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Saying sorry: How media organizations apologize for major errors

Flames burn in the aftermath of the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Flames rage in the aftermath of the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Photo Credit: New York Times

In a recent “60 Minutes” episode covering last year’s terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a security guard at the consulate offered a shocking eyewitness account of the attack.

The security guard had scaled a 12-foot wall. He’d fought back against the gun-wielding al-Qaida terrorists. He saw U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body, one of the four fatalities from the attack.

Too bad none of this was true.

Several watchdog groups discovered shortly after the airing of the Oct. 27 edition of  “60 Minutes” that the security guard actually hadn’t even been at the scene of the attack on Sept. 11, 2012. He’d fabricated his entire first-person account and had somehow tricked a major news network into featuring him on one of its most well-known shows.

Major errors like this one certainly aren’t as common as seeing news organizations misspell names, misquote a source or accidentally use the wrong word in a headline. With minor, although not any more acceptable, errors like these, media sources can run a small correction and the issue is usually put to rest.

How, then, should the media apologize to consumers for huge, full-blown mistakes such as the one on “60 Minutes”?

CBS was harshly criticized for only offering about a 77-second apology for the Benghazi error. The original “60 Minutes” episode also was removed from the network’s website.

David Brock, founder of Media Matters, recently called for the network to take further steps to make sure such an error doesn’t happen again.

“This evening’s ’60 Minutes’ response was wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving,” Brock said in a released statement. “The network must come clean by appointing an independent commission to determine exactly how and why it fell prey so easily to an obvious hoax.”

Several other talk show hosts, bloggers and journalists joined Media Matter’s call for CBS to pursue an independent investigation into the matter because of the lack of an explanation given in its brief  apology. A CBS spokesman has since said the network has no plans for an investigation and plans to let the issue rest, according to a New York Times article.

Many television and newspaper publications try to sweep their errors under the rug as soon as possible after they occur. Sometimes, this tactic works, but in other situations it just creates more of a scene. In this case, I think CBS should have offered more information about what made the network  believe the faulty source in the first place and should have acknowledged the magnitude of the error. Attempting to move past this error so quickly has just caused more speculation about the whole debacle.

_By Cristina Woodworth

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  1. December 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    It is really bizarre to think a news show as respected as “60 Minutes” could have been fooled so easily. I just don’t understand how this security guard was able to trick them. Didn’t they do some kind of background? I agree that there should be more of an apology for something this big. This was proven false very quickly after it aired. It just baffles me that “60 Minutes” was so careless. But it goes to show that anyone can make mistakes. If “60 Minutes” can mess up, I have to assume that any news organization can. One thing for sure is that when there is a mess up this big, people need to take responsibility for it. I agree that the show didn’t handle the aftermath very well.

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