Out of The West: Stretching facts to boost the ratings

WASHINGTON - In this imperfect news business of ours there are, as they say, mistakes and mistakes. For the variety made in good faith, nothing beats the New York Times.

Every day, buried at the bottom of page 2 beneath the summary of contents, the Old Lady of West 43rd Street publishes a list of corrections. All human life is there, from a 'mislabelled' statistic on Saudi oil production, to the 'misstated' date of a kidnap letter.

The average daily crop is half a dozen or so, and so quirky can they be that, for aficionados, the corrections have achieved virtual cult status.

Take this specimen, couched in the wonderfully elliptic language for which they are celebrated: 'A picture caption on page B1 in some editions on Monday, referring to an article about a dispute between two Greek Orthodox groups, misidentified the clergyman before the Weeping Icon. He was Bishop Vikentios.'

The reader who missed the original story is agog with curiosity. But the important thing is that this mistake, and the others the Times owns up to every day, were not deliberate; indeed, the very admission of them curiously enhances the authority of the paper. Not so the mega- blooper perpetrated by NBC television news.

In a Dateline NBC programme last November, the network staged a crash of a General Motors truck, to show how some models were prone to explode in a collision. This vehicle duly did so. Unfortunately, NBC failed to inform viewers that to ensure a successful experiment, it had fitted the truck with small incendiary rockets.

The commentary was unequivocal. Not: 'We've installed some devices to show what might happen.' Buy a GM truck, anyone watching was told in so many words, and this is what does happen.

The car company uncovered the deception and sued. NBC's reaction was to brazen things out. But on 9 February, with defeat in the courts almost certain, Dateline offered an unqualified retraction, what Ben Bradlee, the former Washington Post editor, used to call a 'full grovel'. Heads doubtless will roll. But repercussions may not end there.

For one thing, the episode has been a colossal own goal. As this month's dollars 105.2m ( pounds 75m) damages to the parents of a victim of one such crash suggests, there is a pretty solid case against General Motors trucks. Instead, NBC's caper has achieved the remarkable feat of generating public sympathy for poor little GM.

After a barrage of accusations in the election campaign, the reputation of the national media - print and broadcast alike - for fairness and honesty has taken another hit. Not least, and pardon the pun, the GM-NBC affair was an accident waiting to happen between two unsalubrious trends in US television journalism.

The first, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out the other day, is the ever-growing entanglement of product liability lawyers with investigative reporting. The NBC fiasco, in which an unacknowledged 'adviser' on the programme was a professional plaintiff's witness in a host of previous lawsuits against car firms, is an example of such 'litigation journalism'.

Others can be even more blatant, where liability lawyers themselves use the media to promote cases where they stand to make a killing - in essence trial by television, rather than the courts. And for a reporter, what better than a 'scoop' expose, especially one as televisual as exploding trucks? Which leads to the second trend, our old friend 'info-tainment'.

Traditional television news magazines such as Dateline face competition as never before; not just from independent 'tabloid' shows, but from the networks' own entertainment divisions, who pay huge money to persuade people to tell saucy or sordid tales (witness the spate of television re-enactments of the story of 'Long Island Lolita' Amy Fisher).

What price Gennifer Flowers? The news shows will not sink that low. But they, too, live and die by the ratings. Balanced reporting tends to be boring, and excesses are probably inevitable. So why not a regular on- screen corrections slot, as in print in the New York Times? Who knows, it might gain a cult following in the ratings.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?