One of the top journalists in public radio, Ira Glass, has announced that This American Life is retracting a major story about ethical manufacturing in China.
“We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth,” Glass said in a statement, asserting that the producer of the piece, Mike Daisey, lied to the show during fact-checking.
“Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”
A major stumble for a great American news program.
As a reporter, though, here’s what I find interesting. Glass is devoting this weekend’s program (which airs on NCPR Sunday at 11 am, with a repeat on Fridays) to exploring their own inaccuracy, their own journalistic fumble.
Which gets at, in my view, the fundamental aspect of journalism that many people (including far too many reporters and editors) don’t understand.
We will make mistakes. We will get facts wrong. We will, on occasion, screw up mightily. I’ve done all these things.
The test of a news organization’s mettle is in the honesty and forthrightness of the correction. That’s the acid test. Do you have the guts and the integrity to admit that you screwed up?
Do you look over your editorial practices to find out how to avoid similar mistakes in the future? Do you make things right with the people whose stories you got wrong?
So far, Ira Glass is doing the right things. We’ll find out on Sunday whether his mea culpa sets the record straight.