Actress schools press on truth in reporting

December 31, 2017

Three weeks before the 2016 Presidential election I penned a column highlighting examples of press coziness with the Clinton campaign while fear mongering the Trump candidacy.

I asked: “What happens when that “free press” abandons its special place under the Constitution in favor of promoting its own group ideology and supporting but one single political party? What happens when the desire to promote replaces responsibility to inform?”

I answered: “You get a mainstream press and corporate media network reallocating every spare resource into destroying one side while doing everything possible to prop up the other.”

For a brief moment in the aftershock of that election, it appeared that the press had seen the error of its ways and was rededicating itself to the responsibility to get it right before publishing the hype.

Then the Clinton campaign’s “Russia, Russia, Russia” narrative took hold and well, we have 2017.

A year that started with the Washington Post publishing a false story that Russia had hacked the U.S. electric grid and ended with a false claim that the Trump administration had banned certain words for use by the Centers for Disease Control.

A year that could have seen the redemption of the national press corps by reflecting on its mistakes of 2016, instead spent 2017 publishing more stories based on rumor, innuendo and anonymous sources than perhaps any other year in American history.

But a single tweet by a Hollywood actress might yet salvage 2017 and guide us into 2018.

On the afternoon of the 24th, Peter J. Hasson, associate editor of the Daily Caller posted a tweet that said “This got 41,000 retweets. It’s also false” and referenced a tweet by actress Jenna Fischer (Pam of the show The Office) claiming that the GOP tax bill eliminated the $250 tax deduction for teachers who purchase classroom supplies out of pocket.

Ms. Fischer’s tweet was false. The final legislation had retained the deduction. Yet the damage was done.  Untold numbers of unsuspecting readers would now think it was true.

But three days later, nothing short of a Christmas miracle in terms of social media and misinformation occurred. Ms. Fischer posted the following:

“I made a mistake and I want to correct it.  After reading your feedback and doing additional research I discovered that I tweeted something that was not accurate.

Last month, the House of Representatives voted for a tax bill that did kill a $250 deduction for teachers to buy classroom supplies, but in the final bill the deduction was restored.  I feel genuinely bad about getting my facts wrong and I’m sorry.  I did not mean to spread misinformation.  I was well intentioned, but I was behind on my research.

So, I’ve deleted the tweet.  Because, I believe accuracy is important.

For a minute I thought, “Maybe, I don’t need to delete my tweet because it started a great dialogue about how teachers shouldn’t have to go out of pocket to pay for school supplies!  I love teachers!  True, I had a fact wrong about the tax deductions.  But, I’ve started a dialogue”!

Listen, I love a good dialogue.  In fact, what I treasure most about our democracy is the dialogue we share with each other, through conversations, social media and the press.  But part of having a dialogue involves listening and learning and admitting when you’re wrong.  Tweet deleted.

I’m not ashamed to say I was wrong and I’m not ashamed to correct it.  I was taught that taking responsibility is the right thing to do.  (Thanks Mom and Dad!)  Please accept my apology.

Thanks for listening, for your feedback, and for being kind.  And thank you to our teachers who do so much more than we will ever know – opening their hearts (and often their wallets) to educate our children.

  With love, Jenna.”

As of Friday morning Ms. Fischer’s correction had 18,000 retweets.  Far short of the original false one, but it at least gives the truth a chance to catch up.

Yet also as of Friday morning, the December 15, 2017 Washington Post story “CDC gets list of forbidden words:  Fetus, transgender, diversity”, “HHS agencies get lists of banned words” is still up on its website without clarification or correction. Even though the Director of the CDC, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, has disputed the salacious story and other reporting suggests the word changes came from bureaucrats within the HHS itself for budget purposes.

Jenna Fischer got the wrong facts and published an untrue tweet. When she discovered her error she did the right thing and set the record straight.

Makes you wonder. If she can do it, why can’t the Washington Post?

PUBLISHER’s NOTE: A version of this column first appeared in the Sunday print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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