Reuters Busted on Rubio Hit Piece
The Reuters news service once again has made itself a laughingstock by publishing a mistake-riddled hit piece on Marco Rubio, all but ruling him out as a vice presidential nominee for the GOP because of alleged financial problems. Many of which turned out to be untrue. Five corrections were necessary.
Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller outlines a total of 7 falsehoods or exaggerations in the story. Dylan Byers of Politico spoke to Reuters staff who refused to go on the record (an interesting stance for a newsman), and writes:
One senior staffer at Reuters described the episode to me as a "fiasco," another as a "disgrace."
It was so bad, in fact, that the editors and writer involved have been asked not to talk about it. (I reached out to editors David Lindsey and Eric Walsh, but have not heard back.)
They won't even defend themselves! How bad must it be if you can't even fabricate a rationalization of the facts. The facts must themselves be damning. John Hinderake of Powerline calls it the "worst news story of 2012."
There are two hypotheses for what happened at Reuters:
1. An incompetent reporter did a half-assed job of research, and his editors (who either assigned or approved the story to the reporter in the first place) didn't bother with fact-checking. Or
2. They were fed flawed oppo research. Which raises the obvious question of who would want to knock Rubio out of consideration.
Let's examine each.
Our policy is to send news to our customers only after scrutiny by a group of production editors who ensure quality standards are maintained across all our news services.
These same purported quality standards were in place in 2006, when Reuters was busted for distributing an obviously photoshopped photograph exaggerating the destruction in an Israel air raid on Beirut. The very same photo that was the basis for the photoshopping had already been distributed by Reuters! This was quickly demonstrated in the blogosphere, as were anomalies that showed the photoshopping wasn't even very skilful.
When sufficiently embarrassed, the agency withdrew the photo, but retained the services of the Arab photographer who had supplied the crude forgery. But critics quickly noted many other questionable photos in his work already distributed by Reuters, and then the agency finally, after being humiliated worldwide over distributing phony Hezb'allah propaganda over an extended period, withdrew all the work of Adnan Hajj.
The agency has long slanted its Middle East reporting, and allegations of indiscriminate Israeli bombing of Beirut (from which missiles were being launched against Israel) were the cardinal propaganda theme of Hezb'allah. Israel made every effort to pinpoint its attacks on buildings from which missiles had been launched, and in order to reinforce its talking point, Hez made sure to launch missiles from crowded residential areas. So the difference between a picture showing one building with smoke billowing out, and showing a bunch of smoke form a bunch of buildings was pretty fundamental in terms of the framing of the story.
In other words, the photo editors who supposedly enforce Reuters' quality standards were doing no such thing. They approved (if they even looked at) a crude and obvious forgery that served the propaganda aims of Hezb'allah. As I wrote at the time, "There can be no denying by Reuters that its organization is deeply flawed in terms of its ability to enforce elementary quality standards. And any client of Reuters which continues to accept photographic material from it is on notice that the organization is unable to stand behind the integrity of its photojournalism, and that it does not plan to do anything about the organizational failure to which it has admitted."
But the rot went even deeper. A year later, the UK Guardian reported:
News agency Reuters has been forced to admit that footage it released last week purportedly showing Russian submersibles on the seabed of the North Pole actually came from the movie Titanic.
The images were reproduced around the world - including by the Guardian and Guardian Unlimited - alongside the story of Russia planting its flag below the North Pole on Thursday last week.
But it has now emerged that the footage actually showed two Finnish-made Mir submersibles that were employed on location filming at the scene of the wreck of the RMS Titanic ship in the north Atlantic some 10 years ago.
This footage was used in sequences in James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster about the 1912 disaster.
At a minimum, it would appear that Reuters has not improved its quality standards in the years since then. So incompetence cannot be ruled out. Nor can a willingness to serve as a propaganda vehicle for one side in a political dispute. Which raises the second hypothesis:
2. They were fed oppo research
One of many dirty little secrets of modern journalism is that reporters often function as transcribers of information - press releases of one sort or another, in other words -- supplied to them by interested parties. It may be as politically innocent as a plug for a new product, but when politics is at work, opposition research is often supplied to reporters. Nearly always, this involves hits on Republicans.
There is a certain resemblance of this process to the way a lot of legislation is based on material written by lobbyists. In both cases, a lot of time and effort is saved on the part of the person being paid to do the job, and in both cases, important mutually beneficial relationships are sustained. Everybody wins! (Except the public.)
If they were fed opposition research, from whom did it come? Rubio's electoral appeal is considerable, and adding him to the ticket could influence many voters, not just Hispanics, to look upon the GOP ticket as attractive. In other words, applying the test of Cui bono, David Axelrod's re-election shop in Chicago would be the likeliest source. Does anyone imagine that Axelrod would be above such a move? More troubling is the question of whether their quality standards are as low as Reuters. If the Obama campaign is behind this, then we know that David Axelrod is slipping and the re-election effort is in trouble.
If hypothesis one is true, and they came up with the idea themselves, then self-interest would dictate a review of the reporter's work and that of the editors who allegedly enforced quality standards, followed by a notice to customers of the steps which have been taken to assure no further errors. This is what manufacturers usually do when they discover a defective product has been shipped. Otherwise, customers doubt the reliability of the products, and find other sources of supply.
That would seem to argue for hypothesis two. Sometimes silence is eloquent.
On the other hand, we are dealing with a bunch of people stupid enough to release a still from the most popular movie of our era and claim it as a news photo.