Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Journal-Sentinel Apologizes For Zeidler Blunder

As we discussed just this morning, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently published a Op-Ed piece purporting to have been written by former Milwaukee mayor Frank Zeidler.

The column, we revealed, was a hoax, and was not written by Zeidler.

The paper has now finally admitted it was hoaxed.

While the retraction is welcome, the question has to be: why did they take so long?

According to the paper:
We were informed of the error by an e-mail that Zeidler asked his daughter to send us. This was sent late Monday. We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of things since then and held off on a correction until we could give the fullest possible explanation.
So, admittedly, the Journal-Sentinel took two full workdays to make the correction.

They pulled the Op-Ed offline yesterday, but failed to issue any retraction until late today.

Further, they stonewalled our inquiries — two e-mails sent last night, and four attempts to phone the Editorial Department this morning.

One certainly might suspect that, in spite of their claims, they were hunkered down, hoping that nobody would notice the blunder. And then, when the whole thing blew up via this blog and the publicity Charlie Sykes gave our story this morning, they went into damage control mode.

But perhaps they really did intend to issue a correction and apology, but took two full workdays to do it.

If so, this is rather strange behavior from journalists — whose profession is, after all, dedicated to getting accurate information to readers quickly. Even if they somehow didn’t have the “full story,” they could have gotten the key information — that the column wasn’t in fact written by Zeidler — online in a few minutes. Their web site is not, in fact, tied to their print editions and they do get “breaking news” online very quickly.

It’s a key maxim of public relations that, if there is bad news about your organization, you want to release it, and not wait for somebody else to do so.

There is also a maxim about the law: justice delayed is justice denied. There is a corollary to this: candor delayed doesn’t appear to be very candid.

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