Weekend Rewind: Journalistic malpractice - The Covington Catholic teens

Journalistic malpractice in the Covington Catholic teen videos 

It’s the Q&A of the day. Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods.  

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com 

Twitter: @brianmuddradio 

Facebook: Brian Mudd https://www.facebook.com/brian.mudd1 

Today’s note comes from Joe: 

I catch your show on WIOD whenever I can because you are not pushing a political agenda, so I enjoy your analysis. I would like to make an important point about the latest media issue regarding the Covington Catholic students and their MAGA hats. Let me say that if I were any of those kids I would never leave my house without my cap! 

What I want to write about is the behavior of the media. I am well educated, and I earned 3 university degrees. I am aware of the Freedom of the Press codified in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States however, I am NOT a lawyer. 

I don’t know how broad the blanket is covering the right of media people to say what they want. It seems that EVERYTHING has limits and this “blanket” covering the press is open to interpretation or it should be. 

When members of the press publish a report about an occurrence, they have a responsibility to find out what actually happened before they publish their story. Writing a story before they know what happened is irresponsible. More importantly, published reports can ruin lives. In this case which occurred on Friday, January 18… they made no effort to get the story right! They just published a version that was entirely incorrect but was consistent with their “political” views. This story involved young people who are pursuing a life of success. The “screening process” engaged in by employers, involves completing thorough background checks to evaluate candidates. Five or ten years from now, what will a “Google search” say about these boys? The short answer is: We don’t know … it depends upon who writes the report. What will the “background search” on the students involved in the Duke / Lacrosse case say. We don’t know. What about the occurrences alleged to have happened at the University of Virginia? What will the future bring for those students? 

Just as “Freedom of Speech” has limitations, so should “Freedom of the Press”. In this latest case, the “Press” made no effort to determine the truth before the destructive report was published and the television commentary was filed. Simply publishing a retraction is NOT enough. People who see the initial press report may not see the retraction. 

The only way to get the attention of people who wrongfully try to destroy others is to force print and broadcast media to pay….. CASH! In the Duke case, the university PAID and the “city” PAID. How much is a deep dark secret but they PAID. We can all be sure there will be no repeat of this situation. At UVA, “Rolling Stone” immediately hid behind the First Amendment… I don’t know if they succeeded. 

Should “Freedom of the Press” protect media people to the extent that they can write anything they want and ruin anybody they want at any time? Does the Constitution protect these people without limit? As I said, I don’t pretend to be a lawyer, but it seems clear to me that this is an issue we need to talk about. If the print and broadcast companies were forced to write a BIG CHECK to these young people… they would be more cautious… not checking the “facts” of a story should be unprofessional. Then it wouldn’t matter what an employment screening might indicate. 

Bottom Line: There’s not much that’s left for me to add, right down to the points you made regarding the Duke Lacrosse players and the Virginia students all falsely accused. Part of the issue, especially in the case of the Duke Lacrosse team that was falsely accused of rape, was the willingness of President Obama to immediately weigh in assigning guilt as well. That particular example speaks to a couple of issues pertaining to your point and question. The rush to judgement is often everywhere and once the president, for example, weighs in the media can cover the president’s response conveying their opinion as fact if they decide not to do their job to establish the facts. It’s an epidemic that’s only getting worse. What’s more is that many that latch onto the “hot takes” never know the truth once it eventually emerges in these instances. Ask around about the Duke Lacrosse case. I’ll be willing to bet that at least some of the people who’re familiar with the case believe the team was guilty of rape (I’ve encountered them myself). Ditto, Trayvon Martin. Ditto Michael Brown, etc. (others President Obama falsely weighed in on in a rush to judgement). So, about accountability and liability.  

The Covington Catholic teens featured in the videos have retained an attorney who intends to pursue defamation charges against media outlets that falsely reported what happened at the Lincoln Memorial. We’ll see what happens. Part of the reason there isn’t more accountability is how difficult it is to achieve resolution to defamation cases. Here are a few facts about those cases: 

  • 1 year – the length of time of average discovery in defamation cases 
  • 3 years – the length of time for the average defamation case to be heard in court 
  • 13% - the success rate for defamation suits 

You can imagine how expensive, laborious and difficult it is to win defamation suits. As a result, few are ever brought forward, and journalistic malpractice persists. As for my role. There are two sides to stories and one side to facts. I’ll continue to bring you the facts with opinion that’s only formed after having established the facts first. 

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