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Saturday, 27 November 2010


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Or else maybe they were simply shocked by the negative echo and took it back. Things like that have happened as well :)

Makes you wonder about everything that explodes onto the media that you never seen follow-ups on. Important stuff, like is there really a lot of crime or just a lot of for-profit prisons that need filling? Is there really an immigration problem? Are things worse now, or is that an unverified illusion too?

Bloggers, particularly those of a political bent, are fond of saying that the mainstream media is obsolete precisely because they do edit what they pass on. The assumption is that they are trying to manipulate the public for nefarious purposes by controlling what information they print or broadcast. Unfortunately studies have shown that most of the public (and by extension most independent bloggers)don't take the trouble to fact check. If something sounds at all plausible within the context of their own preconceptions, they accept it as truth. I read once on FactCheck.org that they had been told by researchers that their efforts were doomed since research has shown that most people, once they have accepted an idea, will continue to believe it even in the face of evidence that it was false. One would hope that the researchers were wrong but in my own experience I have to conclude that in regard to the majority of the population they are (sadly) correct.

Bloggers and talk-radio demagogues both.


I'd say that since Kuwait is not a democracy but a pro occident emirate, it's very likely it's just a matter of backing up after such worldly bad rep. It took the Kuwait Times several days to issue the retraction. Usually it takes for a daily 24 hrs. to publish an errata.

Everything on the internet is factual and true, eh?


I remember when "CNN Headline News" was just a continuous running loop of whatever the headlines were on CNN. Nothing very exciting unless there was something genuinely exciting happening. No opinions really, just unbiased facts, the way all news should be. The news was just the news.

Over time, though, and ostensibly in order to stay afloat in our media dependent culture, CNN Headline News has morphed into an opinion based and spectacle ridden tabloid carnival that has very little to do with real news anymore. Or at least not news that matters. If Nancy Grace isn't spouting off about it and telling you what you should think, well then it isn't worthy of our attention.

And "HLN" is just one example of MANY that have gone down that road. These days if it isn't SPECTACULAR, or AMAZING or OUTRAGEOUS, we just don't pay attention any more and we certainly don't repeat it all over the internet until fiction and satire become undisputed fact. It's just what we've been trained to do.

"This is another example of one of the great problems and drawbacks of the web."
Disagree. This is a perfect example of the great benefits of the web.
In pre-WWW times, such a story would have either been filed and forgotten, only to be regularly warmed up, or it would have gone viral in slo-mo, never to be put straight again.
The echo reverberated by the web is what prompted the Kuwait Times to issue a relatively prompt retraction.

As to journals of record, like the NYT or, in German-speaking countries, the venerable Neue Zuercher Zeitung, I have lost count of the number of times I've written to them pointing out serious lapses in basic fact-checking.

Recent, random example? The De Laurentiis obituary:
Therein, the great Italian character actor Totò is described as a "clown", which was just a role he played once. Even Wikipedia knows better. A few lines farther down, Italy's 1965 government is dubbed "Socialist". It was not. Italy never had a Socialist government, not in 1965, not later, only coalition governments with the occasional participation of the small Socialist party. Such political nuance may escape the Hoople, ND (pop. 292), "Red River Valley News and Gazetteer"; it is less excusable in the NYT.
Without the interactive nature of the web, factual errors handed down from above, enshrined in media of record, would become gospel.

Speaking of verifying, I'd be curious to know how such a mistake was made, if in fact it was a mistake and not just a sudden retraction of a ludicrous policy by a government burned by international ridicule.

If it was truly a mistake, why did the paper take a week to correct it? The Kuwaiti Times is a daily paper.

Fortuitous timong here. I just saw this correction on a ZDNet article today:

Among the active participants in the current discussion is Google directorDavid Wang, “the man who hacked the iPhone,” who suggested a stable build be developed as part of the move to Apache.

CORRECTION: The Apache folks note I got my Wang wrong. The right Wang is based in Australia.


@James: I agree there is more incidence of on-line laziness in reporting standards, but the big names in other news media (print, TV etc) have made just as egregious errors. One need look no further for evidence of this than the propensity for acceptance of the Yellow Cake Uranium sale as justification for the Iraq war. Knight-Ridder, was the only large media organization to do background checking on the leaked information. In a fascinating Bill Moyers show based on the book Selling The War, the authors demonstrated what I can only describe as a reality distortion field that emanates from D.C.. The reason the K-R reporters broke the story was that they fact-checked and independently determined the case for war made no sense. Sadly, K-R stories aren't as widely syndicated as AP P or NYT stories, so much of the US didn't get the information when it was needed most.

Please don't take this as a political discussion, as I only used it as the most obvious example my memory could call up, and I'm not interested in TOP being used for political discussion (at least not insofar as it impacts photographers).


I'd assumed it was a satire that you wrote. I didn't see the satire alert then. I'd didn't do any checking because it was too absurd not to be. I know, I know; more absurd things are happening every day.

Anyone who reports this story can say, with absolute truthfulness, that it is a fact that the Kuwait Times reported that DSLRs were banned. Just as it is an absolute fact that an Indian journalist reported that Obama's recent trip to Asia would cost $200 million a day. In his 2003 (I think it was) State of the Union address, then President Bush said that the British government had learned that Iraq had imported yellowcake from Nigeria.

None of these facts are in dispute.


All types of media are guilty of failing to fact-check and issue retractions. Print media does this all the time. There are too many instances to list.

Bbbut, Mike, without the original story, you would not have written your hilarious satire ...

I wonder how many people checked out the various Ministry websites? Didn't help much though as the English language versions aren't particularly current.

"It's the foundations of advertising, and now, unfortunately, politics too."

It's probably more accurate to say that it's the foundation of modern politics, as pioneered by Goebbels and Goering, and now advertising too.

"Because it takes time, skill, training, and no small measure of good intuition to learn how to sort the true stories from fantasies..."

And there appears to be a severe shortage of that, even at the vaunted New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/20/world/asia/20japan.html

Although extreme, that ain't no isolated case. Putting your faith in any report is an act of faith, never mind "Fact checkers."

The saddest part though seems to be that this could have been true and apparently it would not surprise many. A sign of our times. I wonder how many governments around the world wondered "let's see where this goes and maybe we could do the same".

Robert Roaldi has hit the nail on the head. Journalism, at least in America, has a long and checkered history, one marked by at least as much scurrilous innuendo and 'yellow journalism' as professionalism. "Debased" doesn't begin to describe its current state. Violent crime rates are indeed at 40 year lows across most of America, but you'd never know that if you get your news from...well, the evening news.

We experienced what is in retrospect an anomalous window of diligent journalistic professionalism and fact-checking in the aftermath of WWII. This seems to have petered out circa 1980, as newspapers and broadcast media began a brutal consolidation, and new corporate owners took a chainsaw to their news departments. Careerism and survival instincts replaced any appetite for truth-telling. (The contast between mainstream journalism's diligence in reporting on the Watergate scandal and its utterly slothful reaction to Iran-Contra is stunning.) George Orwell wrote that wishful thinking in politics and journalism eventually confronts painful reality, "most generally on a battlefield". It appears to me that the inescapable and bitter reality of WWII taught a generation of journalists to tell the truth. That generation is now gone, replaced by focus-group-tested talking heads who read what's handed to them, no matter how absurd it is.

Was it all a publicity stunt of some sort, or just really shoddy news reporting? Probably the latter, and this seems to be the current trend in journalism.

But let's not get all overjoyed about the good news! Let's not forget that, in our supposedly "free" western society, there is a disturbing trend developing. Photographers are being treated like criminals! A variety of restrictions are being placed on photographers for misguided and fatuous "reasons".

Unfortunately, the mindless masses are clueless to the fact that their rights are slowly being taken away from them. Right now it's photographers being targeted, and nobody cares about photographers, right? But who will it be next? Maybe musicians... we all know how independent and free thinking they can be. Plus, they sometimes dress funny. Just like terrorists!

If the above made you laugh, don't. It's not even a little bit funny! Under the excuse of "the fight against terrorism", our rights are being taken away from us, right from under our noses...

"Objective fact checkers will be critically needed in our world in the future"

They used to be called "professional journalists". Back in the days when that kind handled news. In newspapers.

Nowadays? 90% of what I see online posing as "news" is either fabricated or simply incorrect and never or seldom retracted. Any wonder why we're all turning into cynics?


You might find these studies interesting: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-sweeney/theres-no-arguing-with-co_b_126805.html and http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-sci-politics10sep10,0,2687256.story.


After two or three lines of reading the original post, I was very happy to see "SA*" in red font at the top. You seemed to bee one of the few who 'got it.' Satire only works when it blatantly points out stereotypes and misconceptions. I have to wonder what the original writer must think of a public that was so eager to accept ideas that are clearly outlandish. (I should think the use of "Infidel Liaison" might have been a clue to most.) More troubling is the realization that we, as a public, understand so little about a country we entered a war to defend two decades ago.

In any case, I didn't see this in the news and had a good laugh reading it. I hope others who published this story will publish the real story as prominently as you, so readers can understand that this was satire. Sadly, I know that many companies who republished this story will only report that they were misled by sources in order to cover up negligent reporting.


Thomas Friedman's column in the November 16 edition of the New York Times discusses how Congresswoman Michele Bachmann propagated a lie about President Obama's recent trip to India and Asia. The lie originated in the Indian press and made its way to The Drudge Report and other sites. It was spread further by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Michael Savage. Representative Bachmann made her pronouncement on Anderson Cooper's show. To Anderson Cooper's credit, he checked into the validity of Bachmann's statement and proved it false.
Even established news organizations have gotten burned on false information that wasn't properly checked. Examples include The New York Times and its articles published prior to the US invasion of Iraq about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were never found. Another is CBS airing false documents concerning George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard. The documents were quickly identified as fake. CBS was blindsided because of poor fact checking. And there are the various Reuters photographs that were manipulated and cropped.
Still, I am more likely to believe information coming from organizations that are known for fact checking and accuracy. Which is why the disappointment is so great when they get it wrong.

Now, there are organisations who know what can happen on the Internets.


That doesn't mean they will never run into problems, but it does mean their reporters are less likely to do so.

As to the general lowering (plummeting!) of media standard, you can see it everywhere. Combine it with utter ignorance and you've got something you can't even wrap fish into anymore.

Like the people on the website of a Croatian daily who wrote that the Sun is a planet.

Or the same site when they were writing about the new formula to calculate the volume of dinosaurs and concluded that T. Rex was no bigger than a British phone booth. Hellowah? What about all those bones in museums then?

The examples abound. And such people never think to check. They just copy and paste and they've fulfilled their quotas.

>>Bloggers and talk-radio demagogues both<<

I wouldn't put you on the same level as Limbaugh and Beck, Mike. :-)

But how do we know the retraction is accurate?

Good point. I guess because "Sorry, we're idiots" is inherently more believable than "we know something nobody else knows"?

R. Edelman,
Point taken as well, although I think one needs to distinguish between people who are trying to get it right, and failing, and those who deliberately lie in order to convince their listeners of things they know aren't true.


I actually first learned about this Kuwait DSLR business via your "SA" piece, Mike. But I was so taken with the title/premiss that I started reading without even noticing the "SA" alert until I was maybe a third of the way into the piece itself ("very observant, this guy Howe, and he thinks he's a photographer, good grief, he should get a real job") at which point it did finally dawn on me that there was something odd about it ("gullible too, isn't he?").

So I thought, OK, amusing enough, but, Mike, why are you publishing it? (To repeat: I hadn't yet seen the reports in the mainstream or any other media.)

Then a day or so later I saw a report on DPReview and my first reaction was, believe it or not, that they'd picked up your piece and not noticed the "SA", which left me thinking that this is just how nonsense like this gets started and you, Mike, should know better, etc....

And then truth began to emerge — here on TOP of course! And I felt doubly, even triply chagrined: 1) unobservant, 2) gullible, and 3) prejudiced (ready to believe such things are possible in this day and age).

Thank goodness I check into TOP several times a day to see if there's anything new, otherwise I might be running around repeating the original demented nonsense to all my friends.

Of course, as several commentors have suggested, it could actually have been true....

It's a human characteristic that the more we hear something, and from more different sources—and the better a story it is!

It's also a human characteristic that if there are two sides to a story we often believe the version we heard first.

The Wall Street Journal picked up the Kuwait DSLR story so I'm now convinced that it has to be true. However, I am no longer sure that Mike Johnston or TOP actually exists.

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