Mistakes, Misinformation and Media Accuracy and Balance

Media credibility is lost when media fails to seek the truth and falls short on the public's demand for accuracy, balance and clarity in their reporting. Media publishes corrections and encourages dialogue with its readers.

Credibility. Media must keep its credibility to serve the public. This is done through diligence in reporting, adherence to media ethics and maintenance of transparency.


Credibility can be lost when media fails to seek the truth, lacks skepticism, and falls short on the demand for accuracy, balance and clarity. Credibility can be lost when media fabricates quotations and other information, plagiarizes from the work of others, and exaggerates one’s experience. Media — as the provider of news, as the verifier of information and fact checker — must be aware of mistakes, misinformation, spin and lies.


In this guide, we focus on using style manuals, making corrections and listening to readers. We discuss lessons to be learned from those who have misused their constitutional rights to a free press and lessons to be gained from those who face danger to provide eyewitness reports.


Baltimore 2015” is a case study in which students explore the many approaches The Washington Post uses to present multiple perspectives, the complexity of a story and sufficient information for readers to make their own decisions.


May 2015

Correction Please
Resource Graphic 

Make a Correction
English, Journalism, Mathematics, Science, Media Literacy

Errors are found after publication — often by readers. The Washington Post is “pledged to minimize the numbers of errors we make and to correct those that occur.” The Post checks disputed details and looks at the context to determine if and what correction is needed.


It is the practice of The Post to include reporters’ e-mail addresses at the end of articles. Readers may contact reporters, contact corrections@washpost.com, or add comments online.


When an error occurs, media is obligated to be transparent. The newspaper indicates the mistake they made and when they made it, and provides the correct information. Online, the corrections are indicated in a paragraph before the article. Give students “Make a Correction.” Discuss the kinds of corrections made in the examples.


Read today’s newspaper to find where corrections are indicated in print.

Read The Post. If you find an error, write a correction statement. 


Develop Vocabulary
English, Journalism

Terms related to errors, mistakes and deception are defined in In the Know. Review these terms with students. Many of the suggested activities in this guide relate to these concepts.


Get Acquainted with FREE for ALL
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Personal Finance

The Washington Post publishes FREE for ALL on Saturday. This collection of concise and longer statements presents multiple perspectives on Post content. Readers send their comments to letters@washpost.com


Give students FREE for ALL. Discussion of the comments might include:
• Do selections provide enough information about the original Post article to understand the comments? To locate the original article?
• The Post provides the contributor’s name and city. Why do you think this information is given?
•  For some, job and title are also provided. How is this helpful to readers?
• The works of reporters, columnists and editors receive comments. Which of the letter writers uses facts and history to support a viewpoint? Which use grammar and definitions to make a point? Which use mathematics and statistics?


Face Misinformation at The Intersect
Journalism, Media Ethics, Social Studies

Media may be guilty of publishing misinformation when reporters and editors are rushing to get information disseminated ahead of other media in a 24/7 news cycle. Early polls might support media bias such as in the case of the infamous Chicago Daily Tribune banner headline: “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” A smiling President-elect Harry S. Truman, who was traveling to D.C. by train, was given a copy of the newspaper in St. Louis. He held up the erroneous headline and photographers documented the major mistake and provided a lesson for media. 


Problems can also arise on the Internet when there is no protocol of verification of facts or reliability of sources. The Washington Post column, The Intersect, was created to inform readers “what was fake on the Internet this week.”  Read and discuss the May 1 column.

Read and discuss current The Intersect columns.


Best in the Business
Resource Graphic 

Apply what you understand of misinformation and deception
Character Education, Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy

A high profile case took place in front of television viewers in early 2015. As the situation became more public, reporting by NBC News anchor Brian Williams that began in 2003 and his taped appearances on late night shows revealed changes in narrative.


Give students the case study “Mistake, Misinformation, Lies | Case Study: 2015, Brian Williams.” Read the background and his on-air response. Questions are provided to assist discussion. What happens when a respected veteran journalist becomes the story and the story involves changing the facts?

Follow-up reporting continued as NBC News conducted internal examination of Williams’ on- and off-air reporting. Read Paul Farhi’s “NBC News finds Brian Williams embellished at least 11 times.” 


Detect Deception
Character Education, Journalism, Media Literary

Deception is willful. It comes in the form of fabrication of information, plagiarism and blatant lies.

Blunders, excessive use of stringers, plagiarism and fabricated stories have caused reporters to lose their jobs. In American journalism these include high profile cases of Janet Cooke, Jason Blair and Stephen Glass. Cooke created an eight-year-old heroin addict, Blair plagiarized and fabricated information, and Glass had 27 violations of the New Republic’s ethics code, primarily for fabricating information. These talented young reporters put the credibility of their publications into jeopardy and ruined their careers.

Give students “Lessons in Journalistic Ethics” to research the stories of Cooke, Blair and Glass. What can be done to meet journalistic expectations and practice media ethics?


Follow the Rolling Stone
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Media producers need to understand that the credibility of the whole publication and their reporting depends on being accurate. This is true for young reporters as well as the experienced one. Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee stressed this idea with 28-year-old reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when he made the decision to keep them on the story that began as a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. As told in All the President’s Men, Bradlee would question the young reporters persistently to be sure they had verified all information, had reliable sources and had confirmed with additional documents and sources before a story was published.


In December 2014 a very public illustration of what happens when a reporter fails to observe the basic principles of accuracy, balance and clarity took place. Rolling Stone magazine published a story about alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. The reporter only interviewed the woman who claimed to have been raped. Washington Post reporter T. Rees Shapiro and media reporter Paul Farhi wrote follow up stories and analyses. Read and discuss the following articles:
• “Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt
• "U-Va. students challenge Rolling Stone account of alleged sexual assault
•  “Author of Rolling Stone article on alleged U-Va. rape didn’t talk to accused perpetrators

• “A failure to follow tenets of reporting
• Lessons From the Rolling Stone Fiasco
• Tom Toles editorial cartoon “Moss” 


Focus on Jason Rezaian
Government, Journalism, Media Ethics, Social Studies

Jason Rezaian,The Post’s Tehran bureau chief, has been imprisoned since July 2014. His situation provides lessons in the role of foreign correspondents, the duty of the U.S. to protect and aid U.S. citizens in foreign countries, and the power of the press to call attention to journalists and political cartoonists who are threatened and imprisoned.


The foreign correspondent acts as an eyewitness to events outside of the U.S. They develop sources with whom they can meet, try to gather information for the most accurate coverage and report on culture and daily life. The Washington Post is one of a limited number of media who continue to maintain foreign bureaus. Discuss with students the benefits of having foreign bureaus. Why have different media organizations closed their foreign bureaus? What dangers do today's foreign correspondents face?


President Obama stated the United States “will not rest until we bring him home to his family, safe and sound.” Discuss with students what services U.S. embassies provide U.S. citizens abroad.


The Post’s Executive Editor Martin Baron, editorial board, columnists and editorial cartoonist have all commented to inform the public. Tom Toles used his April 22, 2015, editorial cartoon to put light on Jason’s imprisonment. This comes at the time that charges are emerging after months of detainment.

Discuss with students the use of media to call attention to itself, using Jason Rezaian as an example. Discuss the role of media to inform the public about issues, actions and events. What should guide their decision of what and whom to cover?

Read About Deception in Media

Check the Facts
Government, Journalism, Mathematics, Media Literacy, Social Studies

To combat deception, reporters develop reliable sources and remain diligent to report facts. Editors remain engaged in the entire reporting process to question reporters’ conclusions.


Since 2011 The Washington Post has had the Fact Checker column to “keep an eye on public figures.” Glenn Kessler searches for the facts of statements made by officials in the U.S. and abroad. Readers are encouraged to submit suggestions for topics to fact check and to provide “tips on erroneous claims by political candidates, interest groups, and the media.”


Read “About The Fact Checker.” Discuss the goals and principles of the fact-checking operation. How helpful to readers is the Pinocchio Test?


Read “Nope, Jon Stewart, $1 trillion wasn’t spent on Afghanistan schools at the expense of Baltimore.” This April 30, 2015, Fact Checker column provides an interesting study of real news, “fake news,” and the need for accuracy.


Teachers might have students read The Post for a week. Whose statement would they like the Fact Checker to research?

During an election period, students might follow the rallies of and articles written about candidates. Identify questionable claims, conduct their own fact checking and design the graphic to indicate rating.


Tell the Reporter
English, Journalism, Media Arts

One benefit of news being reported on websites and accessible through apps on smartphones and tablets are more individuals who are reading the news. More will question the veracity of what is reported — especially when it is in their area of expertise. They will ask questions such as: Was that video manipulated? Could that event have occurred at that location? Could that action physically take place? Is that actually what was happening?


When given the opportunity, the public will comment online or contact reporters. Letters to the Editor and the FREE for ALL page that appears in Saturday A sections encourage dialogue with The Post and with other readers


Discuss how readers of the print and online editions of The Post can communicate with reporters, editors and other readers.


Have Online Dialogue
Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy

Although media did not immediately embrace blogs and tweets, social media has become part of communication with the public. Each section of The Post has blogs.
• Opinions | PostPartisan — Jonathan Capehart
•  Local    

Ask students to select a section of The Post. Read the blogs found in that section. Discussion would include:
• What topics are covered?
• Do reporters remain professional while providing personal comments?
• Since the bloggers are commenting on their beat areas are they more informed? Give examples.
• In what ways do the blogs differ from the articles written by the same reporters?


Follow on e-Replica
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Reading

In addition to being in print and online, The Washington Post content can be accessed through the e-Replica edition

This feature can be used to conduct a search to locate and follow-up on stories. Give students “Follow the Unfolding Story | Use e-Replica Search.”


Use Informational Graphics
Art, Journalism, Mathematics, Media Literacy, Visual Arts

When numbers are important but can overwhelm the reader, use informational graphics. Finding the right format can help in conveying the data with clarity. Visit Washington Post Information Graphics to explore and discuss excellent examples from The Post’s News Art professionals.


Teachers could show students different types of data display found in the collection of informational graphics. Ask students to select five of the informational graphics: summarize the topic and information provided. Tell how
1) information in the graphic stimulates story ideas, and
2) this approach (map, bar graph, pie chart, illustration) could be used in your student media to present data.

Teachers may show students examples of student media use of informational graphics: Wayland Student Press Network, The Foothill Dragon Press, trnwired and FHNtoday.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything includes use of informational graphics in the classroom.


Analyze Baltimore 2015 Coverage
Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Examine The Washington Pst news coverage of events in Baltimore in early 2015, analysis and commentary on causes and solutions, and public dialogue. Teachers are encouraged to begin discussion with the articles, editorial, editorial cartoons, commentary and informational graphics in this guide. Give students Case Study | Baltimore 2015.


Discussion would include
• The role of local, state and national governments, businesses and private organizations, and individuals in maintaining vibrant communities, public well being and economic, social and racial stability;
• The responsibility of media to engage in public discourse;
• The depth and quality of media coverage in times of unrest at home and abroad;
• The differences and similarities of coverage of the Baltimore 2015 responses to the death of Freddie Gray. 



Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Bias Prejudging, partial toward or against one thing, not fair. 
Correction Acknowledge an error and provide the accurate information
Error Mistake, state inaccurate information
Fabrication A made-up story that brings disgrace to a reporter and his or her publication. Although the story seems plausible, it is not based in fact. Whether intentional or accidental it violates the codes of ethics and standards of journalism.
Libel Written defamation; to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the person into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. Media and the public have the right to express opinions or fair comments on public figures, but they must not be malicious.
Lie False statement, mendacity, deliberate deceit
Misinformation Inaccurate or false statement, unintentional misleading. In some context it is deliberate, similar to disinformation, the misinformation that is meant to mislead or deceive.
Plagiarism Taking another person’s words, ideas or expressions and representing them as your own work. Academic dishonesty and breach of journalistic ethics. 
Retract a story

To withdraw or renounce a news story after its publication because it is invalid; this is more serious than making a correction or clarification on a story

  SOURCE: “Legal Terms and Definitions,” Law.com; “Media Vocabulary,” Student News Daily; Webster’s Dictionary; Dictionary.reference.com
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

English. Compare and contrast readings on the same topic by explaining how authors reach the same or different conclusions based on differences in evidence, reasoning, assumptions, purposes, beliefs, or biases. (Expository Text, 12.IT-E.5)


English. Evaluate the merits of an argument, action, or policy by citing evidence offered in the material itself and by comparing the evidence with information available in other sources. (Informational Text, 12.IT-A.9)


English. Construct arguments that
• present a cogent thesis;
• structure ideas in a sustained and logical fashion;
• use a range of strategies to elaborate and persuade, such as descriptions, anecdotes, case studies, analogies, and illustrations;
• clarify and defend positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, and/or expressions of commonly accepted beliefs and logical reasoning;
• anticipate and address readers' concerns and counterclaims with evidence;
• demonstrate understanding of purpose and audience; and
• provide effective introductory and concluding paragraphs that guide and inform the reader's understanding of key ideas and evidence. (Expository Writing, 12.W-E.3)



Academic Content Standards may be found at dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/In+the+Classroom/What+Students+Are+Learning.

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English: The student will comprehend and interpret a variety of print, non-print and electronic texts, and other media (English 1)
• Determine, explain, and/or extend ideas and issues of a text that may have implications for readers or contemporary society
• Determine and/or explain the thesis or central idea(s) of a nonfiction or other informational text (e.g., articles, essays, speeches, literary criticism)


English: The student will analyze and evaluate a variety of texts, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama and informational texts.
• Distinguish among facts and opinions, evidence and inferences
• Evaluate the range and quality of evidence used to advance or refute an argument
• Analyze an authors implicit and explicit assumptions and beliefs about a subject (Standard 2)

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/standards/9-12.html 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

English: The student will learn how media messages are constructed and for what purposes.
a) Differentiate between auditory, visual, and written media messages.
b) Identify the characteristics and effectiveness of a variety of media messages (Grade 5, 5.3)


English: The student will understand the elements of media literacy.
a) Identify persuasive/informative techniques used in nonprint media including television, radio, video, and Internet.
b) Distinguish between fact and opinion, and between evidence and inference.
c) Describe how word choice and visual images convey a viewpoint.
d) Compare and contrast the techniques in auditory, visual, and written media messages. (Grade 7, 7.3)

Virginia, U.S. History: The student will demonstrate economic, social, cultural and political developments in recent decades and today (VUS.15)


Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts/Informational Text. Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.8 )


Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.