies.” He tweeted a correction as well. A TIME story that included the error was corrected, and for the next several hours, Zeke worked to alert colleagues of the mistake. He sent out several emails to reporters and eight tweets, including, at 8:41 p.m.“Tweeting again: wh aide confirms the MLK bust is still there. I looked for it in the oval 2x & didn’t see it. My apologies to my colleagues.” At 8:46 p.m., Press Secretary Sean Spicer retweeted that message with the words “Apology accepted.” To that, Zeke replied: “This is on me, not my colleagues. I’ve been doing everything I can to fix my error. My apologies.”

Journalists and media organizations are not excluded from those in the everybody-makes-mistakes category. They are, however, probably more likely to regret those mistakes on a personal and professional level, and, more than regret, to do something about it. It would have been helpful if Miller has confirmed prior to reporting, but visible protocols for correction (the editor’s note, Miller’s correction campaign on Twitter) exist because the intent of those who are in the business of reporting is to deliver accurate news.”The President and White House aides have cited this mistake as an example of ‘deliberately false reporting.’ It was no such thing,” writes Gibbs.

It is however, a useful deflection from President Trump and his administration’s pattern of delivering false information. A day after White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the administration’s “intention is never to lie” and that “if we make a mistake, I’ll do our best to correct it,” the president continued to promote his completely baseless and damaging claims of wide-scale voter fraud.

All Spicer could muster on Tuesday was a reaffirmation that this is a thing the president believes “based on studies and information he has,” citing as the only source of those “studies and information” a previously cited Pew study of people who have died or moved yet remain on voter rolls. That report has erroneously been brought up numerous times as evidence of fraud, with news orgs and fact-checkers repeatedly affirming that there is no corresponding evidence to indicate that is leading others to impersonate those people at the polls.

Not only has Spicer not corrected the record here, President Trump continues to flout repeatedly debunked claims. While we can’t claim to know what the president is thinking, it is actions like these that give the appearance of presenting “deliberately false” information, as opposed to Miller’s swift and repeated attempts to correct the record on his own reporting.

Recommended articles