President Donald Trump, who has railed endlessly against the mainstream media’s criticisms of him through the popular mantra of FAKE NEWS recently turned to his attention to fellow Australian journalist Jonathan Swan, a former Fairfax Media colleague.
Swan, who previously covered Australian politics for the Sydney Morning Herald (an affiliate of my newspaper The Australian Financial Review) has made a name for himself in Washington writing for American news website, Axios and interviewing major White House players like Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior adviser to President Trump.
Swan recently drew the wrath of the leader of the free world when he co-wrote an article on Axios this week that claimed President Trump wanted to “explore using nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes from hitting the United States”.
President Trump responded in characteristic fashion to a story that did not paint him in a very good light:
The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2019
But Swan stood his ground, replying:
I stand by every word in the story. He said this in at least two meetings during the first year and a bit of the presidency, and one of the conversations was memorialized. https://t.co/5qs8o1k4QS
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) August 26, 2019
Axios doubled down on its defense of the story, with CEO and co-founder Jim Vandehei writing that the publisher stands solidly behind its reporting, which he said was “meticulously sourced”
“Since we published, additional sources have corroborated our account,” Vandehei added.
Axios has as a key element of its ‘Manifesto’ – ‘Don’t sell BS’ and so stakes its reputation on always been accurate.
This of course is the personal manifesto of any good journalist working today (including myself) and has been so since Gutenberg invented the printing press.
But its especially true now as ‘serious journalism (for want of a better word) is upended by the ability for anyone to set up a website and claim to be an authority and respected source of ‘real’ news.
However, all journalists, even brilliant ones, make mistakes from time to time, perhaps more frequently now in the age of 24/7 news and social media.
I don’t know of any journalist, including myself, who has not made an error in a story, big or small. It’s part of the job.
However, a genuine mistake should never been confused with FAKE NEWS which has been around long before Donald Trump set foot in the Oval Office and made it his mantra.
The tag FAKE NEWS should only be applied to news stories that are not only plainly wrong, but deliberately written so by either including untruths, half-truths, fabricated information or made-up quotes, or by deliberately excluding important information.
A story can be plainly wrong, but not be FAKE NEWS. These stories are easy to spot because a correction, clarification, retraction and/or apology will follow.
However, in the era of Trump, the boundaries have been deliberately blurred.
Trump’s favourite FAKE NEWS targets like The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN are broadly regarded as good sources of objective news, while those he admires and promotes, like Fox News (most of the time) have less then stellar track records on truth and objectivity.
It also got me thinking (based on my own experiences and those of my colleagues) about the reasons journalists make mistakes..
These I suggest are the main reasons good journalists sometimes make bad mistakes:
- Making incorrect or dubious assumptions
- Misreading or misinterpreting a document or pertinent piece of information
- Not verifying information supposedly from a supposed trusted source
- Not properly understanding the subject matter.
- Relying on poor sources for tip-offs and comments
- Poor judgement
- Tiredness, being rushed for time (a by product of the age we write in)