Want a Story Corrected? Don’t Look To TV News

By Alex Weprin 

It isn’t exactly a secret that TV news outlets suck at correcting their mistakes. While newspapers, magazines and websites like Slate.com have dedicated sections to feature their screw-ups, most TV news shows prefer to pretend like errors never happen. Is your name misspelled? The New York Times will run a sentence providing the correct version. Is it on CNN? Sorry, you’re out of luck.

In the Times today, David Carr uses the George Zimmerman/NBC News case as a springboard to ask why TV news outlets are so reluctant to shine light on themselves. Carr called NBC News president Steve Capus, who acknowledged that the network should have corrected the story on-air. Carr then expounded upon corrections in TV news more generally:

Part of the reason it didn’t occur to them is that television news almost never corrects itself on air when it gets called out. It just isn’t generally done, unless it’s needed to make a lawsuit go away.

Nobody likes to eat crow in plain sight, especially in front of millions of viewers, but there are other imperatives at work. Lowell Bergman, who works for PBS and has done work for The New York Times, spent many years at ABC and then at “60 Minutes.” He said that part of the problem with corrective reporting on TV is that it pulls back the blankets on the apparatus. The omniscient anchor, the dashing correspondent — most of them are just the spigot for a news product manufactured by many others.

“Television is an industrial process,” Mr. Bergman said, pointing to the fact that there are many hands on each story even as only one tells it. “It is built on a fiction, and they don’t want to get into the business of deconstructing how news comes together.”